Mary Renault: a Biography
David Sweetman, New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993

Mary Renault wrote so sympathetically and with such candor about the male world of Ancient Greece and about love between men that many readers believed the best-selling author of The Last of the Wine, The King Must Die, and The Persian Boy must be a man. In reality, Mary Renault was the pseudonym for a surprising and intensely private woman, born Mary Challans in a genteel London suburb.

In this first biography, David Sweetman, who met and filmed Mary Renault for the BBC in 1981 and corresponded with her until her death in 1983, unravels the mystery of this unseen woman.

She began as a bookish, withdrawn child of disappointed parents and became a standard-bearer of the sexual revolution. She discovered scholarship at Oxford, in the days when women had only just been admitted, but abandoned the academic world for a nursing career. When, in 1947, she won an MGM award for $150,000, she embarked for South Africa with her lifelong companion, Julie Mullard, never to return to England. A revolutionary in sexual matters, she was accused of being politically reactionary; a passionate believer in Greek ideals of democracy and justice, she was among the first to join Black Sash, the women's movement that was in the forefront of the fight against apartheid, but over the years her disillusionment with radical politics led her to withdraw into a fictional world of her own creation.

With full access to Mary Renault's letters and papers and to the story of her long romance with Julie, David Sweetman reveals how, in its concerns, her life cannot be divorced from her fiction, combining a brilliantly textured picture of her life with a revealing analysis of the novels.   -   book jacket

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