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A Fringe of Leaves

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  768 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Set in Australia in the 1840s, A FRINGE OF LEAVES combines dramatic action with a finely distilled moral vision. Returning home to England from Van Diemen's land, the Bristol Maid is shipwrecked on the Queensland coast and Mrs Roxburgh is taken prisoner by a tribe of aborigines, along with the rest of the passengers and crew. In the course of her escape, she is torn by con ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published March 2nd 1993 by Penguin Classics (first published 1976)
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Average rating 3.66  · 
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 ·  768 ratings  ·  56 reviews

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Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” Genesis 3:7
Thus a fringe of leaves was the first artificial product of civilization. When God saw Adam and Eve wearing loincloths, he understood that they were ashamed now of their natural nakedness and in this way the human beings have become hypocritical and this hypocrisy was a real downfall of the mankind in the eyes of God…
A Fringe of Leaves is a gradu


It's been a week since I finished this book, and I still feel somewhat bloated: my mind, and not my innards, still distended by almost countless images that haunt me. I imagine my mind looks something like this right now:

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I wonder if this particular (mental) cobra will ever be able to digest all that Patrick White packs in this novel. (I started by giving him a mere 8.5 -- but who am I kidding?)

It's an historical novel, on the surface of it, about a 19th century shipwreck (fact) an
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I hate-read this for a 100 pages before being won over by (in order of appearance) a rich lady screaming "A watercolor!", an amateur horticulturist law student, a dead pug dog at sea, and finally this:
After enjoying the luxury of a postponed, ungainly, and not unexpectedly, painful stool, Austin Roxburgh was wandering with little regard for purpose or direction, kicking at the solid though harsh ground for the simple pleasure of renewing acquaintance with primordial substance.
So he took a sh
Roger Norman
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
A Fringe of Leaves must be one of the more accessible of Patrick's White's novels, easier to read, certainly, than Voss, which I read as an A level set text, fifty years ago and which nearly put me off this writer for good. Visits to Oz and a secondhand copy of David Marr's biography put me back on the track, and A Fringe of Leaves was what I picked up. It started off by reminding me of Virginia Woolf, with a touch of Henry James - Woolf because of the depth and sensitivity of the characterisati ...more
Bryn Hammond
DNF 65%.
I am not continuing past the cannibal scenes. It's my first Patrick White and I am an instant convert to his writing. But I won't read his lurid inventions about Australia's First Nations. See this article:

'We certainly cannot accept the licence White takes with Indigenous Australia when we remember that this book was published one year after Gough Whitlam, of whom the author was a public champion, famously poured earth into the hands of Vincent
Kristin Winkler
Jan 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
Some of the most overwrought writing I've read in a long time. It's almost as if the author sat with a Thesaurus and picked a random replacement word for every appropriate word. Often I was just scratching my head wondering what he was trying to say. While the story is naturally compelling, he veils the truth in so much sludge that it loses its drama.

White might have won the Nobel Prize, but certainly not for this book.
I remember hating this book with a passion when I was reading it for a Year 10 English Literature review. But I also remember the satisfaction of completing it and being impressed how the book put me into the shoes of the heroine of the story. Even today I can remember her thoughts of the smells and dirt of early Australia. I also remember complaining to my friends that it took her 100 pages to get from the deck of the boat to the landing on the jetty; such was the detail of Patrick White's styl ...more
Denise Waggoner
Jan 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a hard, but brilliant read. At first you think you've mistakenly picked up a male version of a Jane Austen novel about manners, slights, and an English class system colonizing Australia. However, you soon recognize an underlying tension and have to stop yourself from rushing through because you know something horrific will take place, and that his use of language will be so beautiful and painful that you can't look away.
Dec 30, 2009 rated it did not like it
oh dear lord. i had a dismal time reading this for a book report in high school. I was greatly puzzled by the line "He took her, and used her as a wheelbarrow". Yet somehow it's never left me...
Thank God I am finally done with this book. The only reason I did not DNF this is that I had to read it for uni and felt obligated to finish it. But, tbh, I need to read a total of six novels for that particular class and I've disliked all three (and a half) that I have read so far.
This particular book was just incredibly boring. I am not generally a big fan of historical fiction and often find it tiresome, even though the actual events taking place are anything but. I am truly baffled by the fa
Jan 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Taken from my original post on my blog 'Bookish Fragments' at:

3/5 stars ⋆⋆⋆

I really should have read ‘A Fringe of Leaves’ last year. It was one of the assigned books for a study unit called The Postcolonial Australian Novel. However, due to time constraints I never read past page 70. In fact, when I picked up this book again last week, my bookmark was still patiently saving the page. I have a personal rule with myself that once I start a book I do all I c
Gregory Marris
May 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I recently picked up a first edition of this book in a second hand bookshop. I have for some time been considering that I must give Patrick White another go. Years ago I read The Aunt's Story and the only thing I can recall about it was that it contained lots of untranslated French passages which at the time I found tiring and elitist. Now that I have read A Fringe of Leaves I would even be willing to return to The Aunt's Story to give it a second chance! White's style of writing put me in mind ...more
Aug 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book! The writing style was a little hard for me to get used to at first, but mid-way through the book I couldn't put it down. The author deals with issues of class and race very interestingly, and the story itself was enthralling. Also, the fact that I've been interested in Australian Aborigine culture since I was a kid helps.
George K. Ilsley
A historical novel set in Australia by the masterful writer Patrick White. The presence of the past always bubbles just under the surface in every White novel. Here there is also a culture clash, and one culture looks ridiculous. Naturally the ridiculous culture dominates, and that is where we are today.
Rusty Wright
Very wordy without much to say. Lots of work to read, like wading through treacle. But I'm at an age where I read for pleasure, not for expanding my intellect; perhaps if I were younger I might have flogged myself to finish it but I've done that often enough in the past to know that it's rarely if ever worth it.
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
bought today 1 of 12 books for $10 the lot.
have this edition also-----Paperback, 368 pages
Published 1983 by Penguin Books (first published 1976) for daughter - today 5/12/2012
Apr 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
Don't waste your time.
Andre Pawney
A perfectly crafted novel!
Alec Johnsson
Apr 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The title, A Fringe of Leaves, refers—we learn over halfway through the book—to the vine-like cord that Ellen Roxburgh ties around herself to keep hold of the one piece of “civilization” (in the narrow sense that she would likely use that broad word) that she has left—her wedding ring. This scene of despondence comes around the time when the novel transitions, abruptly yet smoothly, from what is essentially an old-fashioned post-Regency tale moved to penal-colonial Australia to a white-knuckle s ...more
Victoria Collins
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don't think I've ever read a character arc that is more full, that roams physically wider and psychologically deeper than that of Mrs Roxburgh in A Fringe of Leaves.

For it's placement in upper class colonial history, this book surprised me by pulling me into some of the most raw of human experiences. I found myself tossed and dragged right alongside Mrs Roxburgh's incredible life path, leaving me as shell-shocked, disoriented and profoundly moved as the character herself (and just as unable t
Jun 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r5-group
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carol Jones
It has taken decades but I have finally finished a novel by Nobel Prize winning author Patrick White and unfortunately it was an arduous experience. Set in the 1840s and inspired by the story of Eliza Fraser who was shipwrecked on the subsequently named Fraser Island off the Queensland coast, it tells of Cornish farm girl Mrs Roxburgh's struggle to be the perfect Victorian gentlewoman. Married to a sickly husband, she must deny her sensual nature, especially once she finds herself stranded on an ...more
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished reading this book almost two weeks ago and have been trying to form a review in my head that will do this story justice. There is too much to this story to try to convey in a paragraph or two. First and most important for me is the language, Patrick White is a superb writer. He does not waste words, there are no clever similies, his writing is rich, but not so dense as to be difficult. The story is compelling, a young country girl, Ellen Gluyas marries Austin Roxburgh, a sickly, frail ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This classic novel by Nobel Prize winner Patrick White steadily builds a powerful story about a Victorian English woman who faces almost unendurable challenges in the wilds of Australia. White is not a poetic or self-consciously graceful writer. His style tends to be blunt and straight-forward, even seeming disjointed and awkward at times, as if he didn't have either the time or inclination to turn it into "fine writing." Nevertheless, the scenes he describes are vivid and clear and his characte ...more
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bit closer to 3.5 stars, from me. I appreciate the visceral and unaffected storytelling fictionalising Eliza Fraser's real story. The context is steeped in Australian history, of course, and it speaks to the marginality of the antipodes that the closest comparison I have is something like Robinson Crusoe crossed with Heart of Darkness.

Which is to say that it's a deeply literary novel. I know that sounds silly, but if you've read a bit of White I think you'll get what I mean. Yet apart from the f
May 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Voss is one of my favorite books so I was very excited to read this, but I found it a disappointment. I felt there was a lack of both complexity and subtlety when compared to White's other work. The first chapter is excellent and I found the sections dealing with the Ellen's stay in Tasmania to be the most compelling; the shipwreck and captivity sections (which take up a relatively short amount of text, given the focus they receive in reviews and even on the book flap) seemed unoriginal to me an ...more
Sep 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone over 15 years.
When I saw Fringe of Leaves in a 2ndhand bookshop I thought I must give Patrick White a go, had heard so much about him. I was certainly not disappointed, I loved this book. It is at once an action story which propels you forward, and a detailed delving into the human spirit and learned morality. The characters are beautifully drawn, especially Ellen, who seems cast in the role of captive from a young age.
I very much like White's style of prose, he has the power to make you look to your own life
Tim Tillack
May 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed my first Patrick White experience. The novel is a deeply distilled moral tale, which avoids puritanical brow beating, and opens up a space for contemplation of the human condition. The protagonist Ellen/Mrs Roxburgh is caught between two worlds and two classes, and it is this hybridity which allows her to survive her ordeal when her ship is shipwrecked and she is taken prisoner by aborigines.

Feb 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, own, mexico
Wow, this was a very hard one for me to rate, it was like a rollercoaster, I would give the terrible beginning a one, then it shot up to a 5 for half the book, then down, down and down . so I averaged it out to a 2.5 . I have three more of the authors books so will read them soon the winning of the Nobel prize does not influence me in any way. I have read too many Nobel winning books which I ended up not liking.
Dec 02, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Glenda by: Ernie Love
I'm not sure how I feel about this book... It was certainly adventurous in many places, and I did care about the main character. But... I am not sure I liked the way aborigines were portrayed: as cannibals, slave-holders, violent people. I am also not sure that I liked some of the repetitiousness of the language, and the slow start of the story.
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Patrick Victor Martindale White was an Australian author widely regarded as one of the major English-language novelists of the 20th century. From 1935 until death, he published twelve novels, two short story collections, eight plays, and also non-fiction. His fiction freely employs shifting narrative vantages and the stream of consciousness technique. In 1973, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Li ...more

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