(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Aunt’s Story boasts one of the great opening lines in the history of the novel: “But old Mrs. Goodman did die at last.” Following her domineering mother’s timely demise, Theodora Goodman embarks on a lengthy trip from her native Australia to pre-World War II Europe and thence to the United States. Much of the action of The Aunt’s Story is filtered through the increasingly disjointed consciousness of Theodora; hers is a psychological as well as a physical voyage.

The novel is divided into three sections, each of which takes place in a different geographical locale. The first part, “Meroe,” opens in Sydney with the arrival of Mrs. Goodman’s other daughter, Fanny Parrott, her husband, Frank, and her children, among whom numbers Theodora’s niece and soulmate, Lou. Such empathy exists between them that Theodora obliges Lou with a retelling of the story of her own childhood on Meroe, her father’s estate in the country named for a similarly beautiful place in ancient, mythical Abyssinia. Theodora, the eldest child, is the bane of her mother’s existence: Stiff, awkward, and sallow, Theodora often says and does startling things. Her beloved father seems to understand her, though, and so she enters his world, learning to shoot like a man and to love the land. Unlike Fanny, who is plump and rosy and who perfects piano and other acceptably feminine hobbies, Theodora hones her hunting skills and communes with roses and trees. Following Mr. Goodman’s death, however, Theodora and her mother move to Sydney, where Theodora waits on the old tyrant and enjoys a...

(The entire section is 655 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Aunt’s Story tells the tale of Theodora Goodman, an eccentric. One of White’s aims in the book is to upend conventional notions of what is and is not normal. Although Theodora is different from most other people, the reader is led to conclude that this difference makes her, if anything, superior to the majority of other human beings, who lack her sensitivity, creativity, and depth. Theodora epitomizes these qualities, which belong to everyone, although the demands of everyday society may often require that they lay dormant.

The Aunt’s Story is an autobiographical work. In the manner of such classics as George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860) and Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931), the novel attempts to chart the growth and development of a soul. There is a difference, however, in White’s novel. The other authors portray their souls as representative, as typical human selves in whose experience the reader can participate with ease. White, on the other hand, focuses deliberately on an eccentric and wayward soul, in order to show the value of personal qualities that are often despised or repressed by society. The tension between the individuality and universality of Theodora’s predicament is displayed in her name. Theodora means gift of God in Greek, and her surname clearly alludes to the goodness present in the individual.

Theodora is one of two daughters born to George Goodman, an irresponsible landowner who is an irresistible force in the life of his two daughters. The Goodmans live in a house named Meroë, after an ancient Ethiopian kingdom. As a girl, Theodora lives under the illusion that Meroë contains the entire...

(The entire section is 724 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Barnard, Marjorie. “The Four Novels of Patrick White,” in Meanjin. XV (Winter, 1956), pp. 156-170.

Dutton, Geoffrey, ed. The Literature of Australia, 1976.

Kiernan, Brian. Patrick White, 1980.

Walsh, William. Patrick White’s Fiction, 1977.

Wilkes, Gerald Alfred, ed. Ten Essays on Patrick White: Selected from Southerly (1964-1967), 1970.