Writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. However, her early novels had a contemporary setting,and dealt with lesbian love. After she and her partner emigrated to South Africa in 1949, she found in Durban a community of gay expatriates and a society, which was more sexually tolerant, but racially repressive.
In South Africa Renault was able to write forthrightly about homosexual relationships for the first time, especially in a series of historical novels, all set in ancient Greece; her sympathetic treatment of love between men would win Renault a wide gay readership. Though Renault appreciated her gay following, she was uncomfortable with the "gay pride" movement that emerged in the 1970s after the Stonewall riots.