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 BBC4 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." Hilary Mantel
"Mary Renault's portraits of the ancient world are fierce, compled and eloquent, infused at every turn with her lifelong passion for the Classics." Madeline Miller
"All my sense of the ancient world - its values, its style, the scent of its wars and passions - comes from Mary Renault." Emma Donoghue