MARY RENAULT by David Sweetman


A Biography
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 This first nonacademic biography of Renault was developed by Sweetman (Van Gogh, 1990) from a rare interview granted him in 1981, two years before his subject's death. In that interview, Renault conveyed both her discomfort with being an ``apostle of the sexual revolution'' and her pride in the research behind her award- winning historical novels. Daughter of a provincial doctor, Renault attended St. Hugh's, an Oxford college for women. To escape an idle future as a maiden daughter living in her mother's sewing room, she trained to be a nurse. Along with the discipline and deprivation, she discovered her sexual nature and Julie Mullard, who was to become her life- long companion and the subject of her first novel, the subtly sexual The Purposes of Love (1939)--the first of Renault's series of contemporary novels that culminated in The Charioteer (1953), an open and sympathetic depiction of homosexual love. By the time it was published, Renault--in order to escape high taxes, the cold, and social rejection--had moved to South Africa, where she began publishing the historical novels for which she's best remembered. Carefully researched, richly imagined, her dignified representations of homosexuality among the heros and gods of ancient Greece and Rome won her a following of gay liberationists- -whose position she rejected as ``sexual tribalism.'' As honorary president of the Cape Town chapter of PEN, Renault was attacked by Nadine Gordimer for not including blacks in the chapter--which is about as controversial as Renault ever became: When she died at age 78, many still believed that her novels had been written by a man. Somewhere between this wary approach to an exceptional mind and the academic jargon that Renault seems to attract, there's still much to be explained. Renault continues to wear her own Mask of Apollo.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-15-193110-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993


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