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Patrick White (1) (1912–1990)

Author of Voss

For other authors named Patrick White, see the disambiguation page.

42+ Works 6,962 Members 150 Reviews 28 Favorited

About the Author

Patrick White was born on May 28, 1912 in Knightsbridge, London, to Australian parents. He studied modern languages at King's College, Cambridge. During World War II, he served in the Royal Air Force. His first novel, Happy Valley, was published in 1939. His other works include The Tree of Man, show more Voss, Riders in the Chariot, The Solid Mandala, The Twyborn Affair, and The Hanging Garden. He also wrote several plays including The Season at Sarsaparilla, Night on Bald Mountain, and Signal Driver. They never met with the success his fiction had and have not been produced outside Australia. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. He died on September 30, 1990. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by Patrick White

Voss (1957) 1,408 copies
The Tree of Man (1955) 790 copies
Riders in the Chariot (1961) 681 copies
The Vivisector (1970) 646 copies
A Fringe of Leaves (1976) 497 copies
The Eye of the Storm (1973) 469 copies
The Twyborn affair (1979) 387 copies
The Solid Mandala (1966) 347 copies
The Aunt's Story (1948) 326 copies
The Living and the Dead (1941) 230 copies
Flaws in the Glass (1981) 218 copies
The Burnt Ones (1964) 172 copies
The hanging garden (2012) 118 copies
Patrick White Letters (1994) 104 copies

Associated Works

The Oxford Book of Short Stories (1981) — Contributor — 511 copies
The Treasury of English Short Stories (1985) — Contributor — 85 copies
Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing: An Anthology (1993) — Contributor — 57 copies
One World of Literature (1992) — Contributor — 24 copies
Australian Love Stories: An Anthology (1997) — Contributor — 16 copies
Classic Australian Short Stories (1974) — Contributor — 13 copies
A Century of Australian Short Stories (1963) — Contributor — 6 copies

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Discussions

Message Board in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (April 2013)
The Twyborn Affair - discussion in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (December 2012)
The Eye of the Storm - discussion in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (November 2012)
Riders in the Chariot in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (August 2012)
The Vivisector in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (June 2012)
Voss - discussion in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (June 2012)
The Solid Mandala in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (May 2012)
Riders in the Chariot in Book talk (May 2012)
The Tree of Man - discussion in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (April 2012)
The Aunt's Story - discussion in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (April 2012)
A Fringe of Leaves - discussion in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (March 2012)
The Living and the Dead - discussion in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (February 2012)
The Novels in Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge (January 2012)

Reviews

I'm glad this got published- its interesting to see White's developing style- its pretty well honed even then- but it doesn't have the significance of works like the Solid Mandala or Riders in the Chariot. It has a rather haphazard plot and is episodic rather than a complete work, albeit with the unifying theme of lives lived while dreaming of escape. The style though is immediately impressive with Joyce and Woolf the main inspirations and character's interiority are very successfully rendered. It does build up to something quite electrifying for the last 100 pages aswell but it wouldn't serve as an ideal introduction to his work- more a curious lens on the future, seen in retrospect.… (more)
 
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Kevinred | 6 other reviews | Nov 25, 2023 |
Six stylishly written stories where the common thread might be the reaching of critical life situations that awaken characters to the patterns and habits that have underpinned them. Often these stories relate the incidents that bring about change or epiphanies.
Patrick White is brilliant, as someone in these reviews below, indicates. Having read the bulk of his fiction, I concur.
What annoys me are those reviewers who claim he's "not Australian enough" or "too English". A writer writes what he knows, and this is something at which White excels.… (more)
 
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ivanfranko | 2 other reviews | Nov 23, 2023 |
[review from my website, The Patrick White Catalogue]

"Australia. The land of plagues.

Happy Valley is, as many contemporary reviewers noted in 1939, a fascinating first novel. To look back after eighty years at the birth of a luminary novelist is to witness something messy yet styliah, imitative yet innovative, awkward yet accomplished. PW’s influences shine through one every page: Faulkner, Stein, Lawrence, Woolf and, overwhelmingly, James Joyce. Running throughout the book are elaborate streams of consciousness as the author attempts to capture the distracted, often illogical flow of human thought. Sentences omit words or finish abruptly; affected young Sidney Furlow occasionally lapses into French as her mind recites the Mallarmé poems of her schooling; at other times characters reject their own knowledge, suppressing thoughts and convincing themselves of fantasies, even as we witness the truth welling up in their mind. Vic Moriarty convinces herself she really is fond of her husband; Oliver Halliday asserts that he will leave his wife; all the while, their subconscious intrudes dangerously into the prose, suggesting a very different reality. PW paints subjectivity, leaving us to wonder at exactly what drives these characters. Does Moriarty snap in the schoolroom because he knows, on some level, that he is being cuckolded in his own home? Does Rodney know about his father’s betrayal unconsciously, even as he remains an innocent on a conscious level?

At the same time, there are numerous moments when PW’s pen gets away from him. The novel’s modernist peak takes place midway through, when Sidney angrily rides her horse home:

“The wind is wind is water wind or water white in pockets of the eyes was once a sheep before time froze the plover call alew aloo atingle is the wire that white voice across the plain on thistle thorn the wind pricks face the licked fire the wind flame tossing out distance on a reel."


Is this Sidney’s mind collecting only the speediest parts of images as she rides, her emotions racing like her body? Is it the horse? It is perhaps the most impenetrable sequence.

The debt to Stein is profound in the repetition of words (“A wilderness of hours lay between lunch and tea. The yard was a wilderness of silence”). But the debt to Joyce is at the heart of the novel, especially its more imitative first half. The first ten chapters take place over a single day, from morning to night, chronicling the interconnecting lives in a single town, ending with a monologue of a person’s consciousness as they fall asleep. It is unashamedly an Australian mini-Ulysses. PW, too, is at pains to link the early chapters through the hawk flying overhead, and his discursive, sometimes didactic, narrator. As the narrator tells us we have to move on, spatially, further down the valley, we are given the sense of an authorial voice less than detached. Mark Williams has likened this voice to “the narrator of a Victorian novel”, someone arch but impartial, helping to direct us toward morals and symbols throughout.

At times, the young PW (who, after all, wrote the first sketchings of this novel when he was just 20), is not always able to convince in his narrator’s tone. The moment where we are told that women who wear mauve are silly is cute, and may conceivably be the thoughts of the characters, Alys Browne, but suggest more a writer trying to be wry or clever and not quite hitting the mark. Chapter 21 is especially notable as an attempt at philosophy which overwhelms the still immature writer; a sequence that cannot be blamed on the biases of a particular character but rather on a narrator letting his story get the better of him. On page 75 of the Text edition, PW begins a chapter with a lovely sentence recalling a feeling we may well have had. The next sentence commences: “Well, Alys Browne was feeling something like that”. Without the “well”, it may have been great, but instead it feels too chatty, too teenage; an inept attempt at lending a gossipy tone to the novel which is inconsistent with the overall nature of the work. (Contrast this with the exquisite opening to chapter 15, in which the narrator describes the rain and then writes a simple sentence: “Oliver Halliday and Alys Browne.” In context, we know already where they are, what they are doing, and how they feel about it. One of the most artful declarative sentences of PW’s career.)

Yet this is to short-change a writer who shows countless signs of a magnificent talent. His characters here resonate, fascinate, occasionally delight with their moments of lived reality. Many of them clearly come from PW’s own life. Rodney Halliday, the young would-be writer, different to the other boys and needing protection from them (perhaps recalling the asthmatic, intellectual young PW). He is there too perhaps in Rodney’s father, Oliver, a would-be poet who could never “find a theme”, and who is torn between Europe and Australia. The young Alys, determined to be different, and the young Oliver “cultivating an expression of intensity in the glass before going in to tea”, are both realistic conceptions of how PW may have felt during his formative years at Cambridge. Mrs Moriarty has big plans to become one of those ladies who reads while having breakfast in bed, and appears often in the “Ladies” page of the Sydney Morning Herald; this seems like a thinly-veiled reference to his own mother, and one wonders indeed how the stuffy-but-aspirational Mrs. Victor White must have felt about her son’s success in print with such an obscene, modernist text! Yet the nuanced character portrayals are not limited to figures from PW’s own existence. He captures in the opening pages the ordinary lives of Australian figures, most notably in Halliday’s frustration with the common folk such as the publican who utter stock phrases or small talk “just another minute, as if they were afraid that this was the last human contact they would make”. Margaret Quong, too, is a gorgeous character, with a neat shading of the impact of long-term emotional abuse and exclusion. (Chapter 31, in which Rodney and Margaret say their last goodbyes, is exceptionally beautifully written.)

The novel also accurately conveys the feelings that many white Australians felt toward Chinese-Australians. A relatively small group by the 1930s, Chinese-Australians had nevertheless been around for a century, coming south during the first Gold Rushes. The “Chows” are figures of fascination for some; disdain for others; yet viewed by PW as simply others aiming for an Australian dream ever out of reach, except for those willing to forgo their ideals in favour of something more limited, more coldly realistic. (This is a recurring theme of PW’s work.)

Another stylistic debt I suspect is Émile Zola. There are several sequences that reflect the mingling of symbolism and naturalism so indicative of that French grand master (whose entire Rougon-Macquart cycle, a work of genius, is now available in fresh translations from Oxford World’s Classics that remove the stale, heavily censored, 20th century English translations that rendered him an underwhelming figure in our language). The sumptuous sequences of the dance at the School of Arts and the race meeting, which bundle the characters together around one core activity. The brief but compelling moment in which PW personifies the building of the School of Arts itself. And the recurring symbol of the cyclamen flower in its lustre bowl, sprawling open in bloom and then gradually wilting, which reflect so powerfully Vic’s awakening, her desire, perhaps the pudendum itself.

As with any first novel, of course, there are intriguing insights into PW’s longer term career. Is Rodney gay? Or simply delicate? Either way he is the first of numerous young men who will not live up to the masculine demands of their society. Dr. Halliday’s despair at being merely “fond” of his wife reflects PW’s early dissatisfaction with the standard, committed, monogamous lives of unassuming heterosexuals. No legitimate couple in the novel (aside from perhaps the Belpers) has any intimacy or sexual connection; meanwhile, desire is sated in illicit love affairs that in themselves can never last. Twice in the novel, PW anticipates his next work, The Living and the Dead. Margaret is likened to a Gothic figure in a niche embodying pleasure and pain (seeming to connect directly to the Helvetius quote which opens the later novel). Later, Halliday realises: “I have been asleep… And I must remain awake, or at least conscious, conscious in one person of the whole”; the very symbol at the heart of the second work.

Is Happy Valley a success? It certainly pales in comparison to any of PW’s nine “mature” novels, simply by virtue of its occasional moments of oversimplification or broadness. Peter Craven, in his 2012 introduction to the novel, notes that although PW desires to write like a modernist, “the narrative impulse wins out” when he ultimately needs to focus things on a meaty murder plot in the final reels. Perhaps we can argue that Sidney Furlow doesn’t entirely convince, or that Clem Hagan’s motivations are driven more often by other characters than himself. Although PW is clearly on the side of the Asian-Australian characters, some of the descriptive passages nevertheless read as problematic to a 21st century mind. These are all minor flaws, however. Happy Valley is an engaging and enlightening read, worthy not just as a part of Australian literary history but as an intelligent novel in its own right. By 1939, there were still very few outright successes at a high-culture level in Australian letters – the peaks of Henry Handel Richardson and Barbara Baynton perhaps; the works of M. Barnard Eldershaw, Eleanor Dark, and Christina Stead – but here was a confident voice with a defiant signature style. Even the reviewers who did not like the novel seem to have acknowledged that PW was one to watch. This prediction would prove a fruitful one.
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therebelprince | 6 other reviews | Oct 24, 2023 |
"[H]er contentment filled the morning, the heavy, round, golden morning, sounding its red hibiscus note. She had waited sometimes for something to happen. Now existence justified itself." (117)
"Theodora did not turn because she knew that Mr. Rapallo would not possess a face. She accepted his dark hand. No one remembered Mr. Rapallo's face. He was Nicois, perhaps, or even a Corsican. Mr. Rapallo, you felt, would disappear." (165)
"Oh, but I am right", said Lieselotte. "We have destroyed so much, but we have not destroyed enough. We must destroy everything, everything, even ourselves. Then at last when there is nothing, perhaps we shall live." (176)
"It is strange, and why are we here?", said the voice of Theodora Goodman, parting the water.
"I guess we have to be somewhere," replied Mrs. Rapallo (201)
"You are intoxicated by your own melancholy", said Sokolnikov. "You expect too much of life". (214)
"[T]here was no end to the lives of Theodora Goodman. They met and parted, met and parted, movingly" (300)
… (more)
 
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therebelprince | 9 other reviews | Oct 24, 2023 |

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Elspeth Davie Contributor
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Jean Rhys Contributor
R. K. Narayan Contributor
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Elizabeth Taylor Contributor
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Mel Odom Cover artist
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Thomas Keneally Introduction
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David Malouf Introduction
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