'Patrick White's brilliant 1961 novel, set in an Australian suburb, intertwines four deeply different lives. An Aborigine artist, a Holocaust survivor, a beatific washerwoman, and a childlike heiress are each blessed—and stricken—with visionary experiences that may or may not allow them to transcend the machinations of their fellow men. Tender and lacerating, pure and profane, subtle and sweeping, Riders in the Chariot is one of the Nobel Prize winner's boldest books. (Publication summary)
'In the mid-1840s, a thirteen-year-old boy, Gemmy Fairley, is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by Aborigines. Sixteen years later, when settlers reach the area, he moves back into the world of Europeans, men and women who are staking out their small patch of home in an alien place, hopeful and yet terrified of what it might do to them.
Given shelter by the McIvors, the family of the children who originally made contact with him, Gemmy seems at first to be guaranteed a secure role in the settlement, but there are currents of fear and mistrust in the air. To everyone he meets - from George Abbot, the romantically aspiring young teacher, to Mr Frazer, the minister, whose days are spent with Gemmy recording the local flora; from Janet McIvor, just coming to adulthood and discovering new versions of the world, to the eccentric Governor of Queensland himself - Gemmy stands as a different kind of challenge, as a force which both fascinates and repels. And Gemmy himself finds his own whiteness as unsettling in this new world as the knowledge he brings with him of the savage, the Aboriginal.' - Publisher's blurb (Chatto & Windus, 1993).
This unit allows students to explore questions arising from the representation of visionary ideas and experiences in selected works of literature, including ways in which visionary literature can be an agent of defamiliarisation and extend or challenge religious ideas.
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