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Voss: An Australian Geographical and Literary Exploration

History and Travelling in the Fiction of Patrick White

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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 7: From “chronicle” to legend

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Chapter 7:  From “chronicle” to legend

7.1  Seeing and telling: the witness of history and the récitant of the legend

A chronicle, it has been said, is a “detailed […] register of events in order of time; a historical record of facts, especially one in which the facts are narrated without philosophical treatment, or any attempt at literary style”.699 Plain style, a true-to-life and objective rendition of events, without critical intervention on the part of the author are thus the supposed features of a chronicle.

As a mid-nineteenth century “chronicle”, White’s novel is expected to comply with these aspects. However, linguistic and narrative “loopholes”, a highly elaborate prose, and imagery show “White’s (successful) attempt at literary style”; likewise, because of its intertextual echoes, Voss is not a merely informative text, or a record of events put in chronological order, but a text which combines mimetic and realistic representation which, nonetheless, has a “sens caché” and thus requires some sort of subtler interpretation. In fact, Voss’s experience, death and nativization receive a treatment other than a purely realistic one. The last events in the narration and the epilogue of the story show White suspending his own intervention as an omniscient narrator and making use of further textual “loopholes” to philosophically, and symbolically deal with the events.

The three characters who have lived in close contact with the protagonist, notably Laura, Voss’s special companion and spiritual “bride”, Judd, the...

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