1905 - 1983
Mary Renault was best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece with their vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great.
Born in London in 1905 and educated at the University of Oxford, she trained as a nurse at Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary where she met her lifelong partner, fellow nurse Julie Mullard. After completing her training she wrote her first novel, Purposes of Love, in 1937. In 1948, after her novel North Face won a MGM prize worth $150,000, she and Mullard emigrated to South Africa.
It was in South Africa that Renault was able to write forthrightly about homosexual relationships for the first time - in her last contemporary novel, The Charioteer , published in 1953, and then in her first historical novel, 1956's The Last of the Wine, the story of two young Athenians who study under Socrates and fight against Sparta. Both these books had male protagonists, as did all her later works that included homosexual themes. Her sympathetic treatment of love between men would win Renault a wide gay readership.
In 2006 Mary was the subject of a BBC 4 documentary and her books, many of which remain in print on both sides of the Atlantic, are often sought after for radio and dramatic interpretation. In 2010 Fire From Heaven was shortlisted for the Lost Booker of 1970.
‘Mary Renault is a shining light to both historical novelists and their readers. She does not pretend the past is like the present, or that the people of ancient Greece were just like us. She shows us their strangeness; discerning, sure-footed, challenging our values, piquing our curiosity, she leads us through an alien landscape that moves and delights us.’- Hilary Mantel