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A period in the shade

Patrick White thirty years on
by
June 2021, no. 432

A period in the shade

Patrick White thirty years on
by
June 2021, no. 432
Patrick White, 1985 (photograph by William Yang, reproduced with permission)
Patrick White, 1985 (photograph by William Yang, reproduced with permission)

‘Your sense of permanence is perverted,’ said Holstius to Theodora Goodman in The Aunt’s Story (1948). ‘True permanence is a state of multiplication and division.’

The words are prescient, for Patrick White, who wrote them, has done rather well at dissolving into the impermanence of post-mortem obscurity. Perhaps unsurprisingly in view of the pandemic, the thirtieth anniversary of his death in 2020 left little imprint. No literary festival honoured the occasion, and no journal did a special issue. If White is looking down at us from some gumtree in the sky, he will be bathing in the lack of glory. He despised the hacks of the ‘Oz Lit’ industry as much as he loathed the ‘academic turds from Canberra’.

From the New Issue

Comments (4)

  • Patrick White's uneasy sensitivity to place and to the tortured spiritual conflicts of his characters have perhaps encouraged Australians to fear him as the difficult "monster" he often described himself as. My novel 'The Long River of Cat Fisher' depicts Patrick and Manoly in the Centennial Park years, and explores the fascinating nexus between his imaginative and public lives.
    Posted by Bruce Nash
    18 June 2021
  • I loved this article. These books were and remain formative works for me too. But when Martin Thomas considered why Patrick White isn't read widely today, I was reminded of the fact that he wasn't widely read at the height of his fame either.

    There may well be a lot of new novels being published today, but how many of their authors will be revisited or remembered in thirty years time?
    Posted by Patrick Hockey
    16 June 2021
  • Patrick White changed the way I saw and continue to see Australia. Nothing short of provocative, White's language, humanity and vision left an indelible mark that for me continues to grow. He was also very funny. Thank you, Martin Thomas for this discussion.
    Posted by Sarah Myles
    10 June 2021
  • Thank you to Martin Thomas for this insightful and thorough reminder of the literary contribution made by Patrick White. Throughout my life, White's works have been a source of intellectual, and, at times, spiritual joy. His novels and short stories are like old friends one does not see often yet they remain essential to one's store of valuable life companions.
    Posted by Deborah Dorahy
    01 June 2021