The Twyborn Affair

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

The Twyborn Affair is the tenth novel by Patrick White, the Australian writer who was awarded the 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature. It is an elegant, refined exploration of a very complex theme, the sexual identity of a man who prefers to live as a woman. The history of Eddie Twyborn is primarily the story of his struggle to guard the secret of his dual existence. His evasive maneuvers are motivated not by a feeling of shame, but by his conviction that discovery would make it impossible for him to relate to those he finds attractive.

In each of the novel’s three sections, the protagonist plays a different role. On the French Riviera, he is Eudoxia, the lover of an elderly Greek gentleman, Angelos Vatatzes. In Australia, he is himself, Eddie Twyborn struggling to be a man among men on a sheep ranch. In London, he is Eadith Trist, the aging madam of a house of prostitution.

Although it is clear that the novel is Eddie’s story, the existence of two other characters dominates this narrative of tormented deception. Eadie Twyborn, Eddie’s mother, is seldom seen but always oppressive in her absence. Joan Golson, Eadie Twyborn’s lesbian lover, is the link between Eddie and many of the other characters and the stimulus for almost everything that Eddie does in his attempts to escape detection. Riding through the countryside on the Riviera, Joan sees Eudoxia and Angelos walking arm in arm. Later, she observes them playing the piano through the window of their cottage. After she elicits an invitation to tea, Eudoxia’s fear of discovery motivates him to flee to another village, where Angelos dies of a heart attack. Years later, after Eddie has spent the war in the trenches and then gone to Australia to visit his parents, Joan Golson comes for a visit. Eddie flees to the south of Australia to work on a sheep ranch run by a friend of his father. Joan Golson again comes to visit, but Eddie disappears. On the eve of World War II, Eadith, the madam of prostitutes, encounters Joan on a street in London. He learns of the whereabouts of his mother in the same city, which discovery leads to the climactic scene of their reunion on a park bench outside a church. Eadie Twyborn, who always wanted a daughter, asks this “woman” dressed in her elegant, worn finery, whether he might be her son, and is relieved to hear that he is her daughter, Eadith. The last moment of the novel portrays Eddie, in the clothes of a man and the makeup of the madam, dying beside a soldier on a street in London, his hand blown off by a bomb. As the city turns to flames, Eadie sits in her hotel room transfixed amid a fantasy of waiting for her daughter in an Australian garden, while the bulbul bird sings and turns its face to the sun.

This story of a man’s search for sexual identity is curious in many ways. Not until that final scene is it clear that it has been a struggle to gain his mother’s acceptance and love, to be the daughter that he should have been. Throughout the novel, the vacillating sexuality of almost all the people around Eddie creates a web of intricate relationships. Joan Golson, married to a man but in love with Eadie Twyborn, lusts after Eudoxia, the beautiful woman who is really a man, and writes Eadie letters about the “delicious creature” that they both should pursue. Angelos Vatatzes, Eudoxia’s “husband,” fears that Curly Golson has come to take her away from him. Eadie’s friend Marcia Lushington becomes Eddie’s mistress while her husband exhibits a fatherly interest in Eddie that verges on incest. Don Prowse, the tough, masculine ranch manager, engages Eddie in a series of subtle seduction scenes, finally rapes him, then cries for forgiveness and willingly submits to rape as Eddie takes his revenge. Roderick Gravenor, in love with Eadith Trist, confesses to her that he is “different” as he almost succeeds in seducing her. His nephew, Philip Thring, refuses the advances of the prostitutes, but finally loses his virginity with Eadith, the madam queen in full drag.

The final scene of the novel is a perfect culmination to this history of indeterminate sexuality. Eadith trades her finery for Eddie’s clothes and turns the brothel over...

(The entire section is 1714 words.)