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  • Voss - A Reading Australia Information Trail

    Voss by Patrick White is a novel about an explorer and the woman he secretly loves. It won the first Miles Franklin Literary Award, in 1957.

    – Part One of this trail examines space and place in Voss.

    – Part Two examines the relationship between the real-life explorer Ludwig Leichhardt and the character of Voss.

    – Part Three examines the sacred in Voss. The trail concludes by drawing together resources that discuss White's legacy, and providing suggestions for further reading. Some of these critical works and other resources are available to read online.

    Click the hyperlinks in the citations below to be taken to the full text.

  • Voss by Patrick White

    image of person or book cover
    This image has been sourced from online.

    'Set in nineteenth-century Australia, Voss is the story of the secret passion between an explorer and a naïve young woman. Although they have met only a few times, Voss and Laura are joined by overwhelming, obsessive feelings for each other. Voss sets out to cross the continent. As hardships, mutiny and betrayal whittle away his power to endure and to lead, his attachment to Laura gradually increases. Laura, waiting in Sydney, moves through the months of separation as if they were a dream and Voss the only reality.

    See full AustLit entry

    Exploring the AustLit work record for Voss will allow you to find a large number of secondary texts about many aspects of the work.

  • Patrick White

    Patrick White is the first Australian writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (1973). He was born into a wealthy Australian grazing family with strong ties to England, and received his school education partly in Australia, partly at Cheltenham College, England. He then lived a few years in Australia, working as a jackaroo and preparing for university. At King's College, Cambridge, he studied French and German languages and literatures (1932-1935) and spent considerable time in France and Germany (particularly Hannover, the fictional Heimat of Voss and of Himmelfarb in Riders in the Chariot).

    See full AustLit entry
  • Translations

    Voss has been translated into German, Spanish, Italian, French, Korean, Turkish, Croatian, Japanese, Finnish, and many other languages. See a full list in the AustLit work record.

  • Adaptations

    Voss was adapted into an opera by author David Malouf and composer Richard Meale. It was first performed by the Australian Opera in Adelaide, March 1986.

    See full AustLit entry

    As of 2013, Voss had not been adapted for film. For discussions of planned film adaptations, see Mike Safe's article or this interview about David Mercer's unrealised adaptation.

  • Cover Art by Sidney Nolan

    Preliminary sketch by Sidney Nolan. Courtesy of State Library of NSW.
    State Library of NSW

    The cover image for the first edition of Voss was designed by Sidney Nolan on the request of Patrick White. The State Library of New South Wales, which holds the original image, notes that 'Nolan sent this preliminary sketch from England on a postcard to White in Sydney.'

  • Part One - Voss, Space, Place

    This section includes critical material that examines place, space and landscape in Voss.

  • Overflowing Maps

    'Patrick White is a major Australian writer who has again and again tried to interpret the nation's exploration history in terms of its gradually evolving forms of spatiality and frontier. Acclaimed as a 'born writer' and again criticized on grounds of contrived stylistic patterns by A.D. Hope (Marr, Life 307-10), White has still remained a controversial novelist.' (p.

    See full AustLit entry

    Bandyopadhyay, Deb Narayan. '"It Overflows All Maps': Culture, Nationalism and Frontier in Patrick White's Voss.' Antipodes 23.2 (2009): 125-131.

  • Space and Australian Literature

    Author's abstract: This article argues that Australia reimagined its geopolitical identity in the mid-20th century by recollocating the two terms of its unique, contradictory status as an island continent. Whereas colonial Australia had stressed the continental element of this descriptor, the middle years of the 20th century witnessed a shift in self-perception that laid stress on Australia as an island. This article identifies a wide, interconnected range of reasons for this change that turns on the dilemma of national interiority. (...more)
    See full AustLit entry

    McMahon, Elizabeth. 'Australia, the Island Continent.' Space and Culture 13.2 (2010): 178-187.

  • 'The Novelist and the New World'

    The story of Voss has epical implications, is ‘doctrinal to the nation.’ Voss is a public man, his task being to discover and open up for the whole people the meaning of this new continent to which he is drawn. Like Moby-Dick and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with which it challenges comparison in the American tradition, Voss is about the search for new kinds of value, about the tension between the individual will and the collective order. Like these works, the story of Voss arises from an experience of ‘imaginative desocialization,’ the experience from which Quentin Anderson argues, the heroic quest of the new world takes its beginning.

    See full AustLit entry

    Brady, Veronica. 'The Novelist and the New World.' Texas Studies in Literature and Language 21.2 (1979): 169-185.

  • Part Two - Ludwig Leichhardt and Voss

    White's depiction of Voss was influenced by the real-life explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, a German who disappeared in Australia in 1848.

  • Patrick White and Ludwig Leichhardt's Letters

    The character of Voss was influenced by the real-life German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who disappeared in Australia in 1848. White read German and French at Cambridge University, and in this broadcast, Angus Nicholls of the University of London argues that White read Leichhardt's letters in the original German a decade before they were made available in translation. White's reading of these letters, Nicolls argues, influenced the construction of the character of Voss; in fact, White paraphrases some of the letters that Leichhardt sent home. While earlier scholars looked for canonical literary influences on the character of Voss, strong links can be seen between real-life Leichhardt's cultural background and training and the character of Voss.

    'Patrick White: Voss and Leichhardt.' Interview with Dr Angus Nicolls. ABC Radio National. 25 Jan. 2011. Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Leichhardt's Cultural Legacy

    'This paper examines Ludwig Leichhardt's early Australian diaries, spanning from April 1842 until July 1844, in relation to his cultural legacy. Although Leichhardt's standing as an explorer was initially established following the success of his journey to Port Essington in 1844-46, his reputation in Australia was later damaged by controversies arising from rival accounts of both this first journey and particularly of the second expedition of 1846-47. These controversies, at times informed by anti-Prussian and later by anti-German prejudices, have dominated Leichhardt's reception in Australia, while at the same time diverting attention from his German cultural background and the ways in which it may have influenced his writings on Australia.

    See full AustLit entry

    Nicholls, Angus. 'The Young Leichhardt's Diaries in the Context of His Australian Cultural Legacy.' The Leichhardt Papers: Reflections on his Life and Legacy. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum–Culture 7.2 (2013): 541-560.

  • Leichhardt's Journal of an Overland Expedition

    image of person or book cover
    Wikimedia Commons

    The explorer's journals of the expedition to Port Essington, 1844-45.

    See full AustLit entry

    Leichhardt's journal for 1844-1845 has been digitised and can be read online. Go to the AustLit record for the work to read works about the journal.

    Leichhardt, Ludwig. 'Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia.' Sydney: W. Baker, 1846. Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • The Leichhardt Diaries: Early Travels in Australia 1842-1844

    image of person or book cover

    'The publication by the Queensland Museum of the translation by Thomas Darragh of the Leichhardt Diaries from his arrival in Australia until the departure of the Port Essington expedition is a monumental addition to Leichhardt scholarship. It is hard to think of a more appropriate way to celebrate the bicentenary of Leichhardt's birth.' (Source: )

    See full AustLit entry

    The recent discovery, translation, and publication of Leichhardt's diaries relating to his early years in Australia provides intriguing insights into the times.

  • Part Three - The Sacred in Voss

    Exploring the AustLit work record for Vosswill allow you to find a large number of secondary texts about many aspects of the work.

    Some critics have discussed the role of the 'sacred' or the metaphysical in Voss.

  • 'Postcolonial Disquiet'

    Examines contemporary Australian literature with the view that 'the sacred is at once a powerful symptom of postcolonial disquiet and a path of flight that promises to lead beyond this, and beyond history itself'. (p. 157) (...more)
    See full AustLit entry

    McCann, Andrew. 'The Obstinacy of the Sacred.' Antipodes 19.2 (2005): 152-157.

  • Corporeality in Voss

    'This essay argues that Patrick White's commitment to transcendentalism does not involve a dismissal or rejection of corporeality as critics in the past have maintained, but rather focuses on the dissolution of discursive subjectivity. It contends that White's writing in fact advances the ontological, ethical and metaphysical imperative of accepting the body, prioritizing moments of 'transcendence' that may be viewed productively as characters' engulfment within the material world. In its focus on physicality, White's fiction emphasizes dualism in order to problematize it, and even at times to subvert it. (...more)
    See full AustLit entry

    Grogan, Bridget. 'Resuscitating the Body: Corporeality in the Fiction of Patrick White.' JASAL 12.3 (2012).

  • 'Intimate Distance: Patrick White and the Australian Sacred'

    Ashcroft, D. W., Lyn McCredden and Frances Devlin-Glass. 'Intimate Distance: Patrick White and the Australian Sacred.' Intimate Horizons: The Post-Colonial Sacred in Australian Literature. Hindmarsh, SA: ATF Press. c. 2009. 33-68.

  • White's Legacy

    The videos below include discussions of White and his work.

  • Knowing Patrick White

    In this SlowTV episode, the writer David Marr and the actress Kerry Walker talk about Patrick White: meeting him, working with him, writing about him, being his friend. Then the writer David Musgrave talks about his work, Glissando: A Melodrama, which draws on characters from Voss.

  • Voss Documentary

    This documentary discusses the legacy of Voss and its influence on Australian cultural life.

  • ABC Classic FM — Focus on Voss

    Richard Meale's Voss
    Image from ABC website

    This website on ABC Classic FM collects a number of resources relating to the adaptation of Voss to opera. Including access to the complete score of the opera at the National Library of Australia, a collection of Radio National documentaries and programs on White and Voss.

  • Further Critical Commentary and Reviews

    Voss has received a great deal of critical attention since it first appeared. Read Voss's AustLit work record for a more complete list of criticism, reviews, and other material about the work. Browse the NLA's Trove for reviews of Voss, or other contemporary articles about Patrick White. You can even read an interview with White by fellow author Kylie Tennant from the Australian Women's Weekly of 7 November, 1973.

  • Thomas Keneally Review

    In this look back at Patrick White's Voss, Kenneally states that White was 'a genius, and Voss one of the finest works of the modernist era and of the past century.' He also suggests that 'Revisiting Voss now, one can see why even in Australia and among readers, White might not be read as much as his work merits. In the 1990s I "taught" Voss to a graduate seminar at New York University. One of the students who had been to Australia said, "What's eating this guy? I've been to Sydney and it's heaven on a stick!" She, and young Australians of her generation, no longer see Australia as an enormous, dangerous vacancy that can consume the pilgrim. (...more)
    See full AustLit entry

    Keneally, Thomas. 'Show Me the Way to Go Home.' Rev. of Voss, by Patrick White. The Guardian 16 Nov. 2002. Online at Sighted 09/12/2013.

  • Patrick White within the Western Literary Tradition

    ' Patrick White within the Western Literary Tradition is a collection of essays demonstrating the strong influence of European, British, and American cultures on White's work. Representing the author's interest spanning over thirty-five years, the essays expose White's evocation of dimensions other than material reality, his preoccupation with epiphanies and mythmaking, and his constant forging of a poetic style. The book also contains a series of analytical studies of the themes and characters in White's major novels ( The Aunt's Story, The Tree of Man and Voss). (...more)
    See full AustLit entry

    Beston, John. Patrick White within the Western Literary Tradition. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2010.

  • Remembering Patrick White

    Remembering Patrick White presents the first major study of the full range of White’s work in over twenty-five years, and aims to bring this important author up to date for new generations of readers and scholars. Patrick White is a writer of moods and perspectives and the essays collected here range in their focus over his public presentations, his formal challenges, his spiritual leanings and dramatic gestures. They examine the breadth and significance of White’s intellectual contribution and consider the ongoing legacy of his thought and his art within national and international frames. (...more)
    See full AustLit entry

    McMahon, Elizabeth and Brigitta Olubas (eds). Remembering Patrick White: Contemporary Critical Essays. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi, 2010.

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