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The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White
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The Twyborn Affair (original 1979; edition 1993)

by Patrick White

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256644,916 (4)1 / 39
Member:almigwin
Title:The Twyborn Affair
Authors:Patrick White
Info:Penguin Classics (1993), Paperback
Collections:Your library (inactive)
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The Twyborn affair by Patrick White (1979)

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This book is worth reading simply because the central character is a person worth knowing. Eddie Twyborn was assigned “male” at birth but lived much of life as a woman. To the extent we come to know Eddie/Eudoxia/Eadith, we come to understand the complicated relationship between psyche and body in this individual who is at times care-free, careful, diffident, sensitive and solitary. While the book never focuses solely on the conflict of E’s internal feelings and external expression of gender, it is central to the story. It is a conflict of which only E (and eventually the reader) is aware. It is sometimes the driving force in decisions E makes and sometimes a secondary concern, but the incongruent gender expression is never entirely absent.

I appreciated that White never presented E as an object of contempt or pity. We see a person who is stuck in a life of compromise. E’s story contains no moments of wallowing in angst but there is also never a moment of unadulterated joy. The times of deepest contentment seem to be when the character is alone, working or recreating in the Australian outback. While not lacking for friends, the reader comes to see that however E chooses to live, as either male or female, s/he is never truly known to others. By the end of the book, I was yearning for E to find an intimate, to encounter that person who can be entrusted with her full sense of herself, with her past and her hopes for the future.

Instead of the writing transporting me into the story and the time and place of the telling, I felt instead that it was a barrier. The words seemed too laboriously chosen, too thoughtful. I could feel the author straining for the sentence, for the scene. Patrick White wanted to carry the reader away as much as I wanted to be transported. But I was always conscious of the author’s efforts to do so and in the end felt the burden and strain of the writing. I was intrigued by the construct of the book, however. The first part was told from a variety of points of view, most from what turned out to be minor characters, but this approach gave the reader an excellent idea of who E was to others. The second part of the book was entirely from E’s point of view, no shifts in the narrative. The third part of the book was still from E’s point of view, but in a more detached way. We weren’t close in like we were in the second part. We also didn’t see E from any external point of view and this, I think, contributed to the understanding of E’s isolation. Really rather a brilliant approach by Patrick White, but the strained writing made enough of an impression that I ended up with only a middling reading experience.
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  California_Tim | Mar 31, 2013 |
Patrick White saved the best till last, The Twyborn Affair is his last great novel, written when he was in his late sixties and it proves to be a masterpiece. It has the structure, the form and the sensibility that some of his earlier work strived to attain. The passion is still there but the overly written sentences have been pared back and White takes his readers on an unforgettable journey, writing with more clarity and with more wisdom about his characters habitual struggle with their relationships and their sexuality.

Patrick White believed that his homosexuality was the key to his greatness as a writer. He felt that it gave him an intuitive approach to the art of writing and was at times at a loss to find himself being criticised as being too intellectual. White has been quoted as saying “My homosexuality gives me all the insights that make me a great writer” and David Marr in his biography [Patrick White: A life] says:

White was one of those homosexuals who see themselves as part woman and part man: not so much a woman as to be effeminate, but enough to understand and share feminine virtues. He admired in others signs of his own ambivalence: men of unexpected gentleness and women with masculine strength.”

Eddie Twyborn is the hero of Whites book, we meet him in part one as Eudoxia or Madame Vatatses a 25 year old woman in a relationship with a 60 year old Greek man Angelos Vatatses. In part 2 he is Eddie Twyborn a ranch hand or jackeroo working on a farm in rural Australia and in part 3 he is Mrs Trist the owner and madame of a fashionable brothel in Chelsea London. It is White’s skill as a writer that make the Eddie of these three incarnations totally believable. The character flows from one part to another searching for identity, for love perhaps, but finally reaching an acceptance of his own sexuality..

Part 1 starts with Joannie a very respectable woman married into the rich Australian Golson family who are temporarily living in the South of France. It is 1914 and the storm clouds of the coming war are making the Golsons prepare for their return to Australia. Joannie is struggling to write a letter to Eadie Twyford an old friend with whom she had a lesbian relationship, but while out for a drive she spies the Vatatses couple and becomes fascinated by Eudoxia. They meet in town and an uneasy social visit sparks with sexual tension. White continues the story from the first person perspective of Eudoxia who realise that her man smell had really shocked poor Joannie Golson. Angelos and Eudoxia leave town and Angelos dies in a shabby hotel, while Joannie completes her letter to Eadie Twyford.

Eudoxia has become Eddie Twyford in part 2, now a decorated war hero who has returned to his family in Australia. He soon leaves to take up a job as a farm hand at a remote sheep station. He is accepted as a hard working ranch hand and is seduced by the bosses wife. White recalls his own experience as a jackeroo to paint perhaps his best picture of life in a remote sheep station; the hard life, the unforgiving landscape in frosty winters and hot summers, the sexual tensions that exist between the men and with the women. A visit from the Golsons and an explosion of repressed sexuality causes Eddie to flee again.

Eddie’s third incarnation is as Mrs Trist, who has drifted into establishing a fashionable brothel in London. She takes her sexual pleasure vicariously now through the girls who work for her. She becomes well connected with the minor nobility many of them struggling to keep up standards in a time just before the second world war. White has taken his story back to the pre-war tensions of the first part, where Eddie is again an established woman, who is now wooed by Gravenor; a Lord and frequent visitor to the brothel. White brings his story round almost full circle, but now Eddie/Mrs Trist has come to terms with his/her sexuality, she has found love with Gravenor, but knows it is not for her, there is a poignant meeting with her mother Eadie Twyford, before the war brings her story to an end. White is equally at home with life in the brothel and the weekend visits to houses in the country, his ear for the speech patterns of this slightly desperate set is as assured as his farm hands rough conversations at the sheep station.

White has one of his characters say “Old men know more perhaps, but never grow as wise as they hope”. This pithy summary of the human condition serves White very well I think. All his novels are autobiographical to a certain extent. In [The Vivisector] he had explored the passions of an obsessional artist, in [The Eye of the Storm] he had worked through his difficult relationship with his mother and his love of the stage. [Voss] and [The Tree of Man] had been his love/hate relationship with Australia and its people; here in [The Twyborn Affair] he at last delves deeply into his own sexual identity and in doing so has created his finest novel. A must read for anyone interested in Patrick White, one of the literary greats of the 20th century. A five star read. ( )
8 vote baswood | Dec 22, 2012 |
A dense, lyrical story about three incarnations of the same person - the first two sections more interesting - last section very funny, wry observations of the English upper and upper middle classes - but not of so much interest now - or just not so funny any more - colonial sensibility.... Compare Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and Cormac McCarthy writing about Texan border lawlessness etc with White on Australian outback...... ( )
  BarbaraHanna | Apr 16, 2010 |
Eddie Twyborn is bisexual and beautiful, the son of a Judge and a drunken mother. His search for identity, self-affirmation and love takes us into the ambiguous landscapes, sexual, psychological and spiritual, of the human condition.
  QAHC_CCCL | Aug 19, 2009 |
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Book description
The Twyborn Affair is a novel by Australian Nobel laureate Patrick White, first published in 1979. The three parts of the novel are set in a villa on the French Riviera before the First World War, a sheep station on the edge of Australia's Snowy Mountains in the inter-war period, and in London in the lead-up to the Second World War. White charts the transmigration of a soul through three different identities — Eudoxia, Eddie, and Eadith — two of them in female guise.

As in many of White's novels, the main focus is on identity; White views his subject from masculine–feminine, colonial–English, rural–metropolitan, and bourgeois–bohemian polarities. The writing has been described as vivid and painterly in its attention to landscape, and remorseless in its critical dissection of social conventions. The novel is a virtuosic display of White's characteristic "wicked" humour.

The Twyborn Affair was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1979, but was removed at the request of the author, that it make way for the work of younger and more deserving writers. This reflects White's refusal, later in life, of all literary awards. He made an exception for the 1973 Nobel Prize in Literature, but sent a surrogate to Sweden to accept the award on his behalf.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140186069, Paperback)

Eudoxia is the consort of an elderly Greek who fancies himself a Byzantine emporer, Eddie is a hired hand in the Australian outback and Eadith is the madam of a London brothel. The central character in this book appears to all three, in France in 1914 and in Australia and London 25 years later.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:27 -0400)

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Author awarded Nobel Prize for Literature, 1973

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