The 1967 biography of T H White, the author of The Sword in the Stone and The Goshawk, by the author of Lolly Willowes and Kingdoms of Elfin.
T H White, author of the much-loved The Once and Future King and many other works of English literature, died in Greece from a heart attack in 1964, aged 57. When the eminent novelist and critic Sylvia Townsend Warner heard of his death she wrote in her diary: ‘T H White is dead, alas! – a friend I never managed to have.’ He had sent her his poems but they had never met.
A few months later Warner was invited by White’s executors to write his biography. She visited his home in Alderney in the Channel Islands to see what material was available and felt that he followed her around in his house: ‘his angry, suspicious, furtive stare directed at my back, gone when I turned around’. When she finished his biography, nearly three years later, she wrote, ‘O Tim, I don’t like to lose you … it has been a strange love story between an old woman and a dead man’.
Are you interested in biography, fantasy, falconry, nature, LGBTQ+ lives, The Sword in the Stone and/or T H White? This book is for you.
‘Much more like a rediscovery, with new notes, index and bibliography, and an excellent Introduction by Gill Davies … clearly a labour of love from a small independent publisher with a proven interest in Warner’s backlist.’ – Claire Harman in the Times Literary Supplement
‘What an interesting book this is, just reissued. Written by Sylvia Townsend Warner aged seventy (her first attempt at biography: late bloomer!) it was the first biography of White, written just after his death. White had a very mixed career … Warner uses the technique of printing lots of letters and diary entries straight into the text without rewriting them into her own narrative. This is now often thought to be old fashioned and dull but Warner proves what a good technique it is … Warner quotes with brevity, but not always with short passages. She lets White speak when he is interesting, when he describes something better than she can, when he is in some sort of mood.’ – The Common Reader
‘A lyrical, sentitive and often moving portrait of a troubled and creative man … Warner makes liberal use of his diaries and letters, some of which are exchanges with his oldest and dearest associates, and builds up a fascinating portrait of a very individual character. The first-hand accounts of those who knew him are illuminating, in that it often seems that they all had their own version of White. He was a man who lived life to the extremes, whether driving his car too fast, drinking to excess, or learning to fly to master his fear of it. Despite the loneliness he experienced, his existence was often a rich one, full of events and books, and Warner brings it to life beautifully in this wonderfully written book.’ – Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings
‘In Warner’s careful explanations of what she found in his private papers we come as close as it is possible to understanding another’s complicated, devastated, hungering mind. It makes you want to return to White’s books (the best ones are The Goshawk and The Once and Future King) and read them with the knowledge of what he went through in order to create them … With this book, a modern audience can revisit White’s work in the full knowledge of how hard he fought against the darkness that began annihilating him when his parents fought with a gun over his cot. For a writer’s biography, nothing better can be hoped for.’ – Bookmunch
‘Warner has an excellent sense of what makes White’s writing so wonderful but also where he tends to fall down or overreach himself. Nevertheless she approaches even his failures with great generosity of spirit, even highlighting a small part of The Book of Merlyn which she found particularly effective despite its surroundings. Warner’s biography of T H White is a triumph. It is a joy to read, and it has rekindled my passion for the writing of both Warner and White.’ – Fantasy Hive
‘Sylvia Townsend Warner, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, understood White and recreated him vividly in a work that draws on her powers as a fiction writer as well as her scrupulous scholarship. The result, this book, has rightly been described as a classic of biography and remains as fresh, engaging and melancholy as ever in this new edition published by Handheld Press.’ – Shiny New Books