Mary Renault Long Fiction Analysis
Mary Renault’s novels celebrate and eulogize people’s potential but transitory glory, a combination difficult for a world that has relinquished its acquaintance with the classics. Critic Peter Wolfe has described Renault’s first five novels as her literary apprenticeship, “1930’s novels” marked by then-fashionable themes of political engagement and sexual liberation. Bernard F. Dick has argued that her early fiction was influenced by the restrictive, pain-filled atmosphere of a World War II surgical hospital. Both are partly correct; Renault’s early work deals with the individual’s freedom from contemporary power structures and stifling social conventions.
Such topical concerns, however appealing to modern readers, are nevertheless peripheral to the core of Renault’s art, the Platonism that she followed to the mythic depths in her later novels. When she began to write, Renault was already familiar with the Theory of Ideas developed in Plato’s dialogues, wherein everything perceptible by human senses is imitative of changeless perfect Ideas beyond time and space. Each Idea corresponds to a class of earthly objects, all of which must inevitably change, leaving the Ideas the only objects of true knowledge in the universe. A transitory earthly object, however, may remind people of the Idea it represents. Plato theorized that before entering the body, the soul had encountered the infinite Ideas, and that, once embodied, the soul might...
(The entire section is 3859 words.)
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