Patrick White


Patrick White c1940.

Patrick White (1912-1990) was the winner of the inaugural Miles Franklin Award in 1957, but his work was generally not appreciated in Australia until he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, and even then his Australian readership defied his bestseller status elsewhere.  The Nobel citation was “for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature” but critics living on that continent, according to Wikipedia, had dismissed his work as ‘un-Australian’.  A D Hope who didn’t recognise high modernism when he saw it, famously excoriated The Tree of Man, labelling it ‘illiterate verbal sludge’. 

White, who was independently wealthy, used the Nobel Prize money to establish the annual Patrick White Award, awarded to authors who have received little public recognition. Novelists who won this award who are reviewed on this blog include the inaugural winner Christina Stead (1974); Sumner Locke Elliott (1977); Randolph Stow (1979); Dal Stivens (1981); Marjorie Barnard (1983); Judah Waten (author and translator, 1985);  Thea Astley (1989); Amy Witting (1993); Elizabeth Harrower (1996); Gerald Murnane (1999); Thomas Shapcott (2000); Tom Hungerford (2002); Janet Turner Hospital (2003); Morris Lurie (2006); Beverley Farmer (2009); David Foster (2010); Amanda Lohrey (2012); Louis Nowra (2013); Brian Castro (2014); Joan London (2015); Carmel Bird (2016); Tony Birch (2017); and Gregory Day (2020).  Those of us who love Australian literary fiction owe a debt of gratitude to Patrick White for his support for these authors whose work we enjoy.

Those of us who love White’s style enjoy his witty humour, his biting sarcasm, his baroque prose, his shifting narrative perspectives and his penetrating use of stream of consciousness.  He was a fierce critic of Australia, but especially in Voss and The Tree of Man, his novels bring the reader to the quintessential Australia.

To read the life story of this canonical author, David Marr’s Patrick White, a Life (1991) is unrivalled.  See my review of it here but that cannot do justice to reading the biography , which won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards for 1992; the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for  1992; and The Age Book of the Year  in 1991. (If you’re wondering why it didn’t win the National Biography Award, that prize wasn’t established until 1996.)

White’s oeuvre consists of thirteen novels, (one posthumously, apparently against his express wishes), three collections of short stories, eight plays, poetry, a screenplay, an autobiography, two collections of poetry and a collection of speeches.

NOVELS

Happy Valley (1939), see my review

The Living and the Dead (1941), on the TBR

The Aunt’s Story (1948), see my review

The Tree of Man (1955), see my review

Voss (1957), see my review

Riders in the Chariot (1961), see my review

The Solid Mandala (1966), see my review

The Vivisector (1970), read in 2006 before I started this blog.  A review constructed from the copious notes in my reading journal is a work in progress.

The Eye of the Storm (1973), see my review and my very brief response  to the 2011 film

A Fringe of Leaves (1976), see my review

The Twyborn Affair (1979), see my review

Memoirs of Many in One (1986), on my TBR

The Hanging Garden (2012, unfinished, posthumous), on my TBR

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS

The Burnt Ones (1964), see my review

The Cockatoos (1974), on my TBR

Three Uneasy Pieces (1987), I am yet to track down a copy of this.

PLAYS

  • Bread and Butter Women (1935) Unpublished.
  • The School for Friends (1935) Unpublished.
  • Return to Abyssinia (1948) Unpublished.
  • *The Ham Funeral (1947) prem. Union Theatre, Adelaide, 1961.
  • *The Season at Sarsaparilla (1962)
  • *A Cheery Soul (1963)
  • *Night on Bald Mountain (1964), which I saw performed at the Merlyn Theatre in 2014
  • Big Toys (1977)
  • Signal Driver: a Morality Play for the Times (1982)
  • Netherwood (1983)
  • Shepherd on the Rocks (1987)

I have a first edition of Four Plays, (the asterisked titles above) published by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1965.

SCREENPLAY

The Night the Prowler (1978).  Chosen to open the Sydney Film Festival, the film was produced by Anthony Buckley and directed by Jim Sharman. Starring AFI nominee Ruth Cracknell; John Frawley; and Kerry Walker as the Bannister family, and Terry Camilleri as the prowler, the film found no favour with the critics.  It is apparently a savage satire which excoriates the privileged of Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Flaws in the Glass (1981), on my TBR

POETRY

Thirteen Poems / under the pseudonym Patrick Victor Martindale. – Sydney : Privately printed, (ca. 1929)

The Ploughman and Other Poems – Sydney : Beacon Press, (1935)

COLLECTED SPEECHES

Patrick White Speaks, Primavera Press, 1989, on the TBR

IMAGE CREDITS

Image credit: Patrick White, by Unknown author – David Marr, Patrick White: A Life, Random House, 1991, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27279737

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