Mary Renault (born Eileen Mary Challans) was born in the year 1905 in London, where her dad was a doctor. She went to Oxford first with the idea that she would become a teacher, but later found she wanted to be a writer instead, and after she got her degree she should broaden her knowledge on human life.
After this, she trained as a nurse for three years, and wrote “Promise of Love”, her first published novel. During this time as a nurse, she met Julie Mullard, a fellow nurse with whom she established a lifelong romantic relationship. During her off-duty time from her service in World War II, she wrote her next three novels.
After the war had ended, she went to South Africa and settled at the Cape. Where she lived with Julie for the rest of her life. Here, they found a community of gay expatriates that were able to escape the repressive attitudes toward homosexuality in Britain. They were able to make a home together in the new land without causing any outrage they had occasionally provoked at home.
That being said, they were still critical of the less liberal aspects of this new homeland, and participated in the Black Sash movement against apartheid during the fifties.
She traveled considerably throughout Africa and has gone up the eastern coast to Mombasa and Zanzibar.
However, it was the previous travels she took through in Greece that resulted in her brilliant historical reconstructions of ancient Greece.
Her book “The Charioteer” focuses on two young gay servicemen during the forties who attempt to model their relationship on the ideals expressed in Phaedrus and Symposium by Plato. Because she isn’t telling a story set in the warrior societies of ancient Greece, she doesn’t have to deal with anti-gay prejudice and homosexuality as social “issues”. It gives her the freedom to focus on other larger ethical and philosophical concerns, as she also examines the nature of leadership and love.
The book could not be published in America until the year 1959, after “The Last of the Wine” prove that American critics and readers would actually accept a serious gay love story.
The sympathetic treatment of love between two men won her a wide gay readership, but it wound up leading to rumors she was a gay man writing under a female pen name. She found these rumors amusing, but wanted to distance herself from being labeled as a gay writer.
She won an MGM award for a novel called “Return to Night”, which was released in the year 1947.
“The King Must Die” and “The Bull From the Sea” were both adapted into an eleven part serial for BBC Radio 4 by Michael Bakewell under the title “The King Must Die”. David Spencer directed it and it was originally broadcast from June 5, 1983 until August 14, 1983. “The Charioteer” was also adapted for BBC Radio 4, for their Book At Bedtime series. It has ten episodes and aired over two weeks in November of 2013.
She wrote historical novels, and even wrote a biography on Alexander the Great. She wrote the “Alexander the Great” trilogy and “Theseus” books. Renault’s first novel, called “Purposes of Love”, was released in the year 1934.
She died of cancer at the age of 78 on December 13, 1983.
“The King Must Die” is the first novel in the “Theseus” series, which was released in the year 1958. In myth, Theseus was the killer of the child eating Minotaur in Crete. The Theseus in this novel is a very lifelike figure. A king of major charisma, whose boundless strivings flow both from strength as well as weakness, but he is one steered by implacable prophecy.
The story follows his adventures from Troizen off to Eleusis, where the death that is in the title is set to take place. Then to Athens and Crete, where he learns to jump bulls and is named the king of the victims.
“The Bull From the Sea” is the second novel in the “Theseus” series, which was released in the year 1962. Theseus defies all of the Gods and claims the throne of Athens. It is a move that culminates in the fateful and horrible destruction of the Minos house.
“Fire From Heaven” is the first novel in the “Alexander the Great” series, which was released in the year 1969. During Alexander’s childhood, his defiant character was molded into the makings of a monarch. His mom, Olympias, and King Philip of Macedon, his dad, fought one another for the loyalty of their son, teaching Alexander about vengeance and politics when he was still in his crib.
His love for Hephaistion the youth, on whom he would depend on for the rest of his life, taught him trust. At the same time, Homer’s Iliad fueled his aspirations and Aristotle’s tutoring sparked his young mind. At the age of twelve, he killed his first man in battle and became commander of Macedon’s cavalry when he was just eighteen. By the time his dad was murdered and he finally took the throne, Alexander’s skills had finally grown to match his fiery ambitions.
“The Persian Boy” is the second novel in the “Alexander the Great” series, which was released in the year 1972. This book traces Alexander’s final years through the eyes of Bagoas, his lover. Abducted and gelded when he was just a boy, Bagoas was sold off as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia. He was able to find freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquered his homeland.
Their relationship is able to sustain itself while Alexander weathers different assassination plots, a sometimes mutinous army, the demands two foreign wives put on him, and his ferocious temper. After Alexander mysteriously dies, everybody is left to wonder if this Persian boy understood this great warrior and the ambitions he had better than anybody else.
“Funeral Games” is the third novel in the “Alexander the Great” series, which was released in the year 1981. Alexander lies dying. Around him gather generals, the provincial satraps as well as the royal wives. Already they compete for prizes of both land and power. Bagoas, the Persian boy that mourns in the shadows, is the only that wants nothing.
Books in order of publication:
|The King Must Die||(1958)|
|The Bull From the Sea||(1962)|
Alexander the Great Books
|Fire from Heaven||(1969)|
|The Persian Boy||(1972)|
|Purposes of Love||(1934)|
|Kind Are Her Answers||(1940)|
|The Friendly Young Ladies||(1944)|
|Return to Night||(1947)|
|The Last of the Wine||(1956)|
|Lion in the Gateway||(1964)|
|The Mask of Apollo||(1966)|
|The Praise Singer||(1978)|
|The Nature of Alexander||(1975)|