<em>Riders in the Chariot</em>: A Tale for our Times


  • Bernadette Brennan University of Sydney


patrick white, modernism, elites


This article rereads Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot against some of the past criticism of the text. It argues that the text has much to say about the contemporary politics of fear operating in Australia and demonstrates that many of the historical readings of White as an elitist, alienated Modernist cannot be sustained. The contemporary relevance and force of this novel arises from a double movement: the beauty of White’s prose operates continually to allow us to perceive the “infinite in everything” but it also helps us understand the absolutely ordinary fears and insecurities of the suburban Australian consciousness. Through the ordinary everydayness of his Australian characters (other than the riders) we see all too clearly how the ignorance and prejudice of a very small few have the ability to snowball with catastrophic consequences. Himmelfarb, in the face of horror, turned away from literature believing that intellectual reasoning had failed humanity. Today it is the fear of intellectual reasoning that has the potential to make us all less than we have the potential to be.

Author Biography

Bernadette Brennan, University of Sydney

Bernadette Brennan is Lecturer in Australian Literature, Department of English, the University of Sydney.