Antonia White’s life might best be viewed as a collage of troubled relationships: with the Catholic Church, with loved ones, and, most importantly, with herself. White’s life looms large behind her fiction, and separating the two is no easy task, but recent feminist literary critical work has done much to broaden the scope of White studies and enrich understanding of the writer’s life experiences. Antonia White was born in London in 1899, and was christened Eirene Adeline Botting by her parents Cecil and Christine. Because she was an only child, White spent much time alone. She lived the first years of her life as a miniature adult, remarkably astute and sophisticated in her thinking, evidently not “childlike” at all. She invented games for her stuffed animals to play and imagined that she was somewhere—anywhere—else, performing heroic deeds, living an adventurous life. Her father converted to Catholicism when she was eight and wished to give his daughter the thoroughly Catholic upbringing he never enjoyed. His decision to send her to the exclusive Convent of the Sacred Heart in Roehampton that same year set into motion White’s love-hate relationship with the Catholic Church. While in school, she grew increasingly dependent on the approval of others; she longed to develop close friendships with the more wealthy and cosmopolitan girls and suffered from a consuming need to make her father proud of her intellectual achievements. Indeed, her father’s desire for her to earn a university degree and become a teacher motivated the young White to earn academic honors and pursue study of the classics.
But White’s relationship with her father was far from harmonious. As nearly all studies of White have pointed out, her life seemed to revolve around earning her father’s approval. Figuring out how to please him consumed much of her energy and attention. Her diaries and letters indicate that she had a most difficult time defining herself in any but a relational way—as anything except her father’s daughter. As she grew into young adulthood, White came to reflect on the shadow her father cast over her life when he converted to Catholi-