Critical Context

The appearance of The Vivisector in 1970 marked the beginning of a prolific decade in White’s career as a writer. The 1970’s saw four lengthy novels from White, an output no doubt encouraged by his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature following the publication of The Eye of the Storm in 1973. White is always interested in dirty, gritty life, and nowhere is this more evident than in The Solid Mandala (1966), The Vivisector, and The Eye of the Storm. In The Solid Mandala, White depicts the lives of two shabby old men, and in The Vivisector, he is at his best describing Hurtle Duffield as a smelly, aging artist.

The Vivisector has enraged some Australian literary critics for what it implies about the artistic scene there. It is possible to read the novel as White’s commentary on his own predicament in a country whose concerns remain chiefly material. Like Hurtle, White is fascinated and inspired by the Australian landscape, but, similar to his protagonist, White has always steered clear of politics in the arts. Furthermore, both artists are anti-intellectual and antiacademic, and both have felt the venom of critics who disapprove of their experimentation with form and technique. This is not to make a claim for The Vivisector as autobiography, only to suggest that White has drawn on some of his own frustration with the Australian literary scene in order to create the novel.