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Patrick White


Patrick White was actually born in London but was brought back to Australia at age six months. His family were well-to-do Australian farmers and left him a private income which helped him when his writing was not selling well. He grew up in Sydney and the Sydney suburbs. At thirteen, he was sent to the prestigious English school of Cheltenham College, which he later described as regimented. Returning to Australia, he worked as a jackeroo but then went back to England to study modern languages at Cambridge University. He had already started writing, producing both poetry and plays, the latter produced in Australia. After graduating from Cambridge, he lived in London where he met the Australian painter, Roy de Maistre, who was to be part of the model for Hurtle Duffield in The Vivisector (though Francis Bacon has also been said to have been an influence, while White claimed that he himself was the model).

White had started to write novels at this time but was unable to get them published till Happy Valley was published in 1939. After a visit to the United States, where he wrote The Living and the Dead, he joined the RAF and served as an intelligence officer in Africa, the Middle East and Greece. It was here he met Manoly Lascaris, a lieutenant in the Greek Army and they became lifelong companions. After the War, he remained in London for a while but, after a visit to Australia, he returned for good in 1948, spending the rest of his life there with Lascaris.

White and Lascaris settled in a semi-rural suburb of Sydney and remained relatively reclusive. White did get involved to some degree in politics, favoring liberal causes such as environmental and pro-aborigine concerns. However, most of his life was spent producing a wonderful body of work, mainly novels but also short stories, plays and poetry. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973.

What is amazing about his work is that, unlike other great authors, who may produce one or two great works, with the rest being of lesser quality, virtually all of his novels, from The Aunt’s Story on, are superb and none stands out as being particularly superior to the others. Indeed, it would be very difficult to recommend to someone who had not read White one or two novels to start with. What he has done is to create a series of memorable characters who are isolated from their community (an isolation, White has said, which he himself feels, not least because of his homosexuality). These creations are magnificent in themselves and in their quest to determine their nature and the nature of humans in their environment. Read all of them. You won’t regret it. However, amazingly enough, a significant number of his works are out of print in the United States and, though some have been republished, it is not sure how long they will remain in print.

Books about Patrick White

Barry Argyle: Patrick White
Simon During: Patrick White (Australian Writers)
Geoffrey Dutton: Patrick White
David Marr: Patrick White A Life (standard biography)

Other links

Patrick White
Patrick White
White’s literary treasure found
Patrick White’s cruel visionaries
Homelands: Patrick White – A Personal Odyssey
Patrick White: Under the Skin


1929 Thirteen Poems
1935 The Ploughman and Other Poems
1939 Happy Valley
1941 The Living and the Dead
1948 The Aunt’s Story
1955 The Tree of Man
1957 Voss
1961 Riders in the Chariot
1964 The Burnt Ones (stories)
1965 Four Plays
1966 The Solid Mandala
1970 The Vivisector
1973 The Eye of the Storm
1974 The Cockatoos (stories)
1976 A Fringe of Leaves
1978 The Night the Prowler : Short Story and Screenplay
1978 Big Toys
1979 The Twyborn Affair
1981 Flaws in the Glass: a Self-Portrait
1983 Netherwood (play)
1983 Signal Driver: a Morality Play for the Times
1985 Collected Plays
1986 Memoirs of Many in One by Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray
1987 Three Uneasy Pieces
1989 Patrick White Speaks
1994 Letters
1994 Patrick White: Selected Writings
2012 The Hanging Garden