Flaws in the Glass Critical Essays

Patrick White


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The most significant portion of White’s self-portrait lies in the section he calls “Flaws in the Glass.” The other two parts, although interesting, informative, and sometimes amusing, remain limited in appeal. After all, the book’s prime value stems from the entry it allows into the heretofore private world of a major novelist, not from details about foreign places and other people. Thus “Flaws in the Glass,” on which this analysis focuses, may be read in two ways: first, as background for White’s fiction; second, as a record of an artist’s development and achievement. To suggest that the self-portrait provides detailed accounts of the novels’ sources is misleading. White has never resorted to autobiographical fiction but has criticized this approach, which has long dominated Australian novels, calling it “pragmatic” and “documentary.” In his article on Flaws in the Glass, he encourages fiction writers to launch into “that admittedly disturbing marriage between life and imagination.” His self-portrait records his own venture into that marriage, an exploration that has produced some of the century’s greatest fiction.

One aspect he examines is family. His own—wealthy sheep graziers—belonged to the Australian aristocracy, those who considered themselves “Anglo-Australians” and England their true “home.” These pseudoaristocrats, sometimes called “squatocrats” because they “squatted on” or took over public lands to make their fortunes, receive satiric treatment throughout the novels; thus, White’s true account of his mother, father, other relatives, and their friends sheds light on his handling of this class in his novels. Always able as a child, White recalls, to see through any form of pretension, he was never absorbed into a world that aped British ways twelve thousand miles removed from their source. Thus, he became an outsider, quickly identifying more fully with the underdog, the misfit, than with the antipodean elite. In his fiction, it is the outsider—a refugee, a washerwoman, an aborigine, a mental incompetent, to...

(The entire section is 855 words.)