(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The action of The Solid Mandala is divided evenly between Arthur and Waldo Brown. The first and last sections of the four-part novel, narrated from an omniscient third-person point of view, describe events before and after the climactic moment in the Brown brothers’ lives. The two middle sections are narrated from each brother’s point of view; both recount in quite different ways the story of their lives up to the fateful climax of their relationship.

Arthur and Waldo Brown, fraternal twins, are born in Australia to parents transplanted from England. George and Anne Brown preserve some grandiose ideas about life, and so Waldo and Arthur grow up in the un-noteworthy suburb of Sarsaparilla in an atherwise average house made unusual because of its incongruous classical pediment in front. Arthur is the strong, sturdy son who is slow but also sensitive and kindly. Waldo, by contrast, is physically weaker than Arthur but clever enough to become a dry, unemotional librarian. As they mature, it becomes clear that Arthur considers himself Waldo’s protector, while superior Waldo resents having to admit to his dull-witted dill of a brother.

As the story begins, the brothers are both retired old men who live together in their original childhood home, take their scruffy dogs for daily walks, and spend the rest of their time bickering. The two have always been viewed as eccentric by their neighbors, although, as Waldo tries to make abundantly clear, it is Arthur who gives them the bad reputation. Waldo’s reminiscence about their combined past reveals him to be an unsympathetic character: bookish, prudish, and egotistic. He considers Arthur his duty, his responsibility, his “club foot,” and does his best to dissociate himself from his...

(The entire section is 725 words.)

The Solid Mandala Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Herring, Thelma. “Self and Shadow: The Quest for Totality in The Solid Mandala,” in Ten Essays on Patrick White: Selected from Southerly (1964-1967), 1970. Edited by G. A. Wilkes.

McCulloch, A. M. A Tragic Vision: The Novels of Patrick White, 1983.

Morley, Patricia A. The Mystery of Unity: Theme and Technique in the Novels of Patrick White, 1972.

Walsh, William. “Patrick White’s Vision of Human Incompleteness: The Solid Mandala and The Vivisector,” in Readings in Commonwealth Literature, 1973. Edited by William Walsh.

Wilkes, G. A. “An Approach to Patrick White’s The Solid Mandala,” in Southerly. XXIX, no. 2 (1969), pp. 97-110.