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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 6: Genre and gender: from the masculine European epic to the feminine native epic


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Chapter 6:  Genre and gender: from the masculine European epic to the feminine native epic

6.1  Departure: the wandering masculine word; the floating feminine words

Every literary genre is characterised by a precise pattern, has its own heroes and depicts a series of events or situations. The central character of the classical tragedy is usually a great man of noble origins, endowed with moral standing and honoured by his own community. What singles him out is his arête “[…] originally a competitive excellence [which] consists of military prowess, wealth, social prestige, and courage”; as such, the hero is a man “étranger à la condition ordinaire du citoyen”451 able to perform grandiose deeds.

The epic shares similarities with the tragic genre. Rutherford suggests, for example, that the protagonist of the epic “is a man set apart from other men, marked off by his courage […]; he undergoes a journey to a region where he is subjected to trials which he is able to endure because of his superior qualities”.452

Owing to the protagonist’s personality and role, the narrative terrain that crossing the desert entails becomes richer and more complex for the protagonist than it is for his travel companions. The three phases of ← 199 | 200 → the journey, that is, departure, transit and arrival, bring out Voss’s arête and impressive personality. Moreover, White courageously chooses to deal with Voss’s experience and fate alongside those of Laura, “the mistress of...

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