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Mary Renault

From Academic Kids

Mary Renault (19051983) was an English novelist whose works are still popular with devotees of the historical novel.

She was born in London, real name Mary Challans, and educated at St Hugh's College, Oxford, then an all-women's college. She trained as a nurse, but by 1939 she was a published novelist, though she drew on her career experience in her early books. In 1948, after her novel North Face won a MGM prize worth $150,000, she emigrated to South Africa with her partner Julie Mullard, also a nurse. During the 1950s she was active in the Black Sash movement against apartheid.

Her early writing dealt with contemporary subjects, mostly using a wartime setting, but in 1956 she embarked on a series of books set in ancient Greece, including a trilogy about the career of Alexander the Great: Fire from Heaven (1970), The Persian Boy (1972) and Funeral Games (1981). Although not a classicist by training she was admired in her day for her scrupulous recreations of the Greek world; her sympathetic treatment of love between men also won her a wide gay readership.

Some of her historical theories departed from generally accepted opinion, such as her harsh criticism of the orator Demosthenes. Renault, though unable to read the speeches of Demosthenes in the original Greek, felt that Demosthenean oratory had been grossly overrated throughout history, and that it is no better than vicious propaganda. "The man himself is also vastly overrated," she claims: "He was corrupt: it is well-known that he took bribes and subsidies from the Persians. He was cowardly: at the Battle of Chaeronea he dropped his shield and weapons and ran for his life. He was cruel: he never showed compassion to anyone by word or deed. These are all well-known facts." In addition, Renault also proposed two novel theories about Demosthenes: 1) He had tried to sexually abuse the young Alexander, not knowing his identity, when Demosthenes was on embassy to Macedon. 2) Demosthenes was one of the plotters of the assassination of King Philip.


Bibliography

  • Purposes of Love (US title: Promise of Love) (1939)
  • Kind Are Her Answers (1940)
  • The Friendly Young Ladies (US title: The Middle Mist) (1945)
  • Return to Night (1947)
  • North Face (1948)
  • The Charioteer (1953)
  • The Last of the Wine (1956) — set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War
  • The King Must Die (1958) — the mythical Theseus up to his father's death (regarded by some as her best novel)
  • The Bull from the Sea (1962) — the remainder of Theseus' life
  • Lion in the Gateway: The Heroic battles of the Greeks and Persians at Marathon, Salamis, and Thermopylae (1964)
  • The Mask of Apollo (1966) — an actor at the time of Plato and Dionysius the Younger
  • Fire from Heaven (1969) — Alexander the Great up to his father's death
  • The Persian Boy (1972) — Alexander after the conquest of Persia
  • The Nature of Alexander (1975) — non-fiction
  • The Praise Singer (1978) — the poet Simonides of Ceos
  • Funeral Games (1981) — Alexander's successors

The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea have been adapted as an 11-part BBC Radio 4 serial entitled The King Must Die.

References

  • Brian Alderson. "Challans, (Eileen) Mary" Dictionary of National Biography. Supplement, 1980-1989 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)
  • David Sweetman. Mary Renault: a biography. (London: Chatto & Windus, 1993).
  • Catherine Zilboorg. The masks of Mary Renault: a literary biography. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001).de:Mary Renault
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