The Tywborn Affair

The Twyborn Affair is a novel by Patrick White that has been described as ‘the operation out of the closet.’ From the onset the reader can see why. The plot revolves around Eddie Twyborn, a beautiful and bisexual man and his search for identity, acceptance and love in an unforgiving world. The aim of this research paper is to explore the psychological, sexual and spiritual landscapes that are prominent in this paper. White’s thirteenth novel like most of White’s previous works is a trip; a trip through time, culture, sexuality, gender. [1]

So how does the novel signify the writers coming out? The Twyborn Affair is based on the life of a very confused character and takes place across three timelines. The Twyborn Affair follows the main character’s metamorphosis across several continents as Eudoxia, Eddie, or Eadith. It represents the struggle that White experienced throughout his life as he tried to come to terms with his humanity, sexuality, and his place in Australian. In addition to dealing with sexuality issues, Eddie is a man on a mission. Eddie is searching for an identity hence the trip through the personalities of Eadith and Eudoxia. He is simply trying to find under whose skin he feels more comfortable. Notice how after being very comfortable as Eudoxia, the second part portrays him as a bisexual man who attracts both sexes. This might represents a period of confusion and deep conflict in the writer’s life. His ideas have flown straight into the face of the homophobic reality within which he exists and lifted him out of his comfort zone. He begins to explore in a bid to match what the society expects of him even though he still feels attracted to the same sex. To me this is the most important part both for the writer and his protagonist; it is the chapter of self-discovery. He discovers what he likes or doesn’t like and his choices determine how he comes out on the other side.

Eddie is a transsexual going through the motions of both male and female identities even though he is comfortable in neither. Therefore, for most of the novel he remains in limbo with an unstable identity. He is first introduced to us as Eudoxia, the sexual companion of an elderly Greek man who thinks he is emperor. Eudoxia seem[2]s to be in a very happy place until her past catches up with her in the form of Joanie Golson. Joanie Golson maybe a stylistic element that references a tumultuous event in the writer’s life that was unwelcome. White’s parents moved him around quite a bit and this may have impacted the writer in negative light. The protagonist associates her past with humiliation, shame and pain and is constantly running away from it. Eddie is however unsure which one of her characters in more stable or reliable further complicating his identity crisis.  The absence of a sense of self in Eudoxia is crippling and she struggles to be the person her lover wants her to be, Angelos. She couldn’t recognize the person she had become when she looked in the mirror. Angelos defines her and although she doesn’t seem to mind it results in a lot of internal conflict.

Eudoxia’s parents seem to be an overbearing presence and the source of many of her problems. Eddie’s problems arise from the possessive and domineering motherly presence as well as a father incapable of any kind of love. In his speech read by a surrogate at the Awarding of the Nobel Prize, the writer describes his father as chauvinistic and his mother as very strong woman. [3] This seems to draw a lot of similarity from his description of the protagonist. Eddie runs away from home in the hope of putting some distance between her and her past. Eudoxia thinks she is morally right to be what she is but cannot quite figure out what that is. [4] The writer uses the imagery of a flower that is constantly under the mercy of the wind to describe Eddie’s sexual ambivalence and identity crisis. The fact that Eudoxia writes a letter to Joanie even though she sees her as threat is a testament to man’s inability to escape his past. The problems that White experienced as an adult seem to always lead to his childhood.

This presents the question of nature vs. nurture, the writer seems to think our environment as kids have a huge bearing on how we turn out as adults. The elderly man who acts as Eudoxia’s sexual cohorts offers a route to escape from her past. He however, represents a whole new kind of prison for her as she strives to meet his expectations. She doesn’t love him. This may be a reference to an earlier relationship into which White had entered into only to end up realizing lust rather than love bound him to his partner. Obviously finding a gay partner couldn’t have been easy. When he found someone, it turned out to be a trap he couldn’t escape because of the uncertainty that came with ending the relationship. Eudoxia feels that her lover has created some kind of an alternative her that is very different from who she feels she is. ‘For all the languages he speaks, she feels that he can never truly understand her. [5] Despite the disillusionment that Eudoxia feels in her relationship with the elderly Greek, she doesn’t have the resolve to end it. Mr. White might have found himself in a similar predicament with a lover. A situation where he no longer felt love for his counterpart but could not leave because the alternative is an abyss.

The writer compares the relationship between the main character and her lover to a couple playing piano together, but apart. Even though there exists an obvious disconnect between them, Eudoxia is afraid to step out into the uncertainty of being single. This maybe the type of dilemma that Patrick White found himself upon finding a partner early in his life. Consider this, the writer was gay in an age where coming out of the closet was always controversial and thus finding a lover was very hard. So finally, he finds love in older partner who barely understands his feeling, dreams and aspirations. However, the prospect of walking out on him and into the uncertainty that lies outside the comfort of a relationship is not appealing. As a result, it is an option between being single in a world where the chances of finding a gay lover are very slim or digging in and staying in a loveless relationship. Our character chooses the latter because it keeps him in a comfort zone. Eventually, the fear of being discovered drives Eudoxia to flee with Angelos who dies soon after, leaving Eudoxia confused as ever and still running from herself.

The second of the book is set on a ship bound for Australia and Eddie is a lieutenant who has been decorated for his valor in the First World War. The young lieutenant hopes to turn this journey into a voyage of self-discovery. After finding success in writer, Patrick went back to his motherland in Australia. [6] His successes is depicted in the recognition the young lieutenant receives in battle. I believe the two wars that show up in the novels represent Patrick White’s most trying moment in his life. Winning the D.S.O in the First World War is a reference to triumph or his recognition as a writer. This journey represents his emergence from the trials and tribulations in his past. [7] The past as well as the uncertainty of the future that we saw in Eudoxia is however ever present. In the words of the writer, ‘Eudoxia Twyborn wept inwardly from the past as well as a formless future.’ The fact that the writer refers to him as Eudoxia rather than Eddie means that Eddie still suffers from an identity crisis. The first section made a reference to Eudoxia’s man-like physical features. The second section also suggest that the young lieutenant would turn many heads if he were to wear a woman’s dress. This suggests even when the protagonist or the writer had finally seemed to accept his nature as a man, he couldn’t hide his sexuality. In addition, this hints at bisexuality.

Eddie undergoes feelings of isolation not because other people don’t find him attractive but because he can’t identify with either sex. He is embarrassed by the fact that both men and women make sexual advances towards him. Eddie realizes he is more of a mirror image of his father rather than his mother, the image of a ‘cold, self-contained man.’ [8] Eddie sees himself as a defendant and his father as the judge. This maybe a reference to the difficult relationship that the writer had with his father. The lack of warmth from his father may be one of the factors that have resulted in Eddie confused sexuality that drives him to seek an emotional connection with men. The problem with Eddie is that he has no identity of self, thus he cannot love another because he cannot love himself. The situation that Eddie finds himself mirrors White’s return to Australia. What he sought was national or historic connection with the motherland. He hoped to gain acceptance and love from the people he knew from his past only to be confronted with unfamiliarity and coldness. Eddie is suddenly regretting going back home and is confronted with the reality that he is actually more comfortable around strangers than around his own family.

Again Joanie Golson appears into his life and Eddie takes off once more. Coincidentally, she appears with her lesbian lover Eadith and even mentions Eudoxia. Our protagonist run off again to be a jackeroo. This fact that Joanie brings up Eudoxia is representative of the past catching up to Eddie. In addition, the character of Eadith forebodes the future of Eddie which also seems to be avoiding. A past event may have precipitated White’s flight from his home. His job as a jackeroo is clearly and attempt to establish or discover his masculinity and paints the picture of a man trying to fit in. In his search for self, Eddie is failing so turns to relationships to cope. He enters into a relationship with an older woman if only to convince himself that he is capable of sex with the opposite gender. However, it represents a deeper underlying issue of the protagonist; the Oedipus complex. Marcia serves to fill the void that Eddie’s mother was unable to. Later in the story, Eddie is raped by Don Prowse making him realize that his attempts at heterosexuality are a farce; worse, he accepts the rape. [9] The rape might represent how White felt violated by his critics in Australia. Instead of feeling mad at them he accepts this as his fate. In an effort to atone for the rape, Prowse lets Eddie sodomize him. This can be interpreted as the efforts by the world to recognize the wrongs committed against him and his eventual gaining of acceptance. After all, they gave him a Nobel Prize. [10] Again, the past catches up with Eddie and he has to leave Bogong and Australia as well

The last part of the book shows the main character as an aging Eadith who has become more comfortable with the person she is. She runs an exclusive brothel in London in the time before the world war two. After failing to succeed in the real world, the character recedes into art by constructing an artificial self. [11] I see this as the writer’s withdrawal from the reality outside to immerse himself in his art, writing. Eadith prefers to abstain and instead chooses to be a passive player in sex by owning a whorehouse. In addition, she chooses never to love again and chooses to remain a fantasy world. This represents White’s total immersion in his work of fiction in his later years. To Patrick White, love remains a gift he can express sufficiently through his work. [12] But the past remains a permanent fixture in Eadith’s as shown when she runs into Joanie Golson who is now very old and shriveled. Joanie represents the past the author cannot escape, forever haunting him. Nevertheless, the appearance of Joanie as old and shriveled seems to suggest the power of the past on the author has reduced. But the past is still strong enough to turn Eadith back into Eddie. [13] Eadith eventually gathers courage to talk to her mother and tell her she is her daughter and her mother accepts her for who she is. This scene represents the first meaningful moment of acceptance for the author from the right person even though Eadith is not ready to go back to Australia. The novel ends with Eadith dying on his way to his mother’s hotel. She never finds her real self and even though her mother accepts her as gay, this moment of happiness is taken away from her. Patrick White recognition in literature came later in his life and after he was dead just like Eadith’s acceptance by her mother. Patrick White was recognized all over the world for his literature but it seems all he ever wanted was the world to acceptance; for the world to see him as normal rather than a ‘gay writer.’ He died before he achieved this just like the main character died before reaching his mother’s hotel.


In conclusion Patrick White’s novel The Twyborn Affair can be described as his coming out book because it draws a lot of similarity with the life of the author. The Eudoxia represents his early life and experience of being in a relationship with someone like him even though it wasn’t founded on real life. The second part and the longest is about the author’s success with writing as well as his failure in finding his true identity and acceptance. The last part shows the author as older and wiser but still loveless. The end is especially telling as the main characters life comes to an end without him achieving his quest. The Twyborn Affair is definitely the fictionalized.