Study Guide

The Survivor

by Thomas Keneally

The Survivor Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Alec Ramsey, sixty-three years old, is the last survivor of the polar expedition of the mid-1920’s in which Stephen Leeming died in the last dash for safety. Ramsey and another man, Dr. Lloyd, who were with Leeming, buried him on the trail and managed to save themselves.

Ramsey, who was a sportsman of some repute before the trip and who has continued to have something of a public life, has a reputation for being reticent and sometimes thin-skinned about Leeming’s death. The novel opens with Ramsey’s walking out of a Rotary Club meeting at which he was to speak, enraged because of innocent, if callous, prying into the matter. This sensitivity often affects his work for the school, and it is known that he is often too emotionally fragile to fulfill his duties. Two assistants, one of them, Pelham, understanding but often irritated by having to do much of Ramsey’s work, and another, Kable, ambitious and unscrupulous, are waiting apprehensively for Ramsey to retire.

Ramsey is also having difficulty in his personal life. A man identified only as “the poet” is badgering the unfortunate Ramsey to allow him to write on the old explorer’s Antarctic experience (despite this, the poet becomes a friend and confidant). Ramsey’s wife is not always sympathetic to his aching, debilitating sense of guilt. Despite the fact that the incident occurred more than forty years ago, Ramsey cannot forget two things: that immediately prior to the expedition he slept with Leeming’s wife, and that Leeming, although dying following a...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

The Survivor Bibliography (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Donahugh, R. H. Review in Library Journal. XCV (March 15, 1970), p. 1048.

Keesing, Nancy. Australian Postwar Novelists, 1975.

Keneally, Thomas. “Origin of a Novel,” in Hemisphere. XIII, no. 10 (1969).

Kiernan, Brian. “Fable or Novel? The Development of Thomas Keneally,” in Meanjin Quarterly. XXXI (1972), pp. 489-493.

Kiernan, Brian. Images of Society and Nature, 1971.

Levin, Martin. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXII (September 27, 1970), p. 48.

Ramsom, W. S. The Australian Experience: Cultural Essays on Australian Novels, 1974.