Flaws in the Glass Critical Context - Essay

Patrick White

Critical Context

When Flaws in the Glass appeared, it received a mixed response; some critics were shocked and repelled by so frank a treatment of the author’s homosexuality, others by the cynicism and sarcasm evident as White appeared to be settling old scores with friends and with at least one literary critic who had judged his work harshly. Weighed against those parts, though, were ones that glimmered with insight and gave the admirer of White’s work a look at the artist’s development and practice. Perhaps the self-portrait needed editing; metaphorically speaking, maybe the glass into which the author stared should have been cleaned. White has always depicted a flawed world, however, just as his self-portrait shows a contradictory, sometimes irascible, and occasionally noble sort of person.

Within the critical context of White’s work, then, Flaws in the Glass should be given a place, but not a literal one. This is what some critics have done, citing passages from the supposed autobiography to prove their particular interpretation of a novel. The book should not be considered the source for oracular statements to explain with finality a fictional complexity that does not surrender easily to analysis. It should instead be treated as a novelist’s attempt to tell the truth about one life, which happens to be his own. After all, that is what White has been doing under various guises all along in his fiction, no matter what the character’s name.