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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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I.  History and travelling: explorations and explorers

Travelling has a long history. Ever since antiquity, men have travelled, have left their native land and have ventured into known or unknown countries driven by the most diverse reasons and aims. Men have set out on journeys to escape poverty, famine, disease, and war in the hope that they would find better lives for themselves.

Often basic needs have then given way to more ambitious purposes. In the Middle Ages, the age of chivalry, knights left their country and embarked on adventures which could exalt their heroic nature and deeds. People have travelled for religious reasons, and besides knights, pilgrims too could be met on the roads of Europe and of the Middle East; religion itself has often triggered struggles and wars throughout the world.

Mercantilism and economic interests have also played their part in determining movement. The exchange of goods has sometimes turned into exploitation or the appropriation of goods. Throughout history, men have journeyed out of curiosity, that is, in order to come into contact with what was beyond the known world: journeys and voyages of exploration, which increased during the Renaissance and whose aims were to improve scientific knowledge, also met the need to trade, but could very soon degenerate into aggressive behaviour towards the civilisations of the newly discovered lands.

The Enlightenment somewhat changed the nature of journeys. The need to broaden geographic knowledge combined with the wish...

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