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In The Elephant and the Kangaroo, T.H. White names his protagonist "Mr. White," with no first name ever given. There are several notable similarities between the author and his protagonist:

  • they are both English authors
  • Mr. White lives in Ireland, as T.H. White had
  • they both seem to be freethinkers
  • they were both unwed

So one might guess that the protagonist is intended to be some version of the author. The only other indication of a possible reason for this name I noticed was a brief comparison of the protagonist with the White Rabbit, though I suspect this is secondary. (Note the title of the work is based on an infrequently used comparison to two of the main characters to an elephant and a kangaroo.)

Did T.H. White ever explicitly explain the choice of name for this protagonist? If so, did he say to what extent Mr. White and/or his experiences are intended to be similar to the real-life author?

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I think there is little doubt that the "Mr White" from The Elephant and the Kangaroo is essentially T.H. White himself, with a few minor exaggerations. This view is borne out by THW's close friend, David "Bunny" Garnett, who writes in the introduction to The White/Garnett Letters:

Tim [T.H. White] lived there [in Ireland] off and on for six and a half years, and his landlord and landlady, Mr and Mrs McDonagh, and Tim himself, are the chief characters in his book The Elephant and The Kangaroo.

The McDonaghs are of course the O'Callaghans from the book, so minimally disguised (essentially just by changing their surnames), that the publication of the book caused a permanent rift between them and THW. For his own character, THW did not even provide the minimal concealment of changing the name.

Another friend of THW's, and his Cambridge tutor L.J. Potts also remarked on this in a letter to THW:

To return to the E. and the K. Its unique beauty is of course your putting Mr. White in the 3rd person (this you told us, but one couldn't quite see what the effect would be). It makes the book much more objective than your other books, because the one character you can dramatise perfectly is yourself.

In his review of the book, Potts did slightly soften this view, saying that:

As for Mr White, he is a largely fictitious character, with some slight foundation in fact: closely related to Merlin in The Sword in the Stone

which is a slightly mischievous phrasing. As I have noted in an answer to a previous question, the character of Merlin is also largely based on THW.

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  • This is great, thanks! Incidentally, did THW have the nickname "Rabbit" while David Garrett had the nickname "Bunny"? Was there some large circle with animal nicknames that gave birth to the title?
    – Kimball
    Oct 17, 2022 at 5:56
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    Garrett used to call THW "Tim", but I'm not aware of any animal nickname for him. I imagine that the title of the book comes from the nursery rhyme about Noah's Ark "The animals went in two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo" Oct 17, 2022 at 7:21

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