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The Vivisector

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  749 ratings  ·  60 reviews

Hurtle Duffield, a painter, coldly dissects the weaknesses of any and all who enter his circle. His sister's deformity, a grocer's moonlight indiscretion, the passionate illusions of the women who love him-all are used as fodder for his art. It is only when Hurtle meets an egocentric adolescent whom he sees as his spiritual child does he experience a deeper, more treachero

Hardcover, 567 pages
Published July 8th 1970 by Viking Books (first published 1970)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  749 ratings  ·  60 reviews

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Vit Babenco
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are two greatest novels about painters: The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary and The Vivisector by Patrick White and I can’t tell which one is grander – they are so different.
“Birds rose and fell in the air, like the notes of music out of the piano shops in Surrey Hills.”
A true talent ought to dissect reality and reconstruct the bleeding fragments into something new – something dreadfully beautiful or beautifully dreadful capable to shock any pharisaic imagination.
“Again the long sad picture had got posse
Steven Godin
This was my third Patrick White book, and easily my favourite. It will also likely be the best Australian novel I ever get to read. He's a worthy recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature for sure, and it's certainly one of great novels about painters. At over 600 pages, The Vivisector was a book to relish over weeks rather than days, and for as much as I thought this novel was superb, it did contain one of the most unlikeable central characters I have come across recently. Although as the boo ...more
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'What is in a name?' So said some dude with a beard. Well, the answer is quite a lot, as it happens. I once knew a man with the surname Dicker, and it nearly ruined his life. According to the man himself people mercilessly took the piss, girls were embarrassed to date him, he couldn't get a job, etc, and as a result he became so ultra-sensitive about it that he lost all confidence in himself. I think it is fair to say, then, that a name can colour how one sees a particular person or thing. I men ...more
Justin Evans
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
So I've started a project, in which I read a couple of things by everyone who won the Nobel for literature. No, I'm kidding. I'd rather walk two hundred miles into the middle of nowhere, sit under a freeway bridge, knife myself in the stomach and die slowly over five days in excruciating pain than read things written by most Nobel laureates.

No, I'm reading this because a) the cover of this book is freaking amazing and b) I'm 33 now, and apparently that's the age when culture cringe* starts to f
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The very few (?) novels available about art and its makers are little indication of the immense curiosity aroused by the tempting unknown interiors of the artistic mind. While it's difficult to put into concise words what exactly about artists fascinate readers, perhaps the kind of questions one would very much like to ask would be easier to phrase: "What goes on in the mind of an artist? How does he/she feel? What is their experience of the world like?" Because artists surely are strange creatu ...more
Roger Brunyate
The God Paintings

This book comes with great peripherals. On the cover of the Penguin Classics edition is a superb painting by Jason Freeman, showing an operation on a human eye; as brilliant as it is horrifying, the image perfectly captures the mind of the protagonist, Australian painter Hurtle Duffield, whose laser gaze sears into the souls of his subjects, even if he must destroy them in the process. You open the cover to find an excellent introduction by fellow-Nobelist J. M. Coetzee, and four pithy epigr
I did a bit of research on the internet and found out from Wikipedia that this book was dedicated to the painter Sidney Nolan. Patrick White denied that the main character Hurtle Duffield was supposed to be Sidney Nolan (or any painter for that matter). I had never heard of Sidney Nolan (I love when books let me discover something new), so for me, the whole time I was reading this book, I kept feeling like Hurtle Duffield was like the painter, Francis Bacon. I have done some research on the inte ...more
Nell Grey
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourite
A monumental novel which sets out to chronicle the life of fictional artist Hurtle Duffield from childhood to death.

Sold by his poor parents into a wealthy family, the driving force throughout his life is to realize his inner vision by whatever means he can. His ruthlessness in dissecting and exposing the passions and weaknesses of those around him in order to serve his art leaves him cut off from those warmer human emotions which could so easily be his until a musical child, whom he recognises
Jul 15, 2012 rated it liked it
The Vivisector has its moments: undeniable, succinct moments of clarity and of honesty, moments that shine out from the page and that can make you look at a certain subject in a different way - and it is these moments that make this book a worthwhile read, despite its length and its absence of likeable characters. Just like Hurtle Duffield has to toil for his art, you may feel yourself wading through endless description, occasionally pretentious art-posturing and repetition; but there are diamon ...more
George K. Ilsley
One of Patrick White's masterpieces. Here White explores the meaning of art and the process of creation. There might even be some shards of a roman a clef in here as well. Splendid and overwhelming. Like so much of White's best works, one feels the touch of the ineffable.
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
There were parts of this book that I enjoyed, but overwhelmingly I found it drawn out, boring, pretentious, and a little bit ridiculous.

The novel is about Hurtle Duffield, a boy essentially bought from his parents for a wealthy couple's amusement at his charm and cleverness. An initially sensitive and bright little lad, the act of being sold seems to bring out something darker in the boy, and his push towards becoming an artists reveals a brutal, crueler side of him that he ends up exploring mo
tom gunther
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
it keeps happening

i doubt his power every time and every time i am reinvigorated
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: leftanimpression
I am not sure if the artist is so Romantic. it is uneven, yes. the detachment is peculiar. Coetzee wrote the introduction and I am surprised that he did not touch on the colonial aspect (no space?). For if anything perhaps White's novel shows the uneasiness of the Australian artist upon entering the sanctified 'art' world -- and there is Australia's history of course, as penal colony and all. One is tempted to read this allegorically -- the life events of Duffield.

I am not sure that
Description: Hurtle Duffield, a painter, coldly dissects the weaknesses of any and all who enter his circle. His sister's deformity, a grocer's moonlight indiscretion, the passionate illusions of the women who love him-all are used as fodder for his art. It is only when Hurtle meets an egocentric adolescent whom he sees as his spiritual child does he experience a deeper, more treacherous emotion in this tour de force of sexual and psychological menace that sheds brutally honest light on the crea ...more
Sep 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
An intriguing look into the life of a rather uncouth man, beginning in childhood and ending, well, with the end. What's most intriguing about this novel is that it straddles the line between modernist and post-modernist literature. Some critics have argued that it needs more "Australian-ness," but I thought it had the right about of Australian essence to be quirky in that respect, but little enough so that non-Australians can still easily understand what is being said. There is a bit of a shock ...more
Carmel Bell
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A harsh profession, the vivisector within this book, lives up to the promise. He turns his skills inward and outward, displaying an uncanny knack to dissect and review not only his life, but the lives of others. Sacrificed as a child, for largely economic reasons, his skills to reveal and dissect those around him are soon revealed, but does he ever find what it is he is seeking? You would enjoy this book if you are on a quest to find self and seek a thought provoking, painful, yet enjoyable jour ...more
Ray Cannon
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My favourite book in the whole world.
May 19, 2017 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Page 199
This evening the indications are I will be employed all night. There is a football team been given the address. I will think of you between the scrums. I kiss you every where, Nance
I don't understand those bloody paintings I drawings or whatever they are but they may be something. If I could draw I would do you more realistic than life. How I would love it.

Page 207
Again the long sad picture got possession of her. That was what she wanted: to be slowly and sa
Apr 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Story is about a painter Hurtle Duffield who analyses his friends and relatives like a surgeon performing a vivisection with full detachment. Its all done for the sake of his art. Story starts with his initial childhood in a poor family. But he is eventually adopted by wealthy Courtney's’ where his mom works as Laundress.

Courtney have a daughter Rhoda, who has a disability in the form of bent/stooped back. Hurtle is quiet unusual as compare to any normal children. Chiefly he is ahead
Miguel Paolo  Celestial
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Six hundred pages is not typically long for a novel, but for “The Vivisector”, what made it even lengthier was the circumstance during which I attempted to finish it. From Manila to San Francisco and from working to returning to school, it has been more challenging to get into, stay involved, fall madly in love, and finally let go, of the story of Hurtle Duffield.

Hurtle is, like many of White’s protagonists, an outsider and outcast. Born poor but adopted by a wealthy family, he was a
Colin Davison
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There I was, crossing a street in Melbourne, reading a copy of a fairly obscure novel (at least long obscured from me) published nearly 50 years ago, when a passer-by fell into step and said, "terribly pretentious. The Tree of Man is so much better."
It was re-assuring. I knew White had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years after publication of The Vivisector and as an attempt to inhabit the mental processes of an artist, such as his friends Sidney Nolan or Francis Bacon I
I'm marking this as finished even though I didn't finish it/DNFed.
So I'm not going to rate this but I didn't like this one bit. I could enjoy some passages and that I could tell that Patrick White is a good writer, but the story dragged and none of the characters are likable at all.
I read this for my book club, at the moment we're reading the shortlist of the Man Booker Prize 1970, and so far that year, in my opinion, not a strong year. I would have stopped reading this earlier if it wasn
Aug 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to Sull by: Charity shop find.
I'm not really finished with this yet, but I guess I've had enough for now. It IS endless (700+ pages), one of these huge fictionalized "Life of" books that traces the rise & fall, & rise & fall again & again, etc. I'm interested in ground-breaking artist Hurtle Duffield, but I need a break, & unless my pile of library-&-charity-shop books either disappears or gets pretty boring, it may be a while before I dive back in to finish the last 150 pages of Hurtle's life. He's o ...more
Sep 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Compelling + chilling in equal measure, I picked up this book on a whim to read at work and couldn't put it down. Consumed in 2 weeks. Absorbing, intense, visceral, earthy it tells the life of a nihilistic anti-hero Hurtle Duffield. He knows from an early age he is an artist. Damaged by youthful experiences he becomes a parasite upon people and relationships which fuel his art. Truly great writing about the creative process.
Patrick White began writing with 2 books of verse, before moving i
Mili Legge
This book was one of my first books that I have read ,when I arrived to Australia 44 years ago. Patrick White showed me the life in Australia, that was new
and different to anything I've ever imagined. I've just read the book again and I was pleasantly surprised , that my understanding of English language 44 years ago, was much better then I thought. I loved the book , Patrick introduced me to a country ,that I've learned to love and enjoy.
William Drummond
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it
An impossible book to recommend.

Exploring the inner depths of an artists psyche and the horrible trail left behind of those who become his “muse”, this novel at times was poignant and scary. As a whole though I found this was far too arduous to possibly want to tell my friends to find the hidden gems within.

May 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
I'm giving up. I'm 100 pages in and nothing has happened. I peeked and it seems like very few of the ~600 pages actually spend time advancing plot. I got the gist of it from a synopsis, so I think I'll call it here and move on. Maybe I'll try again another day, but most likely not... I have other things to do.
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Patrick White was the author I loved to hate when we were forced to read him back in English Lit. I said as much to a customer a month or so ago, and he pointed out that maybe reading him as an adult would be a different experience and suggested that I read this. An absolute stunner of a book, this is everything I love about GOOD literature.
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book of hard truths about living the creative life. I can't think of any other book that would be as good as this one on the process of generating ideas and how a mind becomes possessed with them until they are fully realised. Very, very good writing, but a slow read, especially the last few pages.
'Even the best painters owe something to reality.' p. 336
Made me laugh.
There's precious few laughs in this story. I haven't enjoyed this one, surprisingly, it has mostly been a slog to the last chapter, chap. 9.
A slow slide into tedious boredom. Skimmed to the end of the chapter. Goodbye Mr. Duffield.
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Salon des Refusés: The Vivisector 1 8 Apr 02, 2012 08:39AM  

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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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“There's nothing so inhuman as a human being.” 9 likes
“They walked on rather aimlessly. He hoped she wouldn't notice he was touched, because he wouldn't have known how to explain why. Here lay the great discrepancy between aesthetic truth and sleazy reality.” 8 likes
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