Riders in the Chariot

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Riders in the Chariot
First UK edition
Author Patrick White
Cover artist Sidney Nolan
Country Australia
Language English
Genre Psychological fiction
Publisher Eyre & Spottiswoode
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 643
OCLC 48871685
823/.912 21
LC Class PR9619.3.W5 R533 2002

Riders in the Chariot is the sixth published novel by Australian Author Patrick White, Nobel Prize winner of 1973. It was published in 1961 and won the Miles Franklin Award in that year. It also won the 1965 Gold Medal of the Australian Literature Society.[1]

The book[edit]

The novel is the story of the lives of four loosely connected people, whose common link is the mystic experience of the chariot of the title described in the Book of Ezekiel and traces their lives towards the point where they realise they share the same vision. We are introduced to each character in turn, and their personal struggles are explored against the backdrop of Sarsaparilla, a fictional mid-20th century suburb in Australia, often thought to be based on White's place of residence of that time, at Showground Road, Castle Hill, Sydney in New South Wales. The topography in the novel suggests that Castle Hill post office and Old Castle Hill Road environs have been used as the setting. Dr Herborn of the novel is likely adopted from the Herborn family that lived in Old Castle Hill Road at that time. The town of Barranugli appears to be the city of Parramatta, a bus trip from Castle Hill, near a waterway and on the railway line as described for the character, Himmelfarb's day trip to Paradise East. The novel combines literature, mysticism and suburban life in 1950s Australia.

The novel shows the ignorance and prejudice of the everyday people in reaction to the few who see the infinite, snowballing with catastrophic consequences[2]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel begins with the wild and mad Miss Hare, awaiting the arrival of a new housekeeper to assist in the upkeep of her house, Xanadu, a large and sprawling structure that is slowly falling into decay because of a lack of care.

The climax is a mock crucifixion of an old Jewish refugee (one of the four main characters) in the courtyard of the factory where he works. The owner of the factory fears to interfere, and a young aborigine says three times, that he does not know the victim.


The main four characters are outsiders with deeply different lives made more difficult because they are religious visionaries. Each experience the same vision of four horses drawing a chariot into a shining future: the fiery chariot from the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew bible; visions that make them vulnerable to – and affect the way they deal with – the wily plotting of others.[3]

They are Miss Mary Hare an eccentric heiress in a decaying mansion living with her housekeeper Mrs Jolley; Aboriginal artist Alf Dubbo, painter and sometime drunk; Mordecai Himmelfarb, Holocaust survivor, professor and now migrant working in a machine shop, and Mrs Ruth Godbold, a kindly washerwoman.

Minor characters[edit]

Miss Antill, Eustace Cleugh, Cousin Eustace, Mrs Flack, Tom Godbold, Else Godbold, Norbert Hare, Frau Himmelfarb, Ruth Joyner, Norman Fussell, Fixer Jensen, Humphrey Mortimer, Miss Mudge, Mrs Pask, Harry Rosetree, Shirl Rosetree, Konrad Stauffer, Frau Stauffer, Ingeborg Stauffer, Bob Tanner, Ernie Theobalds, Miss Whibley.


Sarsaparilla, Abercrombie Crescent, Montebello Avenue, "Xanadu".


The primary form of symbolism within the book is through the chariot (or merkabah/merkavah), as described in the Book of Ezekiel. Other symbolism includes the mysteries of the Book of Revelation, with its Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the Seven Seals, along with biblical warnings about blood, fire, and destruction. As a symbol with a complex history in many cultures and artistic and religious traditions the chariot is most simply the vehicle for God's elect[4] or chosen ones.

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
The Irishman
Miles Franklin Award recipient
Succeeded by
The Well Dressed Explorer
The Cupboard Under the Stairs


External links[edit]