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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 4: From the European imperial romance to the “hybridised” text


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Chapter 4:  From the European imperial romance to the “hybridised” text

4.1  The anti-pastoral and the “democracy of the land”

The last decades of the nineteenth century saw the development of the realistic novel. Yet, this age also coincided with the revival of romance. In Great Britain, a branch of this literary genre was called imperial romance,208 the spread and fortune of which covered the so-called New Imperialist age, the timespan stretching from the 1870s/1880s to World War One.

In both its content and its tone, the imperial romance was much influenced by the socio-political and literary context of the country at that time. The prevailing themes of this literary form, notably adventure, explorations, journeys into unknown worlds and search for lost ancient civilisations, echoed Britain’s defensively aggressive policy and its attempt to assert the imperial ideal and ideology in order to counteract the rise and power of other European countries both on the European stage and further afield.

The literary scene also contributed to giving the imperial romance precise connotations. The imperial romance was born and thrived at a time when the novel, as a literary genre, was experiencing great success. The historical novel too was enjoying great popularity more or less during the same decades. Debate about literary genres was also widespread, especially the debate about the romance and novel as literary genres. Walter Scott also took part in the discussion, and defined the two...

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