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Patrick White: The Twyborn Affair

This is Patrick’s White last novel and the first to deal to openly with the issue of sexuality. It also deals strongly with White’s favourite theme of the duality of human nature. Interestingly enough, it is dedicated to Jim Sharman. Judge Edward Twyborn and his wife, Eadie, have a child called Eddie or E. In the first part of the book, E. is Eudoxia Vatatzes, the mistress of a Greek shipping merchant, Angelos, though it seems Angelos is aware of Eudoxia’s ambiguous sexuality. They are staying in a small hotel in France in February 1914. When Joan Golson, an Australian, starts showing too much interest in Eudoxia, they leave but Angelos dies on the way.

In the second part, E. is Lieutenant Eddie Twyborn, returning to Australia after the war, in which he was decorated. He goes to work on a sheep farm, where he tries to be tough and masculine and unwittingly acts as the focal point (like Elizabeth Hunter in The Eye of the Storm) of the lives of all who are there (both sexually and otherwise). But it is all too much for him and he moves on again.

In the final part, he is Eadith Trist, the madam of a London brothel. The brothel is partially financed by Lord Gravenor who is in love with Eadith, who is naturally reluctant to reveal her/his true identity. His/her mother is in London (the father has died in the meantime) and s/he is reunited with her. S/he resumes the Eddie role, planning to return to Australia with his mother, but is killed in a bombing raid.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this novel could be sentimental or just plain silly but, in the hands of a master like White, it works. The ambivalent sexuality of Eddie/E./Eadith/Eudoxia – and this ambivalence is stressed by White – is a key theme for White, for it is clear that for him this ambivalence is inherent in us all, whether it is the male/female side of our personalities or the other dualities of our nature. As a final legacy, this is a fine work.

Publishing history

First published 1979 by Jonathan Cape