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Renault, Mary (1905-1983)  
page: 1  2  

Then there is the relationship of older to younger males (such as Polymedes' unsuccessful courtship of Alexias), possibly mentorial in character but also a sexual pursuit of the younger male.

Third in importance and sequence is the marriage vow, a responsibility to be taken up in later life: Lysis marries Thalia amid general approval.

These patterns are governed by two assumptions--one that men are capable of both homosexual and heterosexual responses, the other that (since this is the Athens of Socrates) the relationship seeks to evoke and exalt what is highest and most excellent in each partner.

In later novels, Renault moves to Hellenistic times to chronicle the career of Alexander the Great. The first of this series, The Mask of Apollo (1966), brings to imaginative life a body of careful research into the nature of Greek theater. Its protagonist-narrator, Nikeratos, has had his successes and failures as an actor, but he has achieved a firm union with the younger actor Thettalos.

At the end of the novel, the boy Alexander comes backstage after a performance in the provinces, and Nikeratos is struck by his beauty, presence, and power. Fire from Heaven (1970) goes back to recreate the young hero's childhood and boyhood. The Persian Boy (1972) is told by Bagoas, a beautiful young Persian eunuch who becomes Alexander's lover. The Persian Boy ends with the death of Alexander, and the ironically titled Funeral Games (1981) relates the bloodshed and power struggles that follow his death.

What distinguishes Renault's historical fiction is her ability to interweave seamlessly the fictive and the factual (the invented Nikeratos and the historical Thettalos, the effects of Socrates' teaching on imaginary young men); to expand mere hints in the historical record (Bagoas, for example) into plausible and circumstantially complex events or characters; and to create realistic and believable psychologies for her characters: not modern sensibilities in period costumes, but minds evidently molded by the culture out of which they spring and that they in turn influence.

Above all, Renault's work depicts with love and care an age and a culture in which homosexual love was neither deviance nor norm but part of experience.

Michael N. Stanton

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Abraham, Julie. Are Girls Necessary?: Lesbian Writing and Modern Histories. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Dick, Bernard F. The Hellenism of Mary Renault. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972.

Hoberman, Ruth. Gendering Classicism: The Ancient World in Twentieth-Century Women's Historical Fiction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Summers, Claude J. Gay Fictions: Wilde to Stonewall. New York: Continuum, 1990.

Sweetman, David. Mary Renault: A Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993.


    Citation Information
    Author: Stanton, Michael N.  
    Entry Title: Renault, Mary  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 1, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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