Mary Renault

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Mary Renault (pronounced /rɛnoʊlt/ Ren-olt[2]) (4 September 1905 – 13 December 1983) born Eileen Mary Challans[1], was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. In addition to vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great, she wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander.



Born at Dacre Lodge, 49 Plashet Road, Forest Gate, Essex, (now London), Renault was educated at St Hugh's College of Oxford University, then an all-women's college, receiving a undergraduate degree in English in 1928. In 1933, she began training as a nurse at Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary. During her training, she met Julie Mullard, a fellow nurse with whom she established a life-long romantic relationship.

She worked as a nurse while beginning a writing career, treating Dunkirk evacuees at the Winford Emergency Hospital in Bristol, and working in Radcliffe Infirmary's brain surgery ward until 1945. She published her first novel, Purposes of Love, in 1939; it had a contemporary setting, like her other early novels, which novelist Linda Proud described as "a strange combination of Platonism and hospital romance".[3] Her 1943 novel The Friendly Young Ladies, about a lesbian relationship between a writer and a nurse, seems inspired by her own relationship with Mullard.

In 1948, after her novel Return to Night won a MGM prize worth $150,000, she and Mullard emigrated to South Africa, where they remained for the rest of their lives. There, according to Proud, they found a community of gay expatriates who had "escaped the repressive attitudes towards homosexuality in Britain for the comparatively liberal atmosphere of Durban.... Mary and Julie found themselves able to set up home together in this new land without causing the outrage they had sometimes provoked at home."[3] (Renault and Mullard were critical of the less liberal aspects of their new home, participating in the Black Sash movement against apartheid in the 1950s.)

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