The Living and the Dead - discussion

SnakPatrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge

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The Living and the Dead - discussion

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feb 11, 2012, 10:19 pm

My first experience with Patrick White was a bit of a disappointment. The dense style and static circumstances made it a chore to read and a relief to finish, even though I can still appreciate much of what the author was saying. Maybe if others brave your way through it and we can have some discussion it will seem more rewarding, but I can see why this would not be among White's more highly regarded novels.

feb 12, 2012, 4:51 am

It was one of his earliest novels and so perhaps he was not really into his stride. However the denseness of his writing remained with him I think. I will be reading this later this month.

feb 12, 2012, 7:11 am

I have finished The Living and the Dead and agree with you about the style and denseness of the story. I found the writing verged on the incoherent at times and needed tighter editing than it had received. The landscape is bleak and the issue of war, either past or future, casts an even gloomier atmosphere over the story. Most of the main characters, particularly Elyot Standish , are emotionally flawed and very self-centred. Elyot has no regard for any other human being including members of his own family. This emotional sterility is illustrated by the incident in the prologue where he fails to help or save the drunken man who had fallen in the path of the bus. He looks on with detachment.

Eden, Elyot’s sister, who is supposed to represent the living is also emotionally frozen until she is rescued from the “dead zone” by her relationship with Joe Barnett, a “noble” working class boy who is later killed in the Spanish Civil War. Eden then finds her own moral ground through this loss and responds by going to Spain to join the cause.
The most likeable character in the story is Julia Fallon whose personality and nature shines through as the most genuine and pure of spirit. She is the maid to the Standish household and was Elyot and Eden’s nursemaid when they were small children.

White described The Living and the Dead as ‘the wretched book’ and in his Letters, he commented ‘I’m thinking of calling the novel The Living and the Dead. I’m more and more conscious, anyway in this country, of people being divided into two categories – the people who are aware and the people who are, well – just dead. That’s something political labelers never take into account. Tonight I could go out cheerfully and kill off all the dead’. He admits that while writing this book he became increasing discontented with himself and with the book. Unfortunately, this discontent manifests itself in the rambling and disjointed prose.

I thought the best way to approach White’s work was from a chronological point. This novel was published in 1941 and was the only one of White’ novels which is set in London. I am now taking the journey through The Aunt’s Story and the contrast in style and prose is quite marked.

The dramatic jacket illustration on the copy I read was by artist Sidney Nolan.

feb 12, 2012, 12:50 pm

mrspenny, excellent review, I am also intending to read chronologically, but thought I would start with Patrick White: A Life. I am a quarter of the way through.

feb 12, 2012, 11:20 pm

>4 baswood: Thank you - I hope you enjoy The Living and the Dead when you come to it.