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Mary Renault (1905–1983)

Author of The King Must Die

22+ Works 17,163 Members 302 Reviews 102 Favorited

About the Author

Image credit: Mary Renault. (Photo from Wikipedia)


Works by Mary Renault

The King Must Die (1958) 2,692 copies
The Persian Boy (1972) 2,342 copies
Fire from Heaven (1969) 2,218 copies
The Bull from the Sea (1962) 1,698 copies
The Last of the Wine (1956) 1,678 copies
The Mask of Apollo (1966) 1,376 copies
The Charioteer (1959) 1,122 copies
Funeral Games (1981) 1,120 copies
The Praise Singer (1978) — Author — 868 copies
The Nature of Alexander (1975) 766 copies
The Friendly Young Ladies (1943) 361 copies
The Alexander Trilogy (1984) 303 copies
The Lion in the Gateway (1964) 173 copies
Purposes of Love (1939) 126 copies
Return to Night (1947) 108 copies

Associated Works

The Poison Belt (1913) — Introduction, some editions — 461 copies
The Undying Past (1961) — Contributor — 2 copies


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Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Renault, Mary
Legal name
Challans, Eileen Mary
Other names
Challans, Mary
Date of death
Burial location
London, England, UK
Place of death
Cape Town, South Africa
Cause of death
Places of residence
Durban, South Africa
University of Oxford (St. Hugh's College | English | BA | 1928)
University of Oxford (Radcliffe Infirmary)
radio writer
Black Sash Movement
Awards and honors
MGM Prize (Return to Night, 1948)
Gordon Wise (Curtis Brown)
Short biography
Mary Renault received a degree in English from Oxford University in 1928. In 1933 she began training as a nurse at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. During her training, she met Julie Mullard, a fellow nurse, with whom she established a lifelong romantic relationship.

Renault worked as a nurse while beginning a writing career, publishing her first novel, Purposes of Love, in 1939. Her historical novels, set in ancient Greece, were popular throughout the English-speaking world. In 1948, after her novel Return to Night won a prize worth $150,000, Renault and Mullard emigrated to South Africa, where they lived together for the rest of their lives. They were critical of apartheid and participated in the Black Sash movement in the 1950s.



British Author Challenge February 2022: Mary Renault & Timothy Mo in 75 Books Challenge for 2022 (August 2022)
Mary Renault's Alexander Trilogy in Folio Society Devotees (December 2013)
Mary Renault in Book talk (July 2013)


Simply beautiful. A great part of this book's magic stems from Renault's mastery of dialogue. Her characters' speech is lively, rich in undertones, and couched in the context of their relationships and historical space. A great deal is left unsaid, giving one the sense that each presented dialogue just skims the surface of the speakers' inner lives. The more introspective passages of the novel are stylistically distinct but just as well-crafted, replete with striking metaphors and beautiful lines. Psychoanalytic and Classicist influences are strong. It's not an easy book to read, but it is a reflective one--the reader is rewarded for rereading a sentence or section two or three times with a glimpse of understanding into a complex emotional landscape, and maybe something larger. It's not just a book about one man's experience with love, but about the nature of love itself--not a topic that ought to be approached in simple terms, especially at a time when gay love is not even supposed to be a topic of conversation at all.… (more)
Sammelsurium | 34 other reviews | Jun 9, 2024 |
Young woman training as nurse falls in love, couldn't get involved
ritaer | 5 other reviews | Jun 6, 2024 |
La historia de Alejandro Magno contada por Bagoas, su fiel criado.

Basada en una figura histórica, El muchacho persa cuenta los últimos años de vida de Alejandro Magno a través de los ojos del que fuera su amante, Bagoas.

Hijo de un noble ejecutado por traición, vendido como esclavo y castrado cuando era niño, pasó al servicio de Darío III Codomano y, tras el asesinato de este, fue regalado al joven macedonio. Su relación sostendrá a Alejandro mientras este tiene que hacer frente a varios complots de asesinato, a las demandas de dos esposas, a los motines periódicos de su ejército y a su formidable carácter. Bagoas será también testigo de los profundos lazos de amistad y de compromiso que el emperador tiene con sus soldados.

Renault nos enseña cómo este muchacho persa podría haber comprendido y apoyado los fervientes planes de Alejandro mejor que cualquiera de sus generales.

«Las novelas históricas de Renault están entre las mejores jamás escritas.»
The Washington Post
… (more)
libreriarofer | 39 other reviews | Mar 11, 2024 |
I love books that transport me. This sparkling, deed-driven, gestural world, conjured up by Mary Renault, is a world I find profoundly attractive. In part, this is because these stories are so deeply embedded in my unconsciousness that although alien, they are also familiar.

That said, the Minotaur of the The King Must Die is not quite the same as the legendary half-man, half-beast of my childhood. As a character in the weave of this tale it is better and more subtle for Mary Renault's art, I think. But it raises questions about veracity, if that can apply to mythology?

Some books bleed into others and I’ve come to The King Must Die immediately after Sylvia Martin’s Passionate Friends; wherein women writers hide behind assumed names. Mary Renault was the pen name of Eileen Mary Challans who pioneered novels exploring same-sex love and desire. She and her partner, Julie Mullard, emigrated from Britain, to live in a South African community of gay and lesbian expatriates. However, she was wary of identifying herself primarily by sexual orientation and was hostile towards the gay rights movement.

No doubt there are learned texts about the influence of Renault’s sexuality on her writing style, but if a writer’s sexuality has any relevance, then, in my opinion, here, it serves to make the clear air that contributes to the unfamiliar atmosphere and the timelessness of these gripping stories where there are abundant forms of sexuality and sex. Some of the most moving scenes involve love making, but of course, there is much more.

There are as many powerful women as there are men in these stories. I say stories because while the overarching story is of Theseus’s journey from boyhood to kingship, there are many sub-stories several of which: Medea and Phaedra are not contained within the arc of the narrative.

Regardless of the currency of her Greek scholarship, I found Mary Renault’s invocation of the cosmology of the Attic world with its gods and heroes utterly absorbing. So much of the power of this book is in the detail. Nowhere more than where death occurs. Many kings die, as they must in this world where succession needs be god-sanctioned.

The relationships between men, women and gods is both utilitarian and dutiful. But it is humanity that shines through: Men are only men
But I was in no danger of over-eating. It killed ones hunger to see even great lords (some of whom I knew to hate him) fawning upon Asterion, changing their faces in time with his like soldiers drilling. While he cracked coarse jokes, his eyes missed nothing. I saw him watch guess out of hearing as if he could read their lips, and his stewards lingered like spies. p.251.
… (more)
simonpockley | 54 other reviews | Feb 25, 2024 |



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