Patrick White, Nobel-winning writer, dies at 78

October 01, 1990

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Patrick White, a rancher who turned to writing and won the 1973 Nobel Prize for literature, died at his home yesterday after a lengthy illness. He was 78.

The poet, playwright and novelist was born in London and educated at King's College, Cambridge. He worked as a "jackaroo," or rancher, in the Australian state of New South Wales but later returned to England to study languages at Cambridge. He served as an intelligence officer in the Royal Air Force in the Middle East during World War II.

His first novel, "Happy Valley," published in 1939, won the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal, as did his novel "The Tree of Man."

His works were frequently set in the Australian outback, and he used a hypnotic style to describe the suffering of his characters.

Essayist Margaret B. Lewis wrote in the 1986 work "Contemporary Novelists": "White is a writer who makes serious demands of his readers, straining prose to the utmost poetic limits, putting severe pressure on syntax and vocabulary and stretching credence to an unusual degree in his search for the transcendent in the lives of his idiosyncratic characters."

He won the Nobel Prize for his novel, "Eye of the Storm," a portrait of the final days of an elderly woman whose greedy relatives return to Europe to await her demise.

His plays included "Big Toys" in 1977, "Signal Driver" in 1982 and "Netherwood" in 1983. He also wrote a screenplay, a book of verse and a 1981 autobiography, "Flaws in the Glass: A Self-Portrait."

"Since the war, my life has been practically uneventful," Mr. White wrote in 1955. ". . . I breed schnauzers, saanen goats, cultivate olives and citrus fruit, grow vegetables and live more or less off my own produce."

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