White’s chronochromatic lens
 through The Charterhouse of Parma to
The Eye of the Storm [1]

A novel is mirror which passes over a highway. Sometimes it reflects to your eyes the blue of the skies, at others the churned-up mud of the road.
Stendhal, The Red and the Black (1830)

The citation for Patrick White’s 1973 Nobel Prize claimed that he had ‘introduced a new continent into literature.’[2] Two and a half years earlier, with a first draft of The Eye of the Storm[3] underway, he had written to New York critic James Stern:

How lucky the Irish are, and the American Jews, in having those rich tormented backgrounds to draw on: here are we, the bloody Australians, with nothing, having to conjure rabbits out of the air. As a writer I’d like to have been almost anything rather than an Australian – even a New Zealander or a South African …[4]

At the same time, he explained to Cynthia Nolan that keeping a balance between the ‘superficiality and density’ of his characters

is the great problem in writing about anything Australian; my (secret) solution is to ring in as many foreigners and eccentrics as possible and hope I can keep people interested through those.[5]

For The Eye of the Storm, White conjured several rabbits to get over this failing. Although his protagonist is an Australian, Elizabeth Hunter is touched with the weird of glamour before she gains an insight into life and death during a cyclone. Her two children are exotic by association. Basil has been knighted in London for his acting while Dorothy has married a French Prince and retains the title Princesse de Lascabanes and the Roman faith to which she converted. Two of the servants are European immigrants, the lay nun, Sister de Santis from Greek Orthodoxy, and the Jewish housekeeper, Mrs Lippmann, a sometime cabaret artist who sings, dances, dresses up to amuse her employer. Yet another foreigner is Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma,[6] which four of White’s characters have read.

The French masterpiece[7] offers more than exotic decoration to The Eye because the Charterhouse holds an import for each author[8] beyond that of the building that Fabrice del Dongo enters at the end of the eponymous novel? Fabrice’s retreat from the heroic world germinates from his boyhood when he visits Father Blandes’ observatory to view the stars, and to which he returned for advice after his escapades at Waterloo. Imprisoned for murder years later, Fabrice ascends the tower to his cell aware of a glance from the gaoler’s daughter, Clelia, rather than his incarceration, elevated emotionally and physically. Removed from the tempest of his affairs, he remains as excitable as ever since he has found the love of which he thought himself incapable, choosing to return to his cell to be closer to his beloved.[9] Expanding on the suggestion that the prison tower is Fabrice’s Charterhouse, Victor Brombert pictures it as, ‘a privileged and almost inaccessible region: the world of withdrawal, of hidden spirituality.’[10] If so, Stendhal is close to White’s quest for grace.

Hence, The Eye is no roman a clef for Stendhal’s characters, making it bootless to wonder whether Alfred Hunter is the Duke Sanseverina who marries Elizabeth to supply the money for her selfish life but makes next-to-no demands on her. Rather, the link is one of sensibility through Stendhal’s personal philosophy, Beylisme, which has been defined as ‘a worship of magnificent, all-conquering energy in the pursuit of happiness.’[11] In The Eye of the Storm, Elizabeth Hunter, and she alone, is marked by that disruptive spirit. White’s fascination with her in no way limits his recognition that she is a pale reflection of the Duchesse Sanseverina. Stendhal explained to Balzac that her ‘personality is copied from Correggio, (that is to say she produces on my soul the same effect as his paintings.)’[12] As ‘affirmations of human pleasure’, the paintings by Correggio (c.1494-1534) visualise Beylisme. His works have been lauded for their ‘dramatic excitement’, ‘ecstatic ‘sensuality and abandon’, and illusionistic triumphs, but also condemned for profaning religious art by stimulating arousal. The painter’s coupling the sacred with the profane complementary the dichotomy of Fabrice as cleric and womaniser.[13]

This essay approaches why White weaves The Charterhouse into The Eye by tracing how he does so before examining his uses colour and jewels to portray character and to convey the passage of time, contrasting those elements in Stendhal.

The Eye of the Storm merits attention for its achievements and not merely because of its proximity to the 1973 Nobel Prize or the 2011 film. The novel is at the centre of White’s recurrent themes. It projects the shadow of the Shoah from Riders in the Chariot (1961), one of the first of the avalanche of fictions to take that catastrophe as the touchstone of morality and terror, and of sibling incest from The Solid Mandala (1966). Elizabeth Hunter’s meanderings have their origins in the hallucinations of Theodora Goodman of The Aunt’s Story (1948) and the telepathic epistolary from Voss (1957). The location on Fraser Island reappears in his next novel, A Fringe of Leaves (1976), while the quest for reconciliation of mother and son ennobles The Twyborn Affair (1979).

The reading group
Mrs Hunter reads The Charterhouse to her dying husband, for whom it was his favourite.[14] Dorothy brings a French edition to read for the seventh time. The jumped-up rouseabout, Rory Macrory, has read Alfred’s copy. Stupid as an actor, Basil reads nothing but play-scripts with ‘the right part in’, dismissing ‘The Charterhouse of Thing’ (482), thereby telling us more than we care to know about the quality of his mind and hence of his flop as Lear. The reactions of the other four are no less revealing of their characters.

White introduces the Stendhal in a flashback to the months when Elizabeth nurses Alfred:

That night Alfred began staring at her in what appeared like suddenly feverish, hitherto unrealised, admiration. ‘Isn’t she splendid?” he interrupted. ‘What a dazzler of a woman – the Sanseverina!’ (200-1)

Alfred’s intimation that the qualities he sees in the Duchess mirrors his love for his wife frames Elizabeth Hunter’s selfishness, her infidelities and her revelation during the cyclone. White’s next mention of The Charterhouse extends its significance for other characters:

‘Tell me what you read last night.’ Mother could never leave well alone.

‘The Chartreuse’, Dorothy replied tout court.

‘It was your father’s favourite book – The Charterhouse of Parma.’

‘Oh? But he wasn’t a reader. How do you know?’

‘I found out a lot of things when I got to know him. He’d been reading books. This one in particular … He admitted he loved it.  … He loved that woman’.

‘Who – Clelia?’ she hoped.

‘No. The other – the duchess. He admired her brilliance’.

‘I find her dishonest in some respects’. (224-5)

Dorothy’s disdain for Sanseverina is of a piece with her judgement of her mother who defends the Duchesse:

 ‘Sanseverina was no more dishonest than any other beautiful woman, or – or jewel. An emerald isn’t less beautiful, is it? for the flaw in it?’[15] (225)

For White, jewels are prisms dispersing colour while exposing character.

At dinner a few nights later, Dorothy is seated alongside an Australian novelist of whom she had never heard:

‘Don’t you read?’ he inquired, when he could no longer leave her unmasked.

‘Not adventurously.’ She admitted. ‘I’m reading La Chartreuse de Parme for I think probably the seventh time’.

‘The who?’ The Australian Writer could not have sounded more disgusted.

The Charterhouse of Parma’. Repetition made her throat swell as though forced to confess a secret love to someone who might defile its purity simply by knowing about it.

‘Oh – Stendhal!’ He gave her a rather literary smile … and turned to his other neighbour to explain – again a waste of intellect – how he was adapting the Gothic novel to local conditions. (292)

Dorothy’s translation of the title for the benefit of ‘The Australian Writer’ allows us to doubt his ability to realise the Gothic while keeping us alert to the difficulties with which White had to cope in transferring themes from La Chartreuse de Parme to Sydney. Through Dorothy, he laments that it is ‘[u]nfortunate that the English language should transform a great work of French literature into a mock-Italian novelette.’ (499)

When Basil and Dorothy return to what had been their father’s sheep station she has to deal with a more aggressive reaction against the Stendhal, and a reminder of her mother’s dishonesty. The new owner’s wife shows them to their father’s study which has been given over as a sitting room for them. They find that the furniture has stayed as have the books.

Dorothy was particularly outraged by Mother’s abandoning the books; apart from their sacredness as literature, books are the most personal possessions. Basil did not care …

Dorothy pounced at the bookshelves. ‘I’m sure none of these were my father’s’.

Anne offered proof. ‘Here’s his signature in one’.

The Charterhouse of Parma!’ Dorothy turned to Basil. ‘It was his favourite. She told me. She could leave his favourite! And mine!’ (482)

Her sleep that night is ‘disordered’, so ‘she browsed here and there in The Charterhouse of Parma.’ In her half-waking dreams she becomes ‘Dorothy Sanseverina’ whose eyes have the power to enslave her hostess and her children as she fantasises her wishes into the fiction:

Love has been imprisoned a lifetime in this tower which is also incidentally a body can only be the purest noblest occurring with a delicacy Stendhal cannot realise till Fabrice breaks open his bronze and there is the knuckle with this one ugly scab oh Basil Bas Ber Bazzurl tu es le suel a me comprendre. (484)

Her melding of Fabrice’s bronze with Rory’s knuckle  summons desire just as her blurring of Basil’s name and slipping into her other language foreshadows the incest they will perform in their parents’ bed. The snippet of French suggests that she has been translating her father’s English version back into the original.

Before her attachment of understanding with Basil is realised, she must undergo the humiliation of her repulsion and attraction towards Rory:

Dorothy escaped into the study with Father’s Charterhouse of Parma which she had only slight intention of reading: holding the book would be her safeguard against anybody’s intrusion on her thoughts … (498-9)

To stop her mind drifting to her hosts,

Madame de Lascabanes made the extra effort to concentrate on her book. She did not want Count Mosca to see her talking to Fabrice.  … (499)

But that is not to be:

When ‘that brute Rory’ barges in, he gets stuck into ‘You people’, in which he includes his wife’s family and the Hunters: ‘You’re all of you cold perfect, arrogant people.’ (501) She defends Basil:

But Macrory had other thoughts. ‘That book you’re reading – I had a go at it once.’ He was picking at the scab on his knuckle.

‘Well?’ Her faith in truth, as opposed to the orthodoxies, made her stiffen.

‘Seemed to me a fuss about nothing’. Then, ‘I couldn’t understand it’.

This was where the Princesse de Lascabanes, surprised by a comparative humility, surrendered to him. ‘It is a “fuss”, admittedly’; she realised she was perspiring at the roots of her hair; ‘but it is about something – whether we find out or not’. The conviction she could not convey was distended painfully inside her; … (502)

Dorothy’s discomfort[16] at admiring a ‘fuss about nothing’ poses the question of how White is to make us care about  the dying of one more rich old woman. In discussing Emma Bovary, Erich Auerbach observes that ‘[n]othing happens, but that nothing has become a heavy, oppressive, threatening something.’ [17] Can this ‘fuss’ become ‘something’ because Mrs Hunter’s death has been illumined by her experience the eye of the storm? She, and White, are convinced of its importance even if none of the other characters gain more than a glimpse of what the island has disclosed.

Dorothy’s resort to justifying the book’s worth as an unrealised mystery leaves Rory ‘as unmoved as the chair in which he is sitting: ‘I only ever believed’, he said, ‘in what I can see and touch.’ (502) In this, he is like Henry Lawson’s ‘Type of a coming nation,/In the land of cattle and sheep,/Worked on Middleton’s station, “Pound a week and his keep”./ On Middleton’s wide dominions/ Plied the stockwhip and shears;/ Hadn’t any opinion. Hadn’t any “Idears”.’[18] But Middleton’s rouseabout could never have initiated this discussion. Rory’s reaction to the Stendhal is a puzzle. If believing only in what he ‘can see and touch’ means that he is devoid of a fictive sense, why does he began to read? Moreover, the first sixty pages are set in the one of the moments in world history. Of course, we experience Waterloo through the eyes of the naïve, indeed comic hero Fabrice del Dongo and so the practical farmer might well have thought that Stendhal had trivialised the life and death of individuals and societies to no more than a ‘fuss’. If we assume that Rory’s dismissal is based on reading to the end then his judgement is in keeping with his resentment that ‘you people have it easy’. Aristocratic adventurers can lose their lives in swings of political fortune but are free to strut upon the stage because they do not have to make two blades of grass grow as he does for his sheep in a drought-ravaged and flood-prone land. Might he have identified more with the carpenter’s son Julien Sorel in The Red and the Black?[19]

Rory’s limiting his belief to ‘what I can see and touch’ is the mentality that White feels separates him from most Australians, despite his assertion that the majority retain some aspect of the supernatural. Writing about the The Vivisector to literary historian and broadcasting bureaucrat, Clem Semmler, he explained:

I suppose what I am increasingly intent on trying to do in my books is to give professed unbelievers glimpses of their own unprofessed faith. I believe most people have a religious faith, but are afraid that by admitting it they will forfeit their right to be considered intellectuals.

He had just found ‘a source of illumination’ in The Cloud of Unknowing by a fourteenth-century mystic.[20] That discovery was no epiphany but part of a lifetime’s pondering the place of the spiritual in the everyday, an ache traceable through his previous fictions. Three years later, he was hoping that The Eye of the Storm came ‘closer to giving the final answer.’[21] Reaching that goal required adjustments to his craft. Structure, characterisation and dialogue had to change to match the themes:

If I use the less punctuated stream of consciousness it is because Elizabeth Hunter spends most of her time dozing, dreaming, and in spite of her flashes of perception, is verging on senility.

Her slurred syntax spills over to Dorothy, Basil and Flora in moments between wakefulness and sleep.

The colours in white
White offers a similar explanation for what a critic calls the novel’s ‘bluish silvery misty’ tone by pointing out that Mrs Hunter ‘is half-blind.’[22] In truth, the critic was oblivious to the chromaticism with which White bathes character, action and scenery. When he heard that his title The Eye of the Storm had been used for a non-fiction book he wondered whether ‘Darker Purposes’ might do instead, a phrase from the opening of King Lear. ‘Darker’ is apposite for the behaviour of three of the Hunters but denies the palette with which Mrs Hunter is adorned and adored.

Responding to Brett Whiteley’s February 1972 exhibition, White told the painter that he had reserved the ‘Head Study’ called ‘The Eye’ because of connexions with my own work’, which was also why he had ‘bought the pink bird on a dark-blue sea’ [The Pink Heron][23] from the previous show:

it is very closely connected with the book I have been working on over the last couple of years … but I am still very fond of my dark-blue sea, for reasons which I hope you will gather if you ever read the book.

Whiteley had informed White that other acid-droppers were his fans because he saw ‘things the way they do. He couldn’t believe I had never been on acid; actually I have come across this before from people who are on it.’[24] Some of that appeal came from White’s reliance on dreams but also because the cascades of colour in his prose were in keeping with their psychedelic states, without suggesting that he or his characters are synesthetic.[25]

While acknowledging that ‘[c]olour has always meant a lot to me’, White was quick to add that ‘it comes out spontaneously in my writing.’[26] Colour is an energised presence throughout The Eye, not a mechanical application. White’s word-strokes are late Monet rather than that Impressionist’s initial juxtaposing of primaries, still less the mathematical precision of the Pointillists. Indeed, the arrival of a colour term appropriate in one context can slip through to one where it seems out of place: a parti-coloured Holden returns as a parti-coloured face. (464 and 480)  When White notes that ‘[m]y use of colour in any book has never been entirely conscious,’[27] we must not underestimate the modifier: ‘entirely’. He will pick up a colour and run with it for a few pages, for example, a flamingo scarf and flamingo sunsets. (393, 400 and 414) He places colours in accord with his observation of natural worlds:

Heat had bleached the colour from the sea, and reduced the coastline to a dead green, except at a point to the south where it rose into a curious cliff layered in reds and yellows. (377)

His eye is equally keen for interiors:

… she would never again see her long drawing-room, its copper and crimson and emerald melding together behind the bronze curtains drawn against the afternoon sun. (33)

And he has an implacable eye – should we say nose? - for the shades of social performance:

In the Cheeseman salon – or whatever their own word for it – there was a galaxy of personages, a shimmer of pastels, a simmering of frustrated, but rearoused expectations. Square men in black alternated with others more demonstrative and decorative in ruffles and plum to midnight velvets.

They tottered, or stomped, or tittuped, or swayed past: the blue and the pink, the pink and the blue, the double-barrels and the knights, Rotarians …   (291)

Colour also delivers bitchiness: ‘For someone so huge and purple who had suffered a recent fall, Cherry did not sound unduly plaintive.’ (296-7) He cannot let a moment pass without colouring its significance so that when Anne is telling Dorothy that her mother has died the farmer’s wife reaches for a ‘mauve tissue’, its shade appropriate to mourning and indicative of her commodified taste. (556)

Shortly before the publication of The Eye of the Storm, two scholars questioned White about the recurrence of certain colours, such as purple:

Colours, like symbols, are made too much of by those indefatigable unravellers. Can’t we use a colour because it is, or because we happen to like it? … If purple crops up under the mulberry tree, aren’t mulberries purple? And when Pearl and Theodora drink port in the pub, it’s because ladies like Pearl used to order port … Though purple in some contents does have transcendence, as does gold.[28]

White’s concession applies in full to the passage at the close of The Vivisector where the dying painter Hurtle Duffield recalls:

There was this day he sensed his psychopomp standing beside him. At once he began scrabbling according to direction on his rickety palette-table. He was mixing the never-yet-attainable blue. He pursed his lips to repeat the syllables which were being dictated N-D-G-O.

… All his life he had been reaching towards this vertiginous blue[29] without truly visualising, till lying on the pavement he was dazzled not so much by a colour as a long-standing secret relationship.

In Duffield’s final moments, ‘he was again acknowledging with all the strength of his live hand the otherwise unnamable I-N-D-I-G-O.’[30] After treating INDIGO as an anagram for I IN GOD,[31] White can hardly complain when Jungians attach archetypical properties to his colours.[32] Countering that approach, he contended that the relationships were never one-dimensional:

I don’t know about zinc, which you say recurs in association with inhumanity. The frustrated painter in me is fascinated by zinc-coloured light, particularly off metallic waves. I probably also associate it with bitter mornings over milk pails and separators and wash-tubs.[33]

The interplays of natural phenomena, artistic ambition and quotidian doings are like the complementary shadows formed by mixing primary colours, as was his apprehension of the spiritual within the sordid.

Although White does not paint by numbers, or set his palette as a chromatic equation for each character or mood,[34] his craft imposes consistency on details. Sister de Santis is ludicrous in her orange hat, not a procession of hot colours. Mrs Hunter is white:

She was standing at the head of the stairs, one arm outstretched, pointing, in a dress of blinding white such as had suited her best: cold and perfect in its way. (72)

Those white dresses she used to wear: people stopped talking whenever she started coming downstairs. (117)   

The finger as pink-tipped the dress as slippery scentful white as - what was it? Tuberoses somebody thought they were paying me a compliment.  (368)

The power of her whiteness intrudes on Basil’s dreams in the company of Mitty Jacka in London: ‘… a white dress streaming light from the top of the stairs.’  (245) At Kudjeri, the Macrorys associate Dorothy’s unpretentious white dress with the one that her mother was wearing the only time they saw her, to fall permanently under her spell. In response, ‘Dorothy’s voiced grated: “Even as an old woman, white was one of her affectations”.’ (520-1) To the untutored mind, white seems to refuse colours yet it encompasses their spectrum, as does Elizabeth Hunter in her cosmetics, jewels and other accessories.

In detailing those features, White’s adds what we can call the twinned subsets of the chromotope and the chronochromatic to the chronotope which, according to Mikhail Bakhtin,

provides the ground essential for the showing-forth, the representability of events. And this is so thanks precisely to the special increase in density and concreteness of time markers – the time of human life, of historical time – that occurs within well-delineated spatial areas.[35]

The chromotope expresses this density by saturating spaces with colours, here a verbal impasto, there a translucent watercolour. More amazing is White’s merging of colour into time to add a chronochromatic variant to the chronotope

as the primary point from which ‘scenes’ in a novel unfold, while at the same time other ‘binding’ events, located far from the chronotope, appear as mere dry information and communicated facts …; representation is concentrated and condensed in a few scenes and these scenes cast a light that makes even the ‘informing’ parts of the novel seem more concrete  [36]

White reaches this peak through the scene in which Mrs Hunter and nurse Flora Manhood turn to cosmetics to reverse the passage of time, a ritual which reverberates through the novel.

The sequence is prefaced by a game to revive her taste buds by guessing the colour of her food. When her tray arrives, she whispers:

‘’Which colour?’ … out of the whole of life the colours were perhaps what she missed most.

‘It is very delicate – this colour … Flesh – I think’.

‘Too variable’, Mrs Hunter sighed. (88-89)

All colours are variable through their juxtaposition or cultural context.[37] Their capacity to deceive is illustrated as Manhood applies them to flesh which has lost its whiteness.

‘Lilac fairy’
As Elizabeth Hunter awaits the return of her son, she has nurse Flora Manhood perform a cosmetic surgery, the make-up artist’s vivisection in a theatrical set- piece which is part evocation and part parody yet prepares us for her experience in the eye of the storm and at the hour at her death. The paint job establishes the intimacy between the vulgar and the mystical that White thought the churches lacked ‘by rejecting so much that is sordid and shocking which can still be related to religious experience.’[38] Their integration culminates in Mrs Hunter’s dying on her throne/commode.[39] The vocabulary with which White garbs the transfiguration links the ‘sordid’ to the ‘religious’: ‘white-robed princess’, ‘drugging’, ‘art’, ‘selflessness’, ‘ecstasy’, ‘bliss’, ‘feast day’, ‘reverently’, ‘miracle’, ‘resurrection’, ‘barbaric idol’, ‘worship’, ‘goddess’ and ‘confirmation’.

Colours will inscribe this connection between the ‘shocking’ and the spiritual:

‘Which tones do we fancy this evening?’ she asked in her brightest, classiest voice.

‘ “Dusk Rose” for the cheeks, “Deep Carnation” for the lips’, Mrs Hunter answered with conviction.

‘Mmmh? I’d have thought “Crimson Caprice” for the lips. Not if you don’t fancy it, of course’.

‘ “Deep Carnation”.’ (118) 

A power tussle intrudes here too. Mrs Hunter never surrenders.

… the white-robed princess began weaving deep carnation into the naked, crinkled lips ... forcing an illusion to assume a purple reality. (119) 

A jerk of Mrs Hunter’s mouth ‘curtailed any advances Sister Manhood might have been making in the direction of ecstasy.’ As the near-mummified figure floats in ‘a delphinium-silver bliss’, the votary breaks the spell she has created:

‘Are you thinking of a wig, love?’

‘The lilac.’ Mrs Hunter was definite on that.

‘How will you wear it?’

‘Flowing free.’

‘For the big occasion?’ The priestess had been prepared to give her all on a feast day.

‘Yes. Flowing. I have decided to appear utterly natural.’

The falsity of this statement conflicts with Manhood’s ‘religious sense … whenever she assisted at Elizabeth Hunter’s resurrection’. (120)

White must prevent the responses of the acolyte from obscuring the cynosure, as he explains to Cynthia Nolan:

One of the great difficulties in writing novels, I find, is to prevent a superficial, but very important character from sabotaging the whole thing. … in this one there are the characters of an actor and a rather flighty nurse who must be given a certain amount of density without the intellectual thought-processes which wouldn’t be natural to them.[40]

Still, Manhood has to be susceptible enough to the mystical for the scene to prepare us for his variant of the ‘resurrection’ as Elizabeth emerges from the island’s cellar/sepulcher.

When Flora considers ‘the best distance to contemplate’ her artistry, White uses the viewing point of the hand-maiden to put space between reader and reverie as much as between his characters so that Manhood is shocked to recognise

what in one sense was nothing more than a barbaric idol, frightening in its garishness of purple-crimson, lilac floss, and fluorescent white, in its robe of battered, rather than beaten, rose-gold, the claws, gloved in a jeweled armour, … (120)

Again, Mrs Hunter displays her power with the merest movement just as White does through the range of his palette and flashes of gemstones.

The face-painting is meant to reverse time by making Elizabeth Hunter appear young again, as if her life can run backwards. She fails to convince the one person for whom the ritual is intended: her son. When Basil at last enters - all ‘charm and brilliantine’ – he is so struck by his mother’s garishness as a ‘lilac fairy’ that he supposes that he has found ‘an under-study waiting on the spot where his leading lady should have been.’ (124) However, ‘lilac’ worms its way into his memory so deeply that, during his intoxicated flight back to London, while projecting his autobiographical theatre piece as time regained, he dreams of ‘the lilac wig’, ‘LILAC KING’ and  ‘lilac pubics’, until, landing in Amsterdam, ‘The LILAC OTHER has evaporated in the sun which burns too bright.’ (593-5) The time-traveller has triumphed beyond her grave. The make-over scene has ‘cast a light that makes even the “informing” parts of the novel seem more concrete.’[41] 

The violet and the black
White might go for several pages without a colour term but Stendhal almost never uses one, as if unaware of their existence.[42] If they pop up it is part of the backdrop – Redcoats at Waterloo and the violet stockings that indicate Fabrice’s ecclesiastical status. The fictional world of The Charterhouse of Parma is almost colourless, whereas the 1820s Italy that Stendhal represents exhibited every hue. Behind this re-imagined world resides the period from which Stendhal drew his incidents and intrigues – the 1520s - which was no less rich with colours, as we see from Correggio’s art in which ‘emerald greens and luminous oranges and reds stand out.’[43]

Stendhal’s story-telling is too rapid to pause to colour his vocabulary even for ‘a set of magnificent tapestries of admirably blended colours, calculated to charm the eye …’ [396] He reports the ‘sumptuous details’ of paintings and frescoes in terms of their subjects and price, never once hinting at what is admirable in their tonalities. When dealing with a popular feeling, he appeals to the reader to supply the words:

where can I find colours in which to paint the torrents of indignation that suddenly flooded every orthodox heart … ? [394]

This avoidance of tints recurs when touching on shades of flesh:

And he sought to imagine what that charming face could be like, with its colours half obliterated by the war that had been waged in her soul. [476]

The closest that Stendhal comes to making a colour carry a point is for a minor official, Signor Gonzo in his ‘magnificent cocked hat’ with its ‘dilapidated black plume’. This threadbare courtier

would have risked his life to save one of those fine armchairs in gold brocade, which for so many years had caught in his black silk breeches.

Should he dare to sit down, he was approached by

… a lackey, magnificently attired in a daffodil-yellow livery, covered all over with silver braid, as was the red waistcoat … [473]

The brilliant attire on even a servant in the Marchesa’s household overpowers the sable garb of a courtier who feels honoured to be told by ‘some great personage’ that he is ‘a perfect fool’. [472]

Hence, it would be possible to delete the scatter of colour terms from the Stendhal without losing any sense of the story and its settings, his principals or their motivations. Nothing could be further from the case with the White. Erase its colours and you atrophy its moral heart. This contrast is not as absolute in their treatment of jewels.

Jewels run through both novels as gifts, as secrets and as sources of power. The honourable solicitor Wyburd purloins a sapphire to have a memento of that ‘dazzler’, Elizabeth-Sanseverina. The Duchesse surrenders her last cache for her beloved nephew. The aristocrats are less impressed by the display of their jewels than is princess Dorothy whose ‘colonial’ standards of honesty enable her to ‘prise’ out of the de Lascabanes family the jewels that she wears to the North Shore dinner party held in her honour: ‘And the diamonds; everyone must bow to those: their fire too unequivocally real, their setting a collusion between class and aesthetics.’ (286-7) The Italians throw diamonds away as they do their lives in duels or battle. Jewels have use values for them and to the novelist in carrying his plot over obstacles. When gems in The Charterhouse are set in jewellery they are associated with inaction, for instance, as the Duchesse rests on her bed, Mosca pays court to the Prince’s sister and Clelia attends a party. Unset stones are like ready money[44]: the Marchese del Dongo sends some to her impoverished sister; Fabrice’s sisters give him theirs to fund his folly; Sanseverina forwards three to Geneva to guarantee his bread; five of hers are implicated in the Prince’s assassination.

Twice, diamonds are critical in the Duchesse’s understanding of her relations with Fabrice, whom she barely recognises after his four years in the seminary at Naples. From ‘a devil-may-care young rough-rider’, he now

had the noblest and most measured bearing before strangers, while in private conversation she found that he had retained all the ardour of his boyhood. This was a diamond that had lost nothing by being polished.[45] [144]

Recalling this moment to Mosca she declares: ‘His great soul revealed itself to me.’ [289] In plotting the murder of the prince, the Duchesse hands all her loose diamonds to the Jacobin poet Ferrante, who is humiliated and horrified but then crushed by her insistence that he take them. She flings herself into his arms only to dismiss him in an instant, before reflecting: ‘This is the only man who has ever understood me … Fabrice would have behaved like that if he could have understood me.’ Here is the eye of her storm through which Stendhal reveals her possessing ‘two special characteristics. What she had desired once she desired always, and she never deliberated a second time concerning anything she had once decided. [369] These twin qualities represent her control over the passage of time, in keeping with her first husband’s notion that it would be  insolence to himself to ‘suppose that I have more sense to-day than when I made up my mind.’ [369]

How we perceive people depends on their setting as does our appreciation of jewels. White’s kalidescoping lets us view Mrs Hunter as both irresistible and repulsive, physically and psychologically so that, at the conclusion of Manhood’s ministrations,

… for an instant, one of the rare coruscations occurred, in which the original sapphire buried under the opalescence invited you to shed your spite, sloth, indifference, resentments, along with an old woman’s cruelty, greed, selfishness. Momentarily at least this fright of an idol became the goddess hidden inside … (121)

The comparison with a sapphire links that gem as a manifestation of the vulgar in Mrs Hunter’s life to its metaphorical and mystical possibilities in the colours with which White embellishes his prose as if they were jewels refracting the light.

During her first visit to her mother’s bedside, Dorothy had recognised that

[t]o have loved her in the prime of her beauty, as many had, was like loving, or ‘admiring’ rather, a jewelled scabbard in which a sword was hidden …

But now,

the jewels have loosened and scattered, the blind sockets filled instead with verdigris, itself a vengeful semi-jewellery. (73)

The image of eyes as mere sockets recurs when the storm rips the door off to the cellar-sepulcher and Mrs Hunter is blinded by lightning.[46] Emerging into the calm, she doubts the substantiality of her presence in the world:

She was instead a being, or more likely a flaw at the centre of this jewel of light: the jewel itself, blinding and tremulous at the same time, existed, flaw and all,[47] only by grace … (424)

Grace descends as if announced by the dead bird she sees skewered to a broken branch were her Holy Ghost.[48] She is not tested, however, when the cyclone hits. There is no moral growth. There will be physical and mental decay. Immediately before the cyclone, Mrs Hunter had

anointed herself. Why not? Her life had been a ceremony … the dress was designed not only to ravish the human eye, but to seduce time into relaxing its harshest law. (420)

Hereafter, time’s passing ceases to trouble her because she has been relieved of the anxiety that its ending will take her by surprise. 

When Basil finally turns up, he kneels beside ‘the former goddess’ and feels ‘her rings reaching up to clutch at her lover’ to bury them ‘in his hair.’ By emphasising her jewels rather than to her hands, and identifying them with ‘Faberge’ and ‘armoured fingers’, White reifies Mrs Hunter even as death is drawing near to separate her from her possessions.[49] Her life before and after the cyclone is one of concern for what she can ‘see and touch’: her house, her jewels, her lovers. The storm that allows her a glimpse of how life should be lived to the full does not strip her of every possession and social convention as happens to Ellen Roxborough after she is wrecked on that same island to be left with only her farm-girl strength and a fringe of leaves. Before her rescue, her sole item of jewellery, her wedding ring, is lost.

Mrs Hunter has jewels to spare. Her giving some away mixes gratitude with a will to power over Lal Wyburd and nurse Manhood:

‘These’, Mrs Hunter said, and showed, ‘Alfred took to giving me sapphires: one year gave me the blue, the following year the pink. He had a passion for star sapphires. I never liked them’, she confessed: ‘too much like lollies. But lovely trans –cend – ental? Lollies,’ …

Manhood does not know the meaning of ‘transcendental’ though we are being made aware of its significance in the fiction before Mrs Hunter can insert a lower order of evaluation by referring to pink as ‘feminine’. ‘Lush lolly-pink’ is not Manhood’s ‘delicately aggressive pink’ lipstick,[50] still less is it in tune with the ‘pattern of great suns on her pretence of a dress [which] dazzled the beholder with their cerise and purple.’ (80) Since Mrs Hunter can no longer distinguish pink from blue she does not see that her gift won’t go with that dress: ‘Blue is more intellectual – spiritual’, she hiccuppted again, ‘compared with lush lollypink.’ Identifying the intellectual with the spiritual is antithetical to White’s privileging of intuition. Flora Manhood pouts that she does not want the gem which nonetheless corrupts, as does its donor:

Since you had allowed the old thing to transfer the pink lolly to your hand, you were growing greedy for it: from certain angles the buried star would come alive. (329)

After the settling of Elizabeth Hunter’s estate, Flora is back in the cot with her boyfriend, tossing in a stream of sleepiness during which her employer attempts a further resurrection:

in this narrow marriage bed She is knocking on the wood with her sapphire the pink it is yours isn’t it the coffin Nurse is where one sows one’s last seed I can see it germinating inside you like a lot of little skinned rabbits oh Mrs Hunter how can you be so unkind (giggle) always hated obstets but your own flesh is different my children are human we hope Mrs Hunter if the blessed sapphire works. (573)

If the pink is a promise of fertility its companion is forbidding:

When Wyburd looks at the blue sapphire he has stolen he summons

the star hidden win it … The sapphire glowed painfully.

His eyes, normally pale and reserved, snapped and glittered … his breathing had become a torment: more so, the eye of the sapphire, with its bars, or cross, of recurring light. (597)

He recalls its owner’s nipples before dropping the jewel on the approach of his wife, a clumsiness stemming from flaws in his marital fidelity and his professional trust. The significance given to jewels heightens the effect of such incidents.

The political
In White, jewels are stilettoes. For Stendhal, they become weapons in a civil war, indicating his engagement with affairs of state where diamonds are pendants to passports. From the epochal Napoleon to the scheming for personal advancement around a provincial court, The Charterhouse is driven by politics, riven by intrigue,[51] twisting on the need to have documents that say who you are, and as often, and often more importantly, are not that person. After the wounded Fabrice escapes to Bologna in flight from killing the actor Giletti, the Duchesse provides three passports for his preservation and does so again after his escape from the tower.

Although 1820s Parma is to the side of World History as was then being conceived by Hegel, Stendhal’s fictional characters look forward to a unified liberal Italy. The Prince has delusions of becoming its king and the Duchesse of hanging chief judge Rassi. Stendhal took for granted that all that had been solid will melt into air. He needed no theory of social evolution, no historicism,[52] to reassure him that the prince, the hanging judge and the dullard jailer will be swept aside, just as he expected to find readers by 1880.[53]

No novelist in the 1970s, least of all one of White’s inheritances and personality, could recreate such wish-imagery, still less convince an audience of its likelihood. That dynamic had become the province of science fiction and fantasy, frequently dystopian. Mrs Lippman and Sister de Santis embody two of the twentieth-century catastrophes that put an end to the hopes that had survived the Terror and Waterloo and were to outlive the Metternich System. The disasters that the women represent remain marginal to the story of Elizabeth Hunter, which interweaves solipsism with domestic routine.

Bakhtin sees the salons and parlours in Stendhal and Balzac as axes of upheaval.[54] For White, the boudoir is a sickroom, costive for all except the bowels. The Eye hardly touches on the public sphere: there is that statue of Alfred Hunter in his home town and Athol Shreve, ‘the trade unionist’ who ‘had ratted on the movement, to become the inspiration of the Nationalists’, and beds Betty Hunter. (92) In silent acknowledgement of indigenous land-rights claims, White uses an Aboriginal name – Kudjeri -  for the Hunter’s sheep station whereas his family properties were called Edinglassie and Belltrees.

Around the time of writing The Eye, White was joining protests over Vietnam, the environment and later for a republic. Throughout, he remained the tory grandee who seeks to conserve but who also wants change so that his place can be as fine as he supposes it might be. Like Stendhal, he is distant from both the class of his birth and the one to which he has attached himself politically. Communist critic Jack Beasley recognises that White treats his own class ‘with patrician contempt in the long series of scarifying bourgeois characters’.[55] Similarly, Auerbach notes that Stendhal

treats even the classes of society which, according to his views, should be closest to him, extremely critically and without a trace of the emotional values which romanticism attached to the word people.[56]

Instead, he lavishes attention on his political opposite, Count Mosca, a Machiavel from the 1500s, while treating the Jacobin poet almost as an afterthought, with nary a hint that he might be the hero in a later novel, paralleling the response of the Duchesse - an embrace and then dismissal.

Engels offers a comparable analysis of Balzac whose political preferences were the antithesis of Stendhal’s:

Balzac gives us a most wonderfully realistic history of French ‘Society’, describing …. the progressive inroads of the rising bourgeoisie upon the society of nobles  … He describes how the last remnants of this, to him, model society gradually succumbed before the intrusion of the vulgar moneyed upstart, or were corrupted by him; how the grande dame whose conjugal infidelities were but a mode of asserting herself in perfect accordance with the way she had been disposed of in marriage, gave way to the bourgeoisie, who cornered her husband for cash or cashmere … Well, Balzac was politically a Legitimist; his great work is a constant elegy on the irretrievable decay of good society; his sympathies are all with the class doomed to extinction. But for all that his satire is never keener, his irony never bitterer, than when he sets in motion the very men and women with whom he sympathises most deeply – the nobles.  Thus Balzac was compelled to go against his own class sympathies and political prejudices, that he saw the necessity of the downfall of his favourite nobles, and described them as people deserving no better fate …[57]

Like Stendhal, he is ‘compelled’ by the logic of establishing his fictional worlds.

Marx illumined this disjuncture between intellectuals and classes in his 1852 account of the rise of the faux Napoleon:

Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic supporters of shopkeepers. In their education and individual position they may be as far apart from them as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter in practice. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent.[58]

Marx’s mediated account of petit-bourgeois intellectuals can be recast to relate Stendhal to the bourgeoisie whom he sees in a wider and broader perspective than most of them were able to manage following Napoleon’s defeat.[59]

For Stendhal, the time is out of joint. For White it is more the place as he moans that he is in the wrong country, longing to be in London. Yet each writer is steeped in the time and the place that is driving him to distraction. Stendhal’s penetration of the psychology of his characters never falters nor does his scepticism about the motives of the officials.[60] The tone of his disdain differs from White’s, which abandons its archness only when he returns to the scene of the storm in A Fringe of Leaves.

In discussing how the treatment of time in the novel has shifted across three millennia, Bakhtin distinguishes the layers in an author’s life from those of the text: ‘We get a mutual interaction between the world represented in the work and the world outside the work.’[61] The ‘segmentation’ is more layered than this dichotomy allows. White has the world in which he lives and writes, the world of his authorship, the world he creates in the novel shadowed by the world of The Charterhouse. He thickens The Eye’s chronotope by flashbacks and Mrs Hunter’s memory lapses, jumbling her memories and syntax. For Stendhal, Bakhtin’s two levels are girded by the eras and books from which he draws his materials, the sixteenth century and the Chivalric age, behind which stand the worlds of the Farnese Chronicles and further back, at least in time, are the worlds of Orlando furioso  and La Gerusalemme liberta, and past those texts are the lives of their authors. One chronotope for The Charterhouse is a space in the 1820s while its leading spirits envisage themselves living 300 and 600 years before. Mosca, on receiving the Spanish Order from the new Prince along with the promise of a dukedom, is dismissive of both: ‘The package of diamonds is …. worth quite as much as the Order’. [463] He contrasts his 400-year noble lineage with the obsession of Rassi with being granted a title. All three principals imagine themselves to be participating in earlier centuries, reliving a chivalrous Romance: ‘Among these hills so admirably shaped’, the Duchesse feels confident of preserving ‘all the illusions of Tasso’s and Ariosto’s descriptions.’ [45] Stendhal flings the Farnese Chronicles into the Napoleonic era though his final sentence compares his creation of the 1820s Court at Parma with that of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Time reaches back to move forward.

The sense of an ending
Decades of practicing how to be spontaneous[62] by churning out journalism, guide-books and incomplete novels brought Stendhal the breakthrough of The Red and the Black (1830).[63] Nine years later, he dictated The Charterhouse in a frenzy. White managed a novel every three years but could never have written one in eight weeks. Unlike Stendhal, White does not sweep us past his ‘longueurs’ such as Basil’s stopover in Bangkok, his encounters with Mitty Jacka or Manhood’s night with the dykes. Moreover, The Eye’s final chapter ties up the loose ends, for example, Manhood rescues her butch cousin from the gutter. This neatness is the bad faith of his conviction that there is a pattern:

… I also have a belief in a supernatural power of which I have been given inklings from time to time: there have been incidents and coincidences which have shown me that there is a design behind the haphazardness.[64]

Authorial housekeeping exceeds the recurrence that he needs to establish his principal theme and symbol, even if he

hadn’t thought of The Eye of the Storm as being ‘mandalic’, but I suppose it is. It is in one sense the still centre of the actual cyclone, and in another the state of peace and spiritual awareness which Mrs Hunter reaches on the island and again before her death …

A propos Mandalas, I suppose symmetry appeals to me, and life I find symmetrical, when I used to think it haphazard, without design. [65]

White’s tying together is at odds with final pages of The Charterhouse, which has been said to collapse rather than to end.[66] Yet that scramble also appears at the novel’s beginning with the haphazardness of the battlefield at Waterloo outdoing Tolstoy’s Borodino, because it is presented through a character as quicksilver as the events he seeks to join whereas War and Peace depends on the ponderous Prince Pierre Bazukov. Stendhal’s hurried final pages are of a piece with the helter-skelter throughout his tracing Fabrice’s quest for a refuge from his emotions in the prison tower, the Charterhouse and death.[67]

How time is represented in each fiction measures how the social energies that impelled the generation around Stendhal – Balzac, Berlioz and Delacroix – have dissipated for White’s, which neither chronotopes and chromochronics nor jewels and colours can restore. The differing weights given to the public domain in the plots, like the opposed ways of concluding them, indicate a transformation of world outlooks and of the apprehension of time’s passing. The contrasted endings express changes in the culture of politics and the politics of writing. Stendhal is confident of a revolution that he knows he would not enjoy. White clasps at sureties to counter the horrors that those upheavals had wrought. Within the compass of the fictions, the contraction of hope is clear from the gulf between the Sanseverina and Mrs Betty Hunter who cannot take lovers with the abandon of her model. Moreover, the world of Parma has two heroes, Mosca and Fabrice, diamonds to heighten the effect of that dazzler. The Eye has no male worthy of setting beside even Elizabeth Hunter, leaving White to conjure with his foreign eccentrics.

[1] This essay has benefitted from the encouragement and advice of Ruth Blair, Peter Curtis and  Neil Levi.

[2] Quoted David Marr, Patrick White, A Life, Random House, Sydney, 1991, p. 535.

[3] The Eye of the Storm, Jonathan Cape, London, 1973, pages numbers are in the text.

[4] Patrick White (PW) to James Stern, 22 February 1970, David Marr (ed.), Patrick White Letters, Random House, Sydney, 1994, p. 359. White is repeating Professor G.H. Cowling’s regret that ‘There are no ancient churches, castles, ruins … Australian life is too lacking in tradition … to make many first-class novels’, Age, 16 February 1935, p. 6; Frederick Sinnett had mocked this presumption in 1856,  when he lamented that Australia possessed no building dilapidated enough to tempt even the most parvenu ghost, The Fiction Fields of Australia, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1966, p. 23; for a discussion of the itch among colonised minds, including White’s, towards castellation, see my ‘The Tyranny of Cliché’, Portraits of Planning, Planning Education Foundation of South Australia, Adelaide, 1995, unpaginated; Victor Daley had satirised White’s regret in ‘Correggio Jones’, an Australian painter whose ‘body dwells on Gander Flat, His soul’s in Italy’, Victor Daley, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1963, p. 41.

[5] PW to Cynthia Nolan, 15 March 1970, Marr (ed.), Letters, p. 360; for an earlier declaration along these lines see White’s ‘The Prodigal Son’, Australian Letters, April 1958, 1 (3), pp. 37-40.

[6] Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma, Folio Society, London, 1977, page numbers are given in the text within square brackets.

[7] For previous discussions of the connection see Mary-Ellen Ryan, ‘The Selfish Eye: Self and Circles in The Eye of the Storm’, John McLaren (ed.), Prophet from the Desert, Critical Essays on Patrick White, Red Rooster Press, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 79-82; for a wider survey, J. Ryan, ‘The Influence of French Literature on Patrick White’s The Living and the Dead’, French-Australian Cultural Connections, School of French, University of NSW, Kensington, 1984, pp. 148-59; John Beston, Patrick White within the Western Literary tradition, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 2010.

[8] Is the retirement home – ‘Thorogood’ -  into which the children want to put Mrs Hunter, a kind of Charterhouse? White had tried to place his mother with nuns at Holland Park, Marr, A Life, pp. 422-3.

[9] Fabrice is more febrile than Julien Sorel in The Red and the Black, a commoner who also ends his days in an ecstasy of renouncing the world as if his condemned cell were in a Charterhouse.

[10] Victor Brombert, Romantic prison: the French tradition, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1978, p. 67.

[11] Paul Hervey and J.E. Heseltine (eds), The Oxford Companion to French Literature, OUP, London, 1969 ed., p. 686.

[12] ‘Tout le personnage de la Sanseverina est copie du Correge (c’est-a-dire produit sur mon ame le meme effet que le Correge)’, quoted Michel Crouzet, ‘Preface’, La Chartreuse de Parme, Garnier-Flammarion, Paris, 1964, p. 21 ; To the Happy Few, The Selected Letters of Stendhal, John Lehmann, London, 1952, p. 369.

[13] David Ekserdjian, ‘Correggio’, Dictionary of Art, vol. 7, Macmillan, London, 1996, p. 892; Claire Renkin’s doctoral thesis, Rutgers, 1998; Stendhal learned to love Correggio in researching his Italian Schools of Painting (1817).

[14] Alfred’s owning a book of French engravings and his re-reading The Charterhouse marks him as an exotic whereas biographer David Marr pictures White’s father reading ‘stud books, detective novels and the Sydney Morning Herald’, Marr, A Life, p. 21.

[15] Stendhal makes a similar point: ‘to blaspheme against the sun when it is covered by a cloud’, Memoirs of an Egotist, Chatto & Windus, London, 1975, p. 67.

[16] A.P. Riemer’s summation of Dorothy’s ‘school-girlish sentimentality born out of a radical misunderstanding of Stendhal’s anti-romanticism’ is less forgiving of her than he praises White for being, ‘The Eye of the Needle: Patrick White’s Recent Novels’, Southerly, 34 (3), September 1974, Southerly, 1974, p. 265.

[17] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1953, p. 488.

[18] Henry Lawson, Collected verse, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1967, pp. 62-3.

[19] Auerbach, Mimesis, pp. 454-8.

[20] PW to Clem Semmler, 10 May 1970, Marr, Letters, p. 363.

[21] PW to Bjorksten, 21 January 1973, Marr, Letters, p. 410.

Riemer discerned a shift in its structure and values when White thinks beyond an enlightenment available only to an unhappy few, Southerly, 1974, pp. 248-66.

[22] PW to Ingmar Bjorksten,  27 May 1973, Marr, Letters, p. 413.

[23] Illustrated in Sandra McGrath, Brett Whiteley, Bay Books, Sydney, 1979, p. 96.

[24] PW to Whiteley, 5 March 1972, Marr, Letters, pp. 393-5.

[25] In The Aunt’s Story, Theodora Goodman’s motif is yellow, her environment black, while her sister is pink and her brother-in-law a reddish gold.

For earlier comments on White’s colour symbolism, see Sylvia Gzell, ‘Themes and Imagery in Voss and Riders in the Chariot’, pp. 262 and 265; John McLaren, ‘Patrick White’s Use of Imagery’, p. 271, Clement Semmler (ed.), Twentieth Century Australian Literary Criticism, OUP, Melbourne, 1967; A.P. Riemer, ‘Visions of the Mandala in The Tree of Man’, Southerly, 27 (1), March 1967, pp. 6-8; Betty L. Watson, ‘Patrick White: Some Lines of Development: The Living and the Dead to The Solid Mandala,’ Australian Literary Studies, 5 (2), October 1971, pp. 159-60; Derek Smith, ‘Patrick White’s Poetical Development: Imagery and Colour in Voss’, Adelaide ALS Working Papers, 1 (2), 1975, pp. 70-74; Joan L. Dolphin, ‘The Rhetoric of Painting in Patrick White’s Novels’, Ariel, 24 (3), July 1993, pp. 33-52.

[26] PW to Ingmar Bjoksten, 27 May 1973, Marr, Letters, p. 413.

[27] PW to Bjorksten, 27 May 1973, Marr, Letters, p. 413.

[28] Interview with Gerry Wilkes and Thelma Herring, Southerly, 33 (2) June 1973, pp. 140-1.

White made the same reply on being asked whether he began his novels ‘With a planned system of symbols?’:  

This awful symbol business! I suppose I begin in some cases with a central symbol – the Chariot or the Mandala, for instance. But anything else crops up as I go along, more often than not, unconsciously.

He added two instances from The Eye, one about Black Swans and the other about Elizabeth Hunter’s maiden name, ‘Salkeld’:

In their pursuit of symbols many academic critics don’t seem to realize that writers and painters often make use of images and situation from real life because they have appealed to them as being beautiful or comic or bizarre.

In The Eye, the skiapod from Odilon Redon recurs, pp. 200, 245, 403, 411 and 532; Peter Beatson, ‘The Skiapod and the Eye: Patrick White’s The Eye of the Storm’, Southerly, 34 (3), September 1974, pp. 219-32.

For critiques of White’s reliance on symbols see Margaret Walters, ‘Patrick White’, New Left Review, 18, January-February 1963, pp. 38-50, and A.A. Phillips, ‘Patrick White and the Algebraic Symbol’, Meanjin Quarterly, 24 (4), 1965, pp. 455-61.

[29] The ‘vertiginous blue’ is associated with Whiteley’s mural-length canvases of Sydney Harbour from his Lavender Bay studio, McGrath, Whiteley, chapter10. For a discussion of blue in Australian painting and literature see my ‘Place, colour and sedition: D.H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo, a study in environmental values’, 2006, 3. 

[30] Patrick White, The Vivisector, Viking, New York, 1970, pp. 566-7.

[31] Such wordplay on canvas is appropriate to the New Zealand artist Colin McCahon whose work, despite a 1968 commercial show in Melbourne, was not taken up in Australia until after the 1978 gift of ‘Victory Over Death 2’ to the Australian National Gallery.

[32] for example, David Tacey, Patrick White, Fiction and the Unconscious, OUP, Melbourne, 1988, p. 161.

[33] Interview with Wilkes and Herring, Southerly, 1973, pp. 140-1.

[34] By contrast, an early influence on White was Roi de Maistre who developed a colour-wheel and colour-music paintings, see Heather Johnson, Roi de Maistre, The Australian Years 1894-1930, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1988, pp. 29-38; The English Years, 1930-1968, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, pp. 84-102.

[35] M.M. Bakhtin, ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’, The Dialogic Imagination, Four Essays, University of Texas Press, Houston, 1981, p. 250.

[36] Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, p. 250; Bakhtin adds how ‘in Stendhal, for instance, informing and communicating carry great weight.’

[37] John Gage, Colour and Culture, Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction, Thames and Hudson, London, 1993; Colour and meaning, Art, Science and Symbolism, Thames and Hudson, London, 1999.

[38] PW to Semmler, 10 May 1970, Marr, Letters, p. 363.

[39] Bakhtin contends: ‘The images of feces and urine are ambivalent, as are all the images of the material bodily lower stratum; they debase, destroy, regenerate, and renew simultaneously. They are blessing and humiliating at the same time.’ Rabelais and His World, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1968, p. 151.

[40] PW to Cynthia Nolan, 15 March 1970, Marr, Letters, p. 360.

[41] Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, p. 250.

[42] Jonathan Culler reports Ezra Pound and Jean Starobinski coming to similar judgements about Stendhal’s disinclination ‘to make his language rise to the occasion’, Flaubert, The Uses of Uncertainty, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1985, p. 82. Stendhal told Balzac that ‘[w]hilst writing the Chartreuse, in order to acquire the correct tone I occasionally read a few pages of the Code Civil.’ To the Happy Few, Selected Letters of Stendhal, p. 369 cf. p. 371.

[43] Ekserdjian, ‘Correggio’, p. 886.

[44] Stendhal says as much in The Pink and the Green, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1988, p. 24.

[45] Stendhal’s ‘poli’ carries overtones of refinement lost by translating it as ‘cut’, as Mary Lloyd does.

[46] David Coad, ‘Platonic Return in The Eye of the Storm’, Vera Mikhailovich-Dickman (ed.), ‘Return’ in Post-Colonial Writing A Cultural Labyrinth, Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1994, p. 53.

[47] This association recalls her assuring Dorothy that ‘An emerald isn’t less beautiful, is it? for the flaw in it?’ (225) Different flaws appear in precious stones, the mirror and memoir.

[48] So different in tone from the parrot in Flaubert’s A Simple Heart.

[49] ‘I shall always be a sucker for jewels and furs: if I were a woman I expect I should have been the most rapacious kind of cocotte, and probably have got stoned for wearing bird-of-paradise feathers on top of everything else’, PW to the Duttons, 12 November 1972, quoted Marr, Life, p. 496; Marr writes of White’s mother’s dying in London ‘where she lay in paint and jewels.’ Life, p. 422.

[50] Pink for girls became conventional after the 1920s. In the 1950s, hot pinks challenged the pastel shades identified with Mame Eisenhower, Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV, The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1994, pp. 38 and 41.

[51] Georg Lukacs endorses Balzac’s praise for Stendhal’s choice of a minor court ‘because the political content … can be easily surveyed as a whole, can be translated directly into action and because its human spiritual reflexes can be revealed in an obvious, straightforward way, whereas the presentation of the big political problems which formed the substance of the intrigues round Mazarin or Richelieu, would create a dead and heavy ballast in a novel.’ The Historical Novel, Merlin, London, 1962, p. 42; To the Happy Few, Selected Letters, pp. 373-4.

[52] Auerbach, Mimesis, pp. 462-3.

[53] To the Happy Few, pp. 364 and 373.

[54] Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, p. 49.

[55] Jack Beasley, Red Letter Days, Australasian Book Society, Sydney, no date, p. 188.

[56] Auerbach, Mimesis, p. 464.

[57] Engels to Margaret Harkness, early April 1888, Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, undated, pp. 479-80; see S.S. Prawer, Karl Marx and World Literature, OUP, Oxford, 1978.

[58] Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 11, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1979, pp. 130-1.

[59] Treating Flaubert as representative of the post-Romantics, Sartre not only sees him as ‘the hermit of Croisset’ but as experiencing his ‘social death ten years before his physical death. That is, Gustave’s adaptation to the new historical totalization would be purely synchronic: tossed from one moment to another, the man would have lost his diachronic relation to macrocosmic history.’ Jean-Paul Sartre, The Family Idiot, Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857, Volume 5, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1993, p. 429; White, who valued Madame Bovary above all other novels, re-read L’Education sentimentale in mid-1972 as he started on the final version of The Eye, PW to Elizabeth Harrower, 1 June 1972, Marr, Letters, p. 398.

[60] In a rare slip from stateliness, Stendhal refers to the Bourbons as ‘fetid slime’, Willis, ‘Introduction’, Stendhal, Memoirs, p. 33.

[61] Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, p. 255.

[62] Willis, ‘Introduction’, Stendhal, Egotist, p. 22.

[63] Auerbach, Mimesis, p. 463.

[64] White to Bjorksten, 21 March 1973, Marr, Letters, p. 409.

[65] White to Bjorksten , 27 May 73, Marr, Letters, p. 412.

[66] Willis, ‘Introduction’, Stendhal, Egotist, p. 21; Stendhal’s publisher compressed the conclusion, Robert Alter and Carol Cosman, A Lion for Love, a Critical Biography of Stendhal, Basic Books, New York, 1979, p. 262. 

[67] Brombert, Romantic prison, pp. 62-87.