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Patrick White: A Life

Tekijä: David Marr

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
2447110,751 (4.38)33
The award-winning and bestselling biography of Australia's only Nobel Prize-winner for Literature. 'I think this book should be called The Monster of All Time. But I am a monster . . .' Patrick White Patrick White, winner of the Nobel Prize and author of more than a dozen novels and plays - including Voss, The Vivisector and The Twyborn Affair - lived an extraordinary life. David Marr's brilliant biography draws not only on a wide range of original research but also on the single most difficult and important source of all: the man himself. In the weeks before his death, White read the final manuscript, which for richness of detail, authority and balance is stunning.Throughout his exciting narrative, Marr explores the roots of White's writing and unearths the raw material of his remarkable art. He makes plain the central fact of White's life as an artist: the homosexuality that formed his view of himself as an outcast and stranger able to penetrate the hearts of both men and women. Gracefully written and exhaustively researched, Patrick White is a biography of classic excellence - sympathetic, objective, penetrating and as blunt, when necessary, as White himself.… (lisätietoja)
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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 7) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
A very satisfactory - and satisfactorily comprehensive - biography of the Australian literary giant. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 21, 2024 |
t was exhilarating reading this David Marr's biography of Australia's Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick White (1912-1990). I have had it on the TBR for a good while, but I'm glad now that I left reading it until I'd read all but one of the novels, and one of his plays. (I have just one left to source: I want a first edition of his second novel, The Living and the Dead from 1941). Part of the great pleasure in reading this literary biography is Marr's sly juxtaposition of quotations from the novels with his portraits of the real people in White's life.
The table was set with the Georgian family silver Ruth and her fellow collector Mrs Eadie Twyborn 'lovingly acquired at auction'. The Whites' china, stored in tall cupboards in the pantry, was white with a broad green rim and a big gold W in the centre of each plate. (p.34)

Ruth (neé Withycombe) was Patrick White's mother, and — paired here with the pretentious Mrs Eadie Twyborn from The Twyborn Affair — she was extremely conscious of the White side of the family's more impressive wealth. Yet Marr's portrait of her includes fine qualities as well as her faults:
Ruth's problem was simple. She was a woman of drive, ideas, taste, courage of a kind and eccentric generosity. For all these remarkable qualities, she lacked intuition. Ruth was very funny, especially about the foibles and vulgarity of those beyond her circle; her acid descriptions were remembered and quoted for years; but she never really understood people, and had little grasp of why they were as they were, or perhaps more to the point, why they were not as she was. What she could not grasp she mocked. Without an easy understanding of people she was uncertain of how to win their trust, so she set out instead to dominate. Ruth grew into one of those generous but overbearing women who can hardly help enslaving people. She gathered a coterie of stylish young men to keep her amused and one or two poor relations as attendants. (p.41)

Anyone who's ever read White's novels recognises highly quotable acid descriptions in his prose as well. (Not to mention Marr's, though the source of his style is not under discussion.)

The biography tells the story of White's antecedents and family, his privileged childhood in the Hunter Valley and Sydney, his awful experience at boarding school in England, his emergence into adulthood at Cambridge where he failed to make an impression, and his war in British intelligence. We learn about his early love affairs, and his enduring relationship with Manoly Lascaris. (Though Manoly, who played a crucial role in supporting White's career, does not emerge in as much detail as one might expect.) We also learn about his love-hate relationship with Australia, and his extraordinary capacity for quarrels and grudges coupled with an intransigent refusal to reconcile. We discover his awkwardness about the Nobel Prize, his generosity towards various causes including other authors, and also his political activities in his latter years.

There are also wonderful photographs, revealing a different White to the one commonly portrayed.

But what makes this biography so interesting is the way it traces the trajectory of White's novels, from his first conception of a theme and its gestation over long periods of time, to the biographical sources of characters, events and landscapes, through to publication and critical reception. If you love reading White's novels, as I do, then this biography is a treasure trove. I know that I will be referring to it again and again each time I think about one of the novels.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2020/12/11/patrick-white-a-life-by-david-marr/ ( )
1 ääni anzlitlovers | Dec 10, 2020 |
And what a life. Somehow, like other great literary biographers (I think of Ellmann on Joyce and Wilde, Boyd on Nabokov, Sherry on Greene, though Marr is less encyclopaedic in his coverage than the latter two) David Marr holds together against all odds the threads of a complex, enigmatic life.

But perhaps a disclaimer before I continue. I get a mention. I don’t of course, but I was there: “so great was the crowd trying to force its way in to hear him that the aisles and stage filled with people. The doors were locked, unlocked, and locked again” (635). Yup: I was there. Just after the second locking of the doors. Just, therefore, outside the relocked doors. Though they may have opened them again, because I recall a glimpse of sardine-packed bodies bonded in eagerness to hear the great and grumpy man. I heard little of the lecture, given at La Trobe university in July 1988. “Don’t do it, Bill, don’t do it!” That was all I recall hearing that night. Bill ignored him and became the Governor General anyway a few months later, representative of the monarchy that White once dined with but grew to despise.

But that was White, in a way. Railing against the Left, railing against the Right, railing against the hands that fed him (turning down more honorary doctorates than most of us will dream of), railing against the literary prizes that he sometimes eschewed, sometimes paradoxically accepted (and who could blame him for accepting the Nobel gong, even if like an equally prickly winner 43 years later, he avoided turning up for the gig?).
Marr captures the complexity of the man, honours Manoly Lascaris, honours the love that lasted half a century between White and Lascaris, avoids sycophancy, wrestles with the enigma of the great Australian writer who spent much of his life despising Australia – and being despised by Australia in turn. He does not set out to write a literary critical biography; that no doubt is why he avoids the sheer encyclopaedic length of Sherry’s and Boyd’s works. He pulls no punches, does not hide the multitudinous flaws that were in any case well narrated by White himself in Flaws in the Glass, he draws on a vast range of material, made more difficult by White’s tendency to destroy records and burn the bridges of friendship.

There are irritants in the narrative. Unimportant ones (not only the failure to record White’s beseeching appeal to Bill Hayden). To write of a Hawkesbury summer as a “tropical mire” (266) is to betray an urbane southern comfort (try a Darwin wet season or two), and the occasional lapse into twee vernacular (“bog Irish,” 287) are stylistic glitches. But the grasp of White is immense, the admiration for a man who overcame twenty rejection slips before finally finding a publisher for The Tree of Man , who overcame the scorn of critics and sheer bewilderment of readers, who overcame a lifetime of dubious health, and yet stayed fiercely, vehemently alive, grumpily vital until his final weeks, these shine through every page.

In 1991 Helen Garner wrote “David Marr’s biography of Patrick White is a great, a gorgeous book. I hated having to maintain a reviewer’s posture …” I get that. Yet in the end I felt Marr stayed a whisker too far from his subject. His admiration for Lascaris, his respect for White’s ambivalent spirituality, his acknowledgement of the novelist’s cantankerous flaws, these are all skillfully handled. Yet ultimately throughout the biography I felt one remove too far from White, disengaged, disconnected. Perhaps nothing more could be expected of so cantankerous a subject, and Marr is not to be blamed. But when I finished I found myself echoing another Nobel laureate: “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.” I know White a little better, neither more, nor less, as if I had glimpsed him through a door locked, unlocked, and locked again.. ( )
  Michael_Godfrey | Jun 18, 2019 |
What do we look for in a biography of a famous author? An accurate account of the subjects life, his childhood, family and friends, his religious beliefs, trials, tribulations and passions, his involvement with the community around him, his relationships his sexual identity, his loves and hates, the historical events and the impact they had on his life and how they shaped his character; his achievements, successes and failures and his standing amongst his peers. All these things certainly, but we demand more; we want to get to peer into the very heart and the soul of the man to pass judgement on him as a human being. David Marr achieves all of this, but it could be argued that his task was made easier because his subject was still alive and co-operated with his biographer.

David Marr asked Patrick White why he had allowed and co-operated with the biography:

“He replied that he was sick of the books academics had written about him and hoped a biographer might show him as a real person. ‘And I thought it might be just as well to be around when that person is writing about that person”

White had gone to great lengths to get Marr access to his friends and his enemies, doors were opened to him and he was given authority to collect any surviving letters. Marr goes on to say that White had no veto on the text, but there was an agreement that he could check the book for errors once it was with the publishers. Apparently he corrected many spelling mistakes and identified about 25 errors of detail, which were corrected. Marr says:

“He confessed that he found the book so painful that he often found himself reading through tears. He did not ask me to cut or change a line.”

None of this is surprising from the character that emerges from Marr’s book. White was an intensely proud man sure of his talent, but he did not trust the critics, whom he thought, particularly in his native Australia, were “out to get him” He would have therefore wanted his biography written by a person whom he could trust. He was also bluntly honest both with himself and the people around him, making many enemies along the way. He did not forget or forgive easily, but would stand by his convictions, he was not the sort of man who would want to change the historical record, or care if he was not seen in the best possible light.

Patrick White was the author of twelve novels two collections of short stories a number of plays, essays and published speeches. He lived in London, Australia and briefly in Greece and America, he was in active service in the second world war. He was homosexual living in a same sex partnership, when it was illegal to do so and towards the end of his life he became something of a political activist. He was always a patron of the arts and generous to those in need. An eventful life giving Marr much to write about and his researches have enabled him to paint a full picture with few if any gaps.

It is Marr’s deep understanding of the man that allows him also to write intelligently about the novels and the plays. This is not a book of literary criticism, but Marr finds plenty of space to link the themes within Whites’ literature to the man and his beliefs and the historical context in which he lived. I had set myself a challenge to read all of White’s novels in this his centenerary year. Marr’s accurate and insightful readings of White’s work have enhanced my own reading and the index and notes at the back of the book are models of their kind.

White did not think much of the human race and his views hardened with age, however lack of energy made him a little more mellow and Marr’s short paragraph in the final chapter is revealing of the man:

“White went on complaining that age was a dreadful mess: that his life would be a shambles in the end, ‘led between stove and desk, burnt food and chaotic foolscap, that the demand made on him were never ending; that his country was vile and the world was vile and the human race pretty appalling - but he was alive.’ Life itself was thrilling and he would put every ounce of his determination into the task of being alive”

This is by no means a sympathetic biography, but White was not a sympathetic man, it is however a vey excellent one and I fail to see how it could have been improved. At this moment in time it is the definitive biography, but to be able to judge White’s place in the literary canon we will have to wait for future generations to do that. The book will of course be of limited interest; aimed at those who wish to read about Patrick White, but perhaps also for would-be writers who want to see just how to compile a biography - Yes it is that good, a five star read. ( )
6 ääni baswood | Dec 7, 2012 |
I love reading author biographies. This one must be read in conjunction with White's autobiography "Flaws in the Glass" in order to fill in the missing pieces. ( )
  georgekilsley | Aug 1, 2010 |
Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 7) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
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The award-winning and bestselling biography of Australia's only Nobel Prize-winner for Literature. 'I think this book should be called The Monster of All Time. But I am a monster . . .' Patrick White Patrick White, winner of the Nobel Prize and author of more than a dozen novels and plays - including Voss, The Vivisector and The Twyborn Affair - lived an extraordinary life. David Marr's brilliant biography draws not only on a wide range of original research but also on the single most difficult and important source of all: the man himself. In the weeks before his death, White read the final manuscript, which for richness of detail, authority and balance is stunning.Throughout his exciting narrative, Marr explores the roots of White's writing and unearths the raw material of his remarkable art. He makes plain the central fact of White's life as an artist: the homosexuality that formed his view of himself as an outcast and stranger able to penetrate the hearts of both men and women. Gracefully written and exhaustively researched, Patrick White is a biography of classic excellence - sympathetic, objective, penetrating and as blunt, when necessary, as White himself.

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