The Solid Mandala

by Patrick White

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In Patrick White's The Solid Mandala, twin siblings Arthur and Waldo Brown are very, very different despite the fact that they shared a womb. Even still, they have an odd sort of dependence on each other, particularly as they become elderly. In their old age, they sleep in the same bed and hold hands in public.

The novel takes place in Australia, with Arthur and Waldo being immigrants from Great Britain. Townspeople in Australia don’t know what to make of the men; they frequently stick out due to their nationality and behavior. While the twins are walking their dogs (hand in hand), two ladies take notice, saying,

“I never saw two men walkin’ hand in hand,” Mrs. Dun murmured.

“They are old.” Mrs. Poulter sighed. “I expect it helps them. Twins too.”

“But two men!”

“For that matter I never saw two grown women going hand in hand.”

The two men also have rather uneventful love lives, remaining bachelors. They do, however, develop a close relationship with their neighbor Mrs. Poulter (despite her occasional comments about their behavior, which she views as strange, as displayed in the previous quote).

Yet, in spite of their differences and their inclination to harbor disgust toward each other, their bond as twin brothers is inescapable. They work to be autonomous but still share a closeness throughout the entirety of their lives.

Arthur, the (slightly) older brother, is well-meaning but simple-minded. Arthur has an intellectual disability, another factor that differentiates him from Waldo. At one point, the boys’ father comments on Arthur’s intelligence:

There was an occasion when Dad put down the book and said: “Sometimes I wonder, Arthur, whether you listen to any of this. Waldo can make an intelligent comment. But you! I’ve begun to ask myself if there’s any character, any incident, that appeals to Arthur in any way.”

Waldo is the scholarly one who works in a library; he has literary yearnings and considers himself better and smarter than other people, but he is too insecure to pursue his dream of being a writer.

We see his high-minded personality in Waldo’s treatment of Bill Poulter, Mrs. Poulter’s husband. Waldo thinks of Bill as “virgin soil, so to speak” and wants to have an impact on him academically, as displayed in the following quote:

Until he knew he must take the bull by the horns, as it were, if he intended to influence their neighbour’s mind and future. He might, for a start, lend him a book, something quite simple and primitive, Fenimore Cooper, say, they still had The Deerslayer in the Everyman edition.

On the whole, at the crux of the book is Arthur and Waldo’s ever-complicated relationship, which works simultaneously to drive the men apart emotionally while anchoring them to one another literally.

Toward the end of the novel, the men get into an argument at the library where Waldo works, which essentially sums up the complicated nature of the men’s relationship:

Waldo kept looking round to see who might be noticing. As for Arthur, he did not care. Their relationship was the only fact of importance, and such an overwhelming one.

“I shan’t ask if you’ve come here, if you’re making this scene, to humiliate me,” Waldo was saying, “because the answer is too obvious. That has been your chief object in life. If you would be truthful.”

“Why hurt yourself, Waldo?” Arthur was given the strength to reply. “Kick a dog, and hurt yourself. That’s you all over.”

“For God’s sake don’t drag in the dogs! And who, I’d like to know, wanted the miserable animals? And...

(This entire section contains 765 words.)

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“We both did,” said Arthur, “so that we could have something additional—reliable— to love. Because we didn’t have faith in each other. Because we are—didn’t you say yourself, Waldo?—abnormal people and selfish narcissyists.”

In the above exchange, we see both Arthur and Waldo’s hatred for one another and desire for love and companionship. To Arthur, his relationship with his brother is clearly paramount; Waldo, on the other hand, worries about who will hear or see the argument.

In the end, despite the two men’s clear disdain for each other and lack of faith in one another, they remain together until Waldo’s death. The novel ends with their neighbors, the Poulters, discussing the gruesome circumstances of Waldo’s death (“dead or worse killed several days the dogs eating him”), adding that the police find Arthur “off his head” and take him away.




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