Renault, Mary (Vol. 11)
W. C. McWILLIAMS
[The Charioteer] is the most sensitive and accurate treatment of homosexuality I know of; modern in setting, it has all the sense for a real issue that one looks for in Renault's historical fiction. (It is also a useful antidote to her The Persian Boy, which is far below her usual standard; admirers should stick to … her earlier books.) (pp. 271-72)
W. C. McWilliams, in Commonweal (copyright © 1973 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), December 7, 1973.
Despite her bibliographies and factual afterwords, Miss Renault setting out to re-create a Greek reality isn't your ordinary taxidermist, intent on matching the colors of the glass eyes. No, she's a male impersonator….
Classical Greece, where homoerotic relations were unencumbered by moral disesteem, has set her imagination free repeatedly….
Part of [the] secret [of "The King Must Die"] is that Miss Renault varied the formula. Dispensing with [her main persona], she made her Ralph-figure, Theseus, the protagonist and first-person reminiscer…. Part of it is the fructive ambiguity of legend. Theseus … doesn't hamper with historicity the way Plato or Alcibiades do, and it's possible for the novelist to enchant with guesses at the kind of real events that might have turned into the legends we have.
But the book's chief secret is the way the author's feelings have responded to the opportunities of a world so strange she feels free in it….
She has written no other such book…. To be firm about that is not to reproach her with failure, but to insist on the credit she deserves for her transcendent book. The god, she tells us in it many times, spoke repeatedly to Theseus. Not only to Theseus.
Hugh Kenner, "Mary Renault and Her Various Personas," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by...
(The entire section is 447 words.)