Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

When an Australian novelist, Patrick White, received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973, his work proved to be generally unknown beyond a select circle of international admirers. He had by then published eight novels, four plays, and a collection of short stories; since 1973, four novels, another short-story collection, and three plays appeared. White, who passed away in 1990, shunned publicity and never granted interviews. He avoided talking about his writing, even declined to go to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremonies, and his life long remained something of a mystery to the outside world. The Nobel Prize drew attention to the writer himself, a circumstance resented by White, who believed that his work should speak apart from its creator. Even after receiving the Nobel Prize, White continued to guard his privacy, which became more difficult because of reporters, celebrity seekers, and critics demanding interviews and prying into his personal life.

Thus, when Flaws in the Glass, subtitled A Self-Portrait, appeared in 1981, it constituted a major event for White’s admirers—and, to some extent, for his detractors. From the outset, White described the book as neither an autobiography nor a memoir but as a portrait drawn from staring into the mirror of self and discovering the reflected flaws. His admirers considered the work revelatory, even if White had little to say about his writing. His detractors, on the other hand, insisted that the pettiness, meanness, and cynicism they saw dominating the self-portrait proved their...

(The entire section is 636 words.)