UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Four novels of Patrick White Bellette, Antony Frank

Abstract

The intention of this thesis is to remedy the lack of serious critical attention given to the Australian novelist Patrick White. In Australia critical reaction has been tepid if not openly hostile, while in Britain and America only a small number of critics have dissociated White from his regional background and endeavoured to place him in a wider context. It is the purpose of the thesis to define this context, and to demonstrate that White is a highly original novelist in his own right. Of White's total output to the present time of six novels, only four are discussed here—The Aunt's Story (1948), The Tree of Man (1955), Voss (1957), and Riders in the Chariot (1961). As an introduction to these four novels the first chapter attempts to define White's place in the 'Australian tradition', to give an account of his local critical reception, and to discuss in brief the nature of his central preoccupations as an artist and the forms in which they are manifested. An examination of the four novels reveals the development of White's thought from the time when his artistic maturity became fully evident. From The Aunt's Story to Riders in the Chariot White is concerned above all with the besetting problems of the present time: the dilemma of the individual when faced with the break-down of traditional modes of thought, the possibility of meaningful communication, the problem of identity in a world of inner and outer chaos, and the origin and nature of evil in the world. From a subjective view of the world seen through the isolated consciousness of Theodora Goodman in The Aunt's Story, to the massive fourfold vision of Riders in the Chariot, White has demonstrated an ever-increasing range of tone and subject matter. He records with deadly accuracy the Australian 'comedy of manners', and in this respect he can be said to be the first genuine Australian satirist. At the other extreme, White is capable of rendering the profoundest mystical experience. Whether satirist or mystic, or mere observer and recorder of the world around him, White has at his disposal a lucid and poetic style which, though often startling in its unorthodoxy, is capable of conveying and enlarging upon the subtlest nuance of thought and image. In his style, and in his broadness of vision, lie White's chief claims to excellence. This study of the four novels, in chronological order, endeavours to demonstrate that underlying them is a constantly expanding vision, and that Patrick White is a significant and powerful novelist, and worthy of the closest critical attention.

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