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Voss: An Australian Geographical and Literary Exploration

History and Travelling in the Fiction of Patrick White


Elena Ungari

This study of Voss by the Anglo-Australian Patrick White analyses the historical novel, set in the 1850s and concerning Voss’s exploration of the interior of Australia, as a parable of the writer’s exploration of the Australian historical, social and cultural context of the 1950s. The study employs a variety of critical apparatus including a post-structuralist and postcolonial approach, which also encompasses linguistics, sociolinguistics and comparative studies. This multi-level critical aid allows the examination of four levels of exploration utilised by the author.

Following an analysis of the protagonist’s geographical movement into the desert and his personal transformation, the study moves on to an exploration of the narrative itself. It explores how the novel becomes subject to change, absorbing and contesting a variety of literary genres ranging from the ‘chronicle’ to the parable. Through this multi-level approach, the study demonstrates the variety of readings the novel stimulates and displays its rich intertextual and subtextual elements and links.

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The present study has tried to reveal the complexity of Voss. At the end of the analysis, some conclusions can be drawn about the nature of White’s work and its meaning in the historical and cultural context of mid-twentieth century Australia.

The presence of history in fiction has always been a matter of debate. Over time, discussions have concentrated on the nature of the historical novel as a literary genre which combines history with fiction, realism with invention, and which notably fictionalises history.

The intent of historical reconstructions have also been studied. The nationalistic tone which characterised the European historical novel in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the historical fiction genre was enjoying its golden phase, slowly faded, giving way to more critical attitudes or to merely fictional intents and interests in the subsequent decades and throughout the twentieth century.

The relationship between the past, the historical setting, and the present, the age when the novel is being written, has also been a matter of interest, generating a variety of views. While Lukăcs appreciated the classical historical novel written in the first half of the nineteenth century because novelists were able to record the historical and social dynamics and changes of an age, he was most critical of the modern historical novel. From the last decades of the nineteenth century onwards, he maintains, realism has been progressively lost, and history has become merely an exotic and decorative setting. Rather...

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