The Persian Boy Essay - Critical Essays

Mary Renault

Critical Context

Book-length criticism of Renault’s works is quite out of date, and there are few scholarly articles on her works. One difficulty, as Bernard F. Dick observes, is the fact that classical historians, who are most qualified to assess her Greek novels, are unlikely to write about historical fiction written in English. There is, however, general agreement on the high quality of her scholarship and the excellence of her style. Renault herself has said of her research, “I don’t do any; I make use of other people’s life-work,” an unduly modest statement from one who taught herself Greek in order to research her novels and has used in them a few of her own fine translations of sources. Before writing the eight novels of ancient Greece upon which her reputation rests, she wrote six novels with a modern setting. The best of these, The Charioteer (1953), brings ancient Greek imagery and sensibility to homosexual relationships in post-World War II Britain. Renault worked as a nurse before and during the war, beginning to write and taking Renault as a pseudonym for her actual surname, Challans, and in 1948 emigrated to South Africa, where she wrote The Charioteer and all the subsequent novels dealing with ancient Greece.

With The Nature of Alexander (1975), a study of his life and legend written after the first two volumes of the trilogy, Renault demonstrates her scholarship and throws into relief the stylistic and scholarly choices...

(The entire section is 555 words.)