Patrick White (1912-1990) was born in London and traveled to Sydney with his Australian parents six months later. White was a solitary, precocious, asthmatic child and at thirteen was sent to an English boarding school, a miserable experience. At eighteen he returned to Australia and worked as a jackaroo on an isolated sheep station. Two years later, he went up to Cambridge, settling afterwards in London, where he published his first two books. White joined the RAF in 1940 and served as an intelligence officer in the Middle East. At war’s end, he and his partner, Manoly Lascaris, bought an old house in a Sydney suburb, where they lived with their four Schnauzers. For the next eighteen years, the two men farmed their six acres while White worked on some of his finest novels, including The Tree of Man (1955), Voss (1957), and Riders in the Chariot (1961). When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973, he did not attend the ceremony but, with his takings and some of his own money, created an award to help older writers who hadn’t received their due: the first recipient
was Christina Stead. Late in life, when asked for a list of his loves, White responded: “Silence, the company of friends, unexpected honesty, reading, going to the pictures, dreams, uncluttered landscapes, city streets, faces, good food, cooking small meals, whisky, sex, pugs, the thought of an Australian republic, my ashes floating off at last.”
Tender and lacerating, pure and profane, subtle and sweeping, Riders in the Chariot is one of the Nobel Prize winner’s boldest books.