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White, Patrick (1912-1990)  
 
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The gay Australian Nobel laureate Patrick White wrote explicitly about homosexuality only in his novel The Twyborn Affair and his autobiography Flaws in the Glass.

By the end of his life, White ranked as Australia's greatest novelist and, as winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, among the greatest fiction writers of the modern period. His major achievement was the production of twelve novels between 1939 and 1986, including The Aunt's Story (1948), Voss (1957), The Vivisector (1970), and The Twyborn Affair (1979).

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Homosexuality is an explicit interest only in the last-named of these novels, but in Flaws in the Glass, the "self-portrait" he published in 1981, White publicly declared his homosexuality in an extraordinarily candid and laconic record of his life and opinions.

In Australian terms, White was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His parents were members of the wealthy Hunter Valley grazier society of New South Wales, a tightly knit conservative clan that exerted considerable--if indirect--influence on the state government.

Whereas his father was quiet and mild-mannered, his mother Ruth was socially ambitious, a determined woman whose predatory qualities both fascinated and horrified her son. He was to remark that a good many of the intimidating women characters of his novels were modeled from his mother, with whom he carried on a lifelong feud.

But the wider society itself, dividing its time between the rich Hunter Valley estates and the social season in Sydney, provided material for novels that simultaneously analyzed the life of this class sharply and celebrated the New South Wales landscape with sensual bravura.

Patrick White's attitude to his native Australia was always markedly conflicted--as was Australian response to his novels.

Until he was thirty-three, much of White's life was spent in England and Europe, for his mother insisted on placing him at Cheltenham, an English public school, for his high school years. Experiencing the double humiliation there of being both a colonial and an (unconfessed) homosexual, he was utterly miserable and never forgave Ruth White for abandoning him.

The ensuing years at Cambridge University were happier, but it took him a while to discover that academic pursuits held no interest. After leaving university, he lived for some years in London, mixing with artists and actors and experiencing a number of homosexual liaisons.

It was in North Africa and Greece, however, that his mature life began to take shape. He was part of a British Army Intelligence Unit when he met the soldier Manoly Lascaris, who became his lover and lifelong companion. In Flaws in the Glass, White pays tribute to him as "this small Greek of immense moral strength, who became the central mandala in my life's hitherto messy design."

They set up household in New South Wales soon after the end of World War II and were together when White died. Probably because of Lascaris, Greece and its people became significant for White and his writing.

The two decades following White's return to his native Australia, with which he began an intense love-hate relationship, saw the publication of his long, major novels.

One of them, Voss (1957), earned the respect of his fellow Australians since it was based on the doomed journey into the Australian desert of the legendary German explorer Leichardt. But White himself discounted Voss; he was only mildly excited to see it performed as an opera at the end of his life and was dismayed by unsuccessful projects to make a film of it.

Like his other novels of the period, though, it probed the quest of its central character against the surrounding materialism, banality, and snobbery of Australian society.

White was not conventionally religious but had a deeply religious, even visionary, sense of life; his major characters, like the artist-figure of The Vivisector (1970), are ultimately interested in the meaning of existence, which they will know only in death.

Until the 1960s, White spurned politics. He voted automatically for the conservative parties in federal and state elections, and espoused personally conservative values. This changed abruptly on December 9, 1969, when he participated very publicly in an anti-Vietnam War demonstration.

After that, he was politically active, witnessing against censorship, environmental destruction, colonialist politics, and the nuclear industry. By the end of his life, he was an ardent advocate for Australia as a republic. He protested against the form of the Australian bicentennial celebrations in 1988, and--although he had accepted the Nobel Prize--consistently refused to accept official Australian awards.

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