Birthday: May 28, 1912
Died At Age: 78
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Patrick Victor Martindale White
Born in: Knightsbridge, London, England
Famous as: Australian Writer
Nobel Laureates In Literature
Spouse/Ex-: Manoly Lascaris
father: Victor Martindale White
mother: Ruth White
Died on: September 30, 1990
place of death: Sydney
education: King's College, Cambridge, University of Cambridge, Cheltenham College
Who was Patrick White?
Patrick Victor Martindale White was an Australian novelist and playwright. He was the first Australian to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. He is considered to be one of the most important English-language writers of the twentieth century. His oeuvre comprises twelve novels, three short-story anthologies and eight plays. Even though White dealt with everything Australian, his vision was not limited to any particular country or period. White’s works show Australia to be in an unpredictable process of growth. He explores the possibilities of violence in such a context. Novels like ‘The Tree of Man’, ‘The Solid Mandala’, ‘The Twyborn Affair’ show his ideas about his native country. He had also written plays like ‘Night on the Bald Mountain’, ‘Season at Sarsaparilla’ which reveal his allegorical and symbolical style of writing. His fiction is postmodern; it makes use of the multiple narrative points of view and the stream of consciousness technique. Patrick White was deeply concerned about man’s sense of alienation from the society and his quest for a purpose amidst meaninglessness. After receiving the Nobel Prize, the writer became a celebrity in Australia - a status that he did not enjoy at all. His last unfinished novel was ‘The Hanging Garden’—a posthumous publication.
Childhood & Early Life
Patrick White was born in Knightsbridge, London, to Victor Martindale White and Ruth née Withycombe on 28 May 1912. His parents were both English Australians.
When White was six months old, his family returned to Sydney, Australia.
White had inherited a hereditary condition of asthma, at the age of four. He suffered from fragile health throughout his childhood and could not participate in many childhood activities.
In 1917, he attended kindergarten at Sandtoft in Woollahra.
In an effort to cure his asthma, he was enrolled at a boarding school, Tudor House School, in Southern Highlands of New South Wales, at the age of ten. He wrote his early plays there.
In 1924, when the boarding school ran into monetary trouble, he was shifted to Cheltenham College in England. White referred to his college as an ‘English prison’.
At college, he met Ronald Waterall. They became very good friends till Waterall left school.
In 1930, White returned to Australia and for two years, he worked as a jackaroo, first in the southern New South Wales and then on the estate of a Withycombe relative in the north.
From 1932 to 1935, White studied French and German literature at King's College, Cambridge University, England.
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In 1935, White published a collection of poetry—‘The Ploughman and Other Poems’. The same year, his first play, ‘Bread and Butter Women’ got published as well. This play was performed at Bryant’s Playhouse, Sydney.
At London, he reworked on ‘Happy Valley’(1939), a novel he had written while jackarooing. He dedicated it to the painter, Roy de Maistre.
In 1941, the ‘Viking Press’ published White’s ‘The Living and the Dead’. The novel was written during his stay in the United States.
By 1945, he joined the British Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer in the Middle East. He subsequently served in Egypt, Palestine and Greece before the Second World War got over.
In 1955, White published ‘The aunt’s Story’ in England and ‘The Tree of Man’ in the US. These novels did not find acclaim in Australia.
In the1960s he wrote a collection of short stories,‘The Burnt Ones’(1964) and a play, ‘The Season at Sarsaparilla’ (1962); both set in the fictional town of Sarsaparilla.
In 1968, White wrote ‘The Vivisector’, an intense character representation of an artist.
In 1981, he published his autobiography, ‘Flaws in the Glass: a self-portrait’, which explored issues like his homosexuality and his denial to accept the Nobel Prize personally.
In 1986, he released one last novel, ‘Memoirs of Many in One’, which was published under the pen name ‘Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray’.
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In 1987, White wrote ‘Three Uneasy Pieces’, a short story collection on his thoughts of ageing and artistic perfection.
‘Voss’ (1957), based on the life of the explorer and naturalist Ludwig Leichhardt, is considered to be the most successful novel of Patrick White. In 1986, it was turned into an opera and was shown at the Adelaide Festival of Arts.
Awards & Achievements
White won the inaugural Miles Franklin Literary Award for ‘Voss’ and the second Miles Franklin Award for ‘Riders in the Chariot’.
His ‘The Vivisector’ was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize for 1970.
In 1973, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his unique psychological narrative art. He used the money from the prize to establish a trust to fund the Patrick White Award for obscure but talented writers.
He was invited by the House of Representatives in acknowledgment of his achievement, but he declined the offer.
Patrick White was declared the Australian of the Year for 1974.
Personal Life & Legacy
Patrick White was a homosexual. His first love affair was with a student priest in King’s College.
In 1936, White met Maistre, the famous Australian artist. Though they were never lovers, Maistre remained a great influence on White’s life and career.
While serving his term in the Middle East, White met his life partner, Manoly Lascaris, a Greek army officer. After the war, they settled down in Castle Hill, Australia, where the pair lived for eighteen years.
After 1970s, his health began deteriorating and he died in Sydney on 30 September 1990.
In 2009, The Sydney Theatre Company staged White’s play ‘The Season at Sarsaparilla’ and in 2011, Fred Schepisi adapted his ‘The Eye of the Storm’ for the big screen.
David Marr wrote ‘Patrick White, A Life’, a biography of the author. In the book, he describes White as a person who was pleasant to his hosts but had frequent quarrels with critics and friends.