Patrick White’s stature as a novelist was already considerable among discerning critics and discriminating readers in the English-speaking world before it was confirmed by his reception of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973. The books that established White’s reputation after World War II were The Aunt’s Story, which has been widely recognized as a masterpiece; The Tree of Man; and the virtually unforgettable Voss. At the same time, White’s fiction, though accessible to the general reader, unlike the work of such modernist masters as James Joyce and William Faulkner (or contemporary “experimental” fiction), never achieved a wide readership. It is uncompromisingly addressed to the same discerning public that respects Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann, and Marcel Proust.
If rather philistine criticism of White’s work from intellectual readers as well as from the general public in Australia and elsewhere began in the 1960’s, after Riders in the Chariot, The Aunt’s Story is almost universally admired, and The Tree of Man, Voss, Riders in the Chariot, The Vivisector, The Eye of the Storm, and A Fringe of Leaves all have admirers who regard them as virtual classics. White’s transformation of Australian history into epic and tragic vision in The Tree of Man, Voss, and A Fringe of Leaves is brilliant, and his vision of the fragmented world of the twentieth century is equally impressive, especially in The Vivisector and The Eye of the Storm. White’s major successes ultimately assure their author a place beside the masters of prose fiction in English, including Joyce, Lawrence, and Graham Greene.