T.H. White Biography

Author, Journalist, Educator, Poet(1906–1964)
English writer T.H. White became known for his series of novels about King Arthur, which were collected together in The Once and Future King (1958).

Synopsis

Born on May 29, 1906, in British-ruled Bombay (now Mumbai), India, T.H. White found success as a writer. He became known for his King Arthur series, The Once and Future King, comprising the novelsThe Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness (also known as The Witch in the Wood), The Ill-Made Knight and The Candle in the Wind. On January 17, 1964, White's body was found on a ship in Piraeus, Greece.

Younger Years

Terence Hanbury White—who would gain fame as a novelist under the name T.H. White—was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, on May 29, 1906. The country was then under British rule; White's British father worked there as a district superintendent of police.

The dissolution of his parents' marriage meant that a young White was sent to live in England with his maternal grandparents. In 1920, he began attending Cheltenham College—unhappily, as his time there was marked by violence. White then continued his education at the University of Cambridge, Queens College, where he studied English literature.

Early Writing Career

White's first book—a collection of poems—came out while he was still at Cambridge. Though he got work as a teacher after completing his studies, he also continued writing, penning books about outdoor pursuits like hunting and fishing. Six years into his teaching career, the critical success of White's autobiographical England Have My Bones (1936) spurred him to begin writing full-time.

Tales of King Arthur

Inspired by Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, White decided to produce his own take on the legend of King Arthur. White's novel about Arthur's childhood, The Sword in the Stone (1938), was a popular success. White proceeded to cover the more aspects of the Arthurian legend: The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939; also known as The Witch in the Wood) focused on Arthur's early days as king, while The Ill-Made Knight (1940) covered the tempestuous relationship between Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere.

The Candle in the Wind was about the last days of Camelot (White adapted a play for its content). However, due to editorial changes, as well as paper shortages during World War II, all four pieces did not appear together until compiled into a revised edition—entitled The Once and Future King—in 1958. The collected work inspired Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe to create the musical Camelot, which was a critical and financial success.

Though The Candle in the Wind was seen as the final novel in the series, another manuscript—originally written in 1941—turned up after White's death. In 1977, it was published as The Book of Merlyn, and ended up spending 24 weeks on The New York Times' best-seller list.

Later Work

White wrote other books in addition to his Arthurian works. These include Mistress Masham's Repose (1946), The Elephant and the Kangaroo (1947) and The Master (1957). White also wrote non-fiction, such as recounting his real-life experiences with falconry in The Goshawk (1951).

Despite his other endeavors, White was best known for his stories about King Arthur. As he reaped increasing financial rewards for these works—in addition to the popularity of the musical Camelot, the Walt Disney animated movie The Sword in the Stone (1963) was a hit as well—he wrote less frequently.

Personal Life

White spent much of his life alone. This was perhaps because his childhood made relationships difficult—White described his father as a violent alcoholic and his mother as possessive and callous—or because he wanted to avoid his homosexual and sadomasochistic leanings. Whatever their cause, White's demons likely contributed to his heavy drinking.

After World War II—during which White lived in Ireland—he relocated to Alderney, one of the Channel Islands. Having visited the United States on a lecture tour, White was onboard a ship in Piraeus, Greece, when his body was found in his cabin on January 17, 1964. He was 57 years old at the time.

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