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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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Chapter 3: Towards le récit de voyage: the transit of the historical “chronicle”?


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Chapter 3:  Towards le récit de voyage: the transit of the historical “chronicle”?

3.1  The “Eldorado” and the “flag”. Mercantilism and nationalism: the dream of an exotic hortus conclusus

Whatever the purpose, the link between travelling and historical events has always been strong. Because of the evolution that journeying, and the reasons and aims prompting it have undergone throughout the ages, it has become a sort of cultural refraction of the dynamics and changing processes of societies over time,156 and has had substantial impacts on personal and collective destinies. Its relevance has turned it into a universal cultural topos and a fertile terrain for metaphors and symbols. It has also made it into a richly and vastly explored theme in a variety of literary genres.

As White wanted to write a “chronicle” of mid-nineteenth century Australia, it was quite natural for him to choose the motif of travelling. Explorations represented a touchstone in the newly-founded country, and they offered him a good opportunity to write an ortgebunden historical work, and to combine it with the literary category of le récit de voyage.

The conversation between the explorer and Mr. Bonner represents a fictional episode which paves the way for the expedition. Two events taking place after this encounter also function as a prologue; however, while the conversation gives the exploration an almost private nature and purpose, the narrative events which follow, as characters and settings...

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