White, Patrick (Victor Martindale)

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WHITE, Patrick (Victor Martindale)

Nationality: Australian. Born: London, England, 28 May 1912; taken to Australia, 1912. Education: Tudor House, Moss Vale, and other schools in Australia, 1919-25; Cheltenham College, England, 1925-29; King's College, Cambridge, 1932-35, B.A. in modern languages 1935. Military Service: Served in the Royal Air Force, in Sudan and Egypt, 1940-45: intelligence officer. Career: Worked on sheep stations in New South Wales, 1929-32; lived in London and traveled in Europe, 1935-38; traveled in the U.S., 1939-40; after 1945 lived with Manoly Lascaris in Castle Hill, New South Wales, and later Sydney. Awards: Australian Literature Society gold medal, 1939; Miles Franklin award, 1958, 1962; W. H. Smith award, 1959; National Conference of Christians and Jews Brotherhood award, 1962; Nobel prize for literature, 1973. A.C. (Companion, Order of Australia), 1975 (returned 1976). Died: 30 September 1990.

Publications

Collections

Patrick White: Selected Writings, edited by Alan Lawson. 1994.

Short Stories

The Burnt Ones. 1964.

The Cockatoos: Shorter Novels and Stories. 1974.

A Cheery Soul and Other Stories. 1983.

Down at the Dump. 1995.

Novels

Happy Valley. 1939.

The Living and the Dead. 1941.

The Aunt's Story. 1948.

The Tree of Man. 1955.

Voss. 1957.

Riders in the Chariot. 1961.

The Solid Mandala. 1966.

The Vivisector. 1970.

The Eye of the Storm. 1973.

A Fringe of Leaves. 1976.

The Twyborn Affair. 1979.

Memoirs of Many in One. 1986.

Three Uneasy Pieces. 1988.

Plays

Bread and Butter Women (produced 1935).

The School for Friends (produced 1935).

Return to Abyssinia (produced 1947).

The Ham Funeral (produced 1961). In Four Plays, 1965.

The Season at Sarsaparilla (produced 1962). In Four Plays, 1965.

A Cheery Soul, from his own story (produced 1963). In Four Plays, 1965.

Night on Bald Mountain (produced 1964). In Four Plays, 1965.

Four Plays. 1965; as Collected Plays 1, 1985.

Big Toys (produced 1977). 1978.

The Night the Prowler (screenplay). 1977.

Signal Driver: A Morality Play for the Times (produced 1982). 1983.

Netherwood (produced 1983). 1983.

Shepherd on the Rocks (produced 1983). Collected Plays (volume 2). 1993.

Poetry

Thirteen Poems. 1930(?).

The Ploughman and Other Poems. 1935.

Habitable Places: Poems New and Selected. 1988.

Other

Flaws in the Glass: A Self-Portrait. 1981.

White Speaks. 1989.

Patrick White: Letters. 1994.

*

Bibliography:

A Bibliography of White by Janette Finch, 1966.

Critical Studies:

White by Geoffrey Dutton, 1961, revised edition, 1971; White by Robert F. Brissenden, 1966; White by Barry Argyle, 1967; Ten Essays on White Selected from Southerly edited by G. A. Wilkes, 1970; The Mystery of Unity: Theme and Technique in the Novels of White by Patricia A. Morley, 1972; Fossil and Psyche by Wilson Harris, 1974; White as Playwright by J. R. Dyce, 1974; White by Alan Lawson, 1974; The Eye in the Mandala: White: A Vision of Man and God by Peter Beatson, 1976; White: A General Introduction by Ingmar Bjøksten, translated by Stanley Gerson, 1976; White's Fiction by William Walsh, 1977; White: A Critical Symposium edited by Ron E. Shepherd and Kirpal Singh, 1978; White by Manly Johnson, 1980; White by Brian Kiernan, 1980; A Tragic Vision: The Novels of White by A.M. McCulloch, 1983; Aspects of Time, Ageing and Old Age in the Novels of White 1939-1979 by Mari-Ann Berg, 1983; Laden Choirs: The Fiction of White by Peter Wolfe, 1983, and Critical Essays on White edited by Wolfe, 1990; White by John Colmer, 1984; White by John A. Weigel, 1984; The World of White's The Vivisector by Beyla Burman, 1984; The Warped Universe: A Study of Imagery and Structure in Seven Novels of White by Karin Hansson, 1984; White's Fiction: The Paradox of Fortunate Failure by Carolyn Bliss, 1986; White: Fiction and the Unconscious by David J. Tacey, 1988; White by May-Brit Akerholt, 1988; Vision and Style in White: A Study of Five Novels by Rodney Stenning Edgecombe, 1989; Dissociation and Wholeness in White's Fiction by Laurence Steven, 1989; White: A Life by David Marr, 1992; Patrick White by Mark Williams, 1993; Prophet from the Desert: Critical Essays on Patrick White edited by John D. McLaren and Mary-Ellen Ryan, 1995; Patrick White: The Late Years by William Yang, 1995; Arthur's Dream: The Religious Imagination in the Fiction of Patrick White by Michael Giffin, 1996.

* * *

Patrick White, Australia's most famous writer, was born in London in 1912, at the age of six months went with his family to Australia where he was educated in New South Wales, and returned to England at the age of 13. After a few false starts in writing (his primary ambition was to be a playwright) he served in the Royal Air Force in the Middle East as an intelligence officer. Somewhat reluctantly, he returned to Australia after the war with his lifelong companion, Manoly Lascaris, and, despite his frequent excoriations of Australians, most notably in his famous essay "The Prodigal Son," he lived there until his death in 1990.

While White is best known for his ten full-length novels, among the mass of other material that he wrote are two collections of shorter works, The Burnt Ones and The Cockatoos. White has said that he wrote short stories only when he was traveling and had not the resources to work on a novel, but even his stories are often ambitious, some of them stretching into the length of novellas. The six pieces in The Cockatoos, for instance, range in length between 20 and 85 pages. Though the themes are often identical with those of the novels, they tend, not surprisingly, to take more simplified, expository forms, the dualities with which White is characteristically concerned spelled out in a starker, more polarized way. This is especially true of the stories to do with Sarsaparilla, the mythologized outer suburb of Sydney that White employed in his novels, stories, and plays to express his disgust with contemporary urban Australian life.

The title of The Burnt Ones comes from the Greek "oi kaymenoi," meaning "the burnt ones" or "the poor unfortunates," but the kind of compassion this suggests for the less fortunate members of society is only intermittently present at best; very often the tone is harshly and blackly satirical or even frankly contemptuous, with only occasional moments of epiphanic understanding or discovery emerging, as at the end of "Down at the Dump." Four of the stories ("A Glass of Tea," "The Evening at Sissy Kamara's," "Being Kind to Titina," and "The Woman Who Wasn't Allowed to Keep Cats") deal with Greek protagonists or have Greek settings; the other seven have Australian backgrounds.

The opening and longest story of the collection, "Dead Roses," is also one of the best. Its protagonist, Anthea Scudamore, is that characteristic White figure, a repressed and dutiful woman. Early in the novella Barry Flegg makes sexual advances to her, and she responds involuntarily to his "hard, human body, which, she had been taught, it must be her duty to resist"—but immediately she controls herself, remembering the advice of "Mummy," and drifts into marriage with a dried up, elderly man, Mortlock. The whole courtship is sketched in by a few brief passionless glimpses of the couple—Mortlock taking her hand, the two of them stopping the car for a view—before Anthea abandons herself to a life of sterility.

White skillfully juxtaposes his sadly satirical account of the marriage against that of Flegg, the man she might have surrendered herself to sexually, until eventually they come into contact with one another for one last time. Flegg is totally unaware of her continued thoughts of him and merely wishes in his embarrassment to get away as quickly as possible. The tact and restraint about the treatment of Flegg and Anthea in this part of the story is not always characteristic of White. As Thea Astley observes, "Anthea Scudamore is burnt, without doubt, but her husband largely conducts the auto da fe, and White helps it along with stoking comments on Anthea's middle-class habits."

More typical is the satirical comedy of suburban mores in "Willy-Wagtails by Moonlight," a diabolically funny story about a dinner party at which the playing of a tape recording of bird calls inadvertently captures calls of a more urgent kind, to the humiliation of the husband in the story. "Being Kind to Titina" is something of a surprise, as the plump, unattractive child of the title, who wets herself and is teased by others, is transformed into an exquisitely desirable adult.

The stories in The Cockatoos are marked by pointed contrasts between fulfilled and unfulfilled lives. In "A Woman's Hand," for instance, the animus is heavily evident in the contrasts drawn between the elderly retired couple Harold and Evelyn Fazackerley and the silent Clem Downson and the woman he marries, Nesta Pine. Evelyn is a predatory, sterile woman who is described with revulsion even down to her make-up ("Her mouth dripped with light and crimson"), while her husband is kinder but a weak, subservient man who plans to reread War and Peace in retirement but of course never gets around to doing so. His old school friend Clem is marked by "resilient stillness," while Nesta suffers the predictable fate of visionaries and writes letters from the asylum to which she has been consigned and where she kills herself.

The women in "Five-Twenty" and "Sicilian Vespers" are similar in some ways but more obviously sexually frustrated. In the latter story the main characters are a retired couple, Charles and Ivy Simpson. In an extraordinary climax to the story Ivy makes love to an American tourist in an Italian church while a service is being conducted, and the savagery of White's writing bursts out: "Like two landed fish, they were lunging together, snout bruising snout, on the rucked-up Cosmati paving. She wrapped herself around him, her slimy thighs, the veils of her fins, as it had been planned, seemingly, from the beginning, while the enormous tear swelled to overflowing in the glass eye focused on them from the golden dome." Almost from the beginning of the story Ivy's barren rationalism is under fire, and by the end it has been totally consumed in the inferno of her desires.

Set in Greece, "A Full Belly" is mainly notable for supplying the title of White's later autobiography: of the prodigy Costa we are told that "at least he didn't flinch on recognizing his own flaws, moral as well as physical, when he caught sight of them in the glass." In "The Night, the Prowler," which was made into a film with a screenplay by the author, a young woman is allegedly raped by a nocturnal intruder and sets out to avenge herself. White speaks of Felicity's efforts to expend, by acts of violence, the passive self others had created for her, and he tells of "her failed intention to destroy perhaps in one violent burst the nothing she was, to live, to be, to know." In some form or other most of the stories are about the question of identity. In the most hopeful and perhaps finest of them, the title story, the cockatoos in the park come to mean different things to the various characters who are mostly defined in terms of their relationship to the birds, but above all the cockatoos seem emblems of salvation, rising above the disgust and anger that dominates most of these short fictions.

—Laurie Clancy

See the essays on "A Cheery Soul," "Clay," and "Down at the Dump."

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White, Patrick (Victor Martindale)

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