Patrick White: Riders in the Chariot
This novel is the story of four outcast mystics. Miss Hare lives in Xanadu, the mansion built by her father Norbert, a wine merchant. She was not loved by her parents, who often travelled in Europe, leaving their daughter behind. But her parents are now dead and the mansion falling apart as nature tries to claim back what Norbert took from it. Miss Hare, because of her isolated life and because she witnessed her father’s violent death, finds it difficult, like most of White’s heroes, to communicate with humans but has much less difficulty communing with nature. She then meets Mordecai Himmelfarb who managed to escape from a concentration camp in Poland and wound up in Australia, working in Harry Rosetree’s bicycle lamp factory. Miss Hare is impressed with Himmelfarb’s spirituality, as are Ruth Godbold, an immigrant from England, married to a violent alcoholic and Alf Dubbo, who is part Aborigine, has tuberculosis and is a painter.
The story of these four is gradually unlocked by White as we are introduced to each and his/her history in turn, as White shows us how spirituality (as opposed to religion) is despised in today’s society. Himmelfarb is lynched by workers at the factory and his house burned down. He naturally dies on a Good Friday. Dubbo paints his vision of the chariots of fire. Miss Hare disappears. Only Mrs. Godbold as well, of course, as the various evil-doers that White has depicted for us, survive. Once again, White tells us, the artist, the visionary, the spiritual person will be victimized and terrorized, while the evil-doers will triumph.
First published 1961 by Eyre & Spottiswoode