Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 28, 2012

Patrick White centenary (May 28, 2012)


Today, Monday May 28th, 2012, is the centenary of the birth of Australia’s only Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Patrick White.  He wrote 11 plays, a screenplay, three short story collections, an autobiography called Flaws in the Glass and 12 novels:

As regular readers know, Patrick White is one of my all-time favourite authors: I’ve read all his novels except for the two early ones and Memoirs of Many in One, (which are hard to find),  Riders in the Chariot which won the Miles Franklin, and is on my TBR, and the posthumous The Hanging Garden which has only just been released and is on my TBR too.   I’ve read The Tree of Man, The Aunt’s Story and A Fringe of Leaves three times already but I promise I’ll blog them next time I re-read them, and The Vivisector too.

I think Patrick White wrote some of the most exciting, satisfying novels anyone can read.  I like his wit, his soaring imagination, his critique of conformity, his acerbic style and his observations of ordinary people who turn out not to be ordinary at all.  If I had to pick a favourite, I think it would be The Twyborn Affair, but I am also very fond of The Aunt’s Story and A Fringe of Leaves.  And then there’s Voss, which is just the most brilliant piece of writing, and the characters are unforgettable.

If you’ve never read Patrick White, my advice would be to start with The Solid Mandala because I love the brothers, Waldo and Arthur Brown, and I love the fictional suburb of Sarsaparilla.  This is the novel that was a dead cert to win the Miles Franklin in 1967 until Patrick White intervened and had it withdrawn.  He’d already won it twice and he wanted other authors to have a better chance.  This generosity was in evidence again when White used the money from the Nobel Prize to set up the annual Patrick White Award, a prize of $25,000 which goes to an established author who has a creative body of work but little public recognition.

Happy birthday Patrick White, you’ve done us proud.

Update, later the same day:

Excellent news was in my inbox today: a newsletter from Text Publishing tells me that they are reissuing Happy Valley and I we should be able to get our hands on a copy soon!


Happy Valley (Text Classics) is every bit as good as I thought it would be.  See my review here  and a Sensational Snippet here.

The Aunt's Story The Tree of Man The Eye of the Storm A Fringe Of Leaves The Hanging Garden Happy Valley (Text Classics)


  1. I agree completely with your thoughts on Patrick White. His writing is wonderful, and The Tree of Man is my favourite. I hope he receives more recognition by Australians as he was our first Nobel Prize winner for literature. Like you can’t wait to read The Hanging Garden.



    • That’s great, Meg: I always hoped that there were heaps of people out there who love PW, and that he was just getting a bad press from the noisy majority, who don’t like literary fiction anyway!


  2. Hear hear, Lisa. I’ve only read Voss and A Fringe of Leaves, both of which I loved, particularly Voss. There was a session at SWF (‘He Never Asked for the Matches’) on the ethics of posthumous publishing, at which David Marr, biographer of White, was speaking, but alas It clashed with another session I went to. Hopefully there’ll be some podcast of it available at some stage. Cheers, John


    • It’s a thorny issue, I can see that. I must admit I’m delighted to see The Hanging Garden there on my TBR, and equally pleased that now Text are about to reissue Happy Valley. Ok PW didn’t want that, and he wanted his letters destroyed too, but a writer of his calibre, well, I can see why his executor thought there was a public interest in not following his wishes.


  3. How about a favourite quote or two from his work Lisa?


    • Good idea, I should have done more ‘Opening Lines’ posts in time for this centenary…I’ll get onto it this weekend.


  4. I had to read A Fringe of Leaves in high school and I absolutely hated it. But I see I am going to have to give Pat another go. *Takes a deep breath*


    • A-hem, I don’t think that would be my choice for secondary students. I didn’t like The Tree of Man the first time I read it either… I think you need a certain level of reading experience to appreciate modernism, and it wasn’t until my excellent uni lecturers showed me what he was doing with this text that I started to appreciate it. But Annabel, for a writer of your talent, reading PW would give you all kinds of ideas for developing sassy imagery and word play! Lisa


  5. hide y head only read a couple of his books ,I have Voss somewhere ,he gave Australia its own voice ,all the best stu


  6. Sorry, Lisa, I missed this post on Monday – somehow. I think your recommendation of Solid mandala is a good one for a starting novel – and it was I think White’s favourite. My start was Voss in high school and it got me hooked, so I think it would also be a good first White. It’s so epic in conception.


    • Yes, Voss is a great one to start off with. BTW tucked away in Text’s new catalogue is the promo for their reissued Happy Valley, accompanied by a simply gorgeous photo of PW when he was a handsome young man jackarooing. All the photos I’ve ever seen of him have emphasised the curmudgeon, but his one shows him with a great happy grin on his face. I’m always going to think of him like that, from now onwards.


      • Lol, Lisa … I’ve seen some young photos of hm too … He was good looking. Probably would have been when older too if he’d been more relaxed. But that wasn’t the nature of the man who produced those great works, eh?


  7. i am from India, an research scholar on patrick white…topic is ” existential concerns in the novels of patrick white” please if any of you are woking on him please suggest some suggestions…thanks


    • Hello Rajeev, this is not an academic site, but if anyone wants to get in touch with you, is it ok if I pass on your email to them?


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