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Patrick White (Patrick Victor Martindale White) Biography

(1912–90), (Patrick Victor Martindale White), Happy Valley, The Living and the Dead

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Australian novelist and short-story writer, born in England, but taken to Australia when he was six months old, educated at King's College, Cambridge. White visited Germany during 1932 and 1935, and German Romanticism was a major influence on his writing. His first two published novels, both of which he was to turn against, were Happy Valley (1939), an experimental work with a New South Wales setting, and The Living and the Dead (1941), a study of a mother, son, and daughter in pre-war London striving to cope with a disintegrating world. During his service in the RAF White met Manoly Lascaris with whom he was to share the rest of his life. The Australian landscape had never quite ceased to haunt him, and after being demobbed White returned to Australia where he devoted himself to writing ambitious novels which were inspired by the paintings of his friends Russell Drysdale, Sydney Nolan, and William Dobell. The Aunt's Story (1948), which centres on an Australian society spinster, anticipates later work in its preoccupations with the outsider as seer. There followed two of his best-known novels, The Tree of Man (1955) and Voss (1957). White's interest in the visionary experience and in locating a capacity for it in persons written off by orthodox society was treated boldly in Riders in the Chariot (1961), where four disparate people are seen as united by an apocalyptic intimation; in the character of Himmelfarb the novel shows White's deep imaginative understanding of pre-war German and German Jewish culture. The Solid Mandala (1966) is concerned with twins (Waldo and Arthur) who clearly represent a split in the author's own personality; it has at its imaginative centre the Jungian concept of the mandala. The Vivisector (1970), the life-story of a painter who is seer and diagnostician of society, is also a portrait of Sydney in its evolution in a lifetime from ‘sunlit village into the present-day parvenu bastard, compound of San Francisco and Chicago’. The Eye of the Storm (1973) returns to the mother, son, daughter triangle. In 1964 White had published a volume of short stories, The Burnt Ones; a second collection, The Cockatoos (1974), contains in the novella ‘A Woman's Hand’ a masterly study of two couples, showing the complexity, subtlety, and cruelty present in one person's influence upon another. A Fringe of Leaves (1976) focuses on a shipwreck off the Australian coast in 1836. The Twyborn Affair (1979) has claims to be White's most daring novel, through independence over gender. Flaws in the Glass (1981), an autobiographical work, connects significant epiphanies, experiences, and moments of inception of the novels; it contains generous tributes to Manoly, less-than-generous accounts of many Australian public figures, and lyrical renderings of journeys in Greece. In it White calls himself a ‘lapsed Anglican egotist agnostic pantheist occultist existentialist would-be though failed Christian Australian’. Memoirs of the Many in One (1986) continues his interest in transsexuality; Three Uneasy Pieces (1988) presents reflections on ageing. Patrick White Speaks Out (1990) collects speeches and other pieces.

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