Friday, February 02, 2007

A Whopping White Lie

Author David Malouf in the Age, tells how some of Australia's leading publishers and agents:
... received a chapter of a novel in progress from a new and as yet unpublished writer, Wraith Picket. Some of them simply rejected the manuscript with the usual apologies. Others recognised a certain flair for language but found it confused, overwritten and in need of the sort of editing that no publisher these days could afford.
But poor, rejected Wraith, alas, was already long deceased.

And yes, you clever folks have guessed it, his name is an anagram. The "unpublishable" manuscript was Chapter Three of Patrick White's The Eye of the Storm. And the whole thing a hoax. (It isn't the first time such a trick has been played on the publishing world, and Grumpy Old Bookman, justifiably, isn't too impressed with the deception.)
White, if you didn't know, was a Nobel prize-winner and is regarded as perhaps Australia's finest author. Though sadly, he has fallen out of fashion these days. (Which does happen.)

I first met his work when I was an undergrad - he was one of the authors I had to study on a foundation course. I didn't find The Tree of Man an easy read, but I can still, more than 30 years later, remember whole scenes of this story about a couple's battle to eek out a living from the land vividly.

Later, I read Riders in the Chariot. This time I don't remember the story so much as the strong sense of spiritual upliftment I got from it. Voss I began but just could not get into.

Anyway, White played a hoax of his own, when he claimed to have burned all his papers in a pit in his backyard. ("Don't bother looking...", he said.)

Those same papers reapppeared last year and were acquired "for an undisclosed sum" by the National Library of Australia. The collection includes drafts of letters, plays and filmscripts and 10 notebooks (1930-1970) containing the germs of his novels. And "Realia" about which Malouf says:
I can hear the hoot he would have given, then the long-drawn-out diphthongs of his mock Australian accent, ree-ah-leeah, at the translation of these ordinary objects of his poor existence into the realm of the iconic, the extraordinary - the glasses he needed for his milky marble old eyes, the beret, the woollen beanie Manoly knitted - exhibited not as objects but (as in "Australiana") as the left-over oddities of a lost and now mythological continent. He would have been amused by that.
Said White's biographer, David Marr, about the cache:
It's rough on a biographer to be finding these things far too late. I sat there with the boxes around me cursing and laughing. But it was so like the man to leave a few more bombs to be lobbed years after his death.


YTSL said...

Hahaha! The story reminds me of one about a perfectionistic lecturer at my college who left copious amounts of red ink (i.e., critical comemnts) all over what she thought was a student paper. Turns out that said paper was a print-out of a colleague's already published work... ;)

bibliobibuli said...

oooohh embarrassment ....

Ron said...

Do you know about the The Patrick White Readers' Group, Sharon, which has its origins in the hoax you mention in this post and in the sad fact that 'he has fallen out of fashion these days'.