The Scarlet-Clad Woman: Munch’s Influence in A Fringe of Leaves


Patrick White's novel A Fringe of Leaves (1976) is based on the shipwreck of the Stirling Castle north of Fraser Island in 1836, the subsequent capture of Eliza Fraser by an Aboriginal tribe, and her eventual return to European settlement assisted by an escaped convict. White borrows a surprising amount of detail from the historical accounts of these events (see Davidson, Schaffer, Stow and Ward). Likewise, he borrows a great deal from painting. He had first heard the story from Sidney Nolan in 1958, who painted three series of paintings on the subject (1948-9, 1956-7, 1964). During the early 60s an opera was mooted, libretto by White, sets by Nolan, composer Benjamin Britten; nothing came of it but in 1963 White wrote: 'One can no longer imagine Mrs Fraser apart from the Nolan paintings' (Marr 413). The second half of A Fringe of Leaves is profoundly influenced by these paintings, as has been frequently remarked. However, I would argue that the influence of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, particularly his Woman in Three Stages, is equally important in this novel.

The full text of this essay is available to ALS subscribers

Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.

Published 1 May 1999 in Volume 19 No. 1. Subjects: Characterisation, Imagery, Literary influences, Symbolism, Writer's craft, Patrick White.

Cite as: Hewitt, Helen. ‘The Scarlet-Clad Woman: Munch’s Influence in A Fringe of Leaves.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1999, doi: 10.20314/als.bb7525ba61.