- Author: Patrick White (1912 – 1990)
- Title: Voss
- Published: 1957
- Trivia: In 1973 White accepted the Nobel Prize
- “for an epic and psychological narrative art…
- which has introduced a new continent into literature”.
- Trivia: Nobel Challenge : read 12 books in 2016 = completed
1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
The name of the main character: Johan Ulrich Voss
2. What is the predominant element in the story?
Character: We see how Voss and Laura will change in the book.
3. Who is the single main character about. whom the story centers?
Johan Voss: Laura is also seen as a main character.
4. How does the author handle characterization?
White lets the other characters describe Voss:
- Le Mesurier: ‘greedy looking pig, German swine (ch 2)
- Topp (represents White’s mentor Roy de Maitre):
- “great men are exempt from trivial duties… […]
- if the German was not great, Topp would have liked him to be” (ch 2)
- Brother Muller: “Mr Voss, you have a contempt for God
- …because He is not in your own image.” (ch 2)
- Narrator: ‘Voss and Laura, they shared some guilty secret of personality.
- Only, nobody noticed.” (makes the reader very curious….) (ch 3)
- Mrs. Sanderson – Voss is troubled in some way “…needs to be saved” (ch 6)
The expedition reveals the characters of the the men involved.
- A group of people whose characters and
- …relationships are fixed are placed in new circumstances
- The men are forced to adjust.
- Some thrive and survive (Judd) …others are destroyed and never return.
- The way the characters either grow and change or
- ….deepen reveal elements of themselves.
- Team: Harry Robarts, Mr. Turner, Frank Le Mesurier,
- …Ralph Angus, Judd, Mr Palfreyman and Voss.
5. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
a. External – Voss has contempt for God. He even feels he is better than God.
b. Internal – Voss must be humbled. He must learn he is not God…only then will he be nearest to becoming so.
6. How is the conflict resolved?
- There must be a sacrifice so that sins can be forgiven, redemption.
- Laura knows either she or Voss must die.
- She is prepared to do it when she becomes ill (ch 13).
- She will lose her daughter and Voss forever.
- Through the ‘mystical telepathy’ that Voss and Laura share…she knows he has been killed.
- She regains her strength….and lives, but Voss is always with her.
7. Who tells the story?
3rd person narrator
8. What is the general theme of the story?
- Self-discovery — suffering — mystical experience — redemption
- “..country develops ‘out of the suffering of the humble.”
- “…true knowledge only comes ‘of death by torture in the country of the mind.”
9. Where does the primary action take place?
- journey to Newcastle by ship
- Rhine Towers (Mr. Sanderson’s home; represents the romantic Germany)
- ...into the desert country….into hell.
10. What is the timeline?
The book begins when Laura is 20 and ends when she is 45 yrs. ( 25 yrs)
11. How does the story get started, initial incident?
- Johann Ulrich Voss, a German immigrant, calls on Edmund Bonner,
- …the major financial backer of the expedition.
- Voss meets Bonner’s niece Laura Trevelyen.
- The development of their ensuing relationship parallels the fate of the expedition.
12. Briefly describe the rising action:
- Laura and Voss meet in a garden.
- There they experience a ‘mystical’ moment when their souls bonded.
- Laura sees Voss’s pride as a dangerous thing.
- She will pray for him even is she has to teach herself to pray.
- ” Then he was touching her, his hand was upon her shoulderblades,
- …and they realized they had returned into their bodies.” (ch 4)
13. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
- Voss sees himself as a god-like figure.
- White uses many words in the narrative to emphasize this:
- eminence, sovereign, superior “he stares imperiously over the heads of men” (ch 6)
- Irony: the aboriginals see him NOT as a god but as an alien (foreigner)
- ….that must be destroyed.
14. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
- Chapter 16 is the best section.
- Laura is now a schoolmistress and her adopted daughter Mercy still with her.
- Judd, a member of expedition presumed lost, has appeared.
- Colonel Hebden, who is determined to find the
- …remains of the expedition wants to talk with Laura.
- She is reluctant...but finally reveals new insights.
15. Does this story create any special mood?
- The mood is mystical with all the extensive religious symbolism.
- Voss is compared repeatedly to God, Christ and the Devil.
- Like Christ Voss goes into the desert.
16. Is this story realistic or true to life?
- It is based upon the life of the 19th C Prussian explorer / naturalist Ludwig Leichhardt.
- He disappeared while on an expedition into the Australian outback 1848.
17. What is the structure of the book?
Ch 1-4 introduction to characters with back round information
Ch 5 – 11: expedition with alternating chapters taking the reader back to Laura on Sydney
Ch 12 – 13: parallel each other – last days of Voss in desert – sudden sickness of Laura in Sydney
Ch 14-16: 25 years after the Voss’s expedition
18. Did you identify with any of the characters?
- Laura: in chapter1 she looks inward.
- She was absorbed in the depths of her own predicament.
- In chapter 6 she is a humble, kind woman who loves outcasts:
- the ‘strange man’ (Voss) and the adopted daughter (Mercy) (ch 9)
- …for whom she cared for after the child’s mother had died.
- She now looks outward …to others.
- She will not be brushed to the sidelines
- because others think her plain, ugly a little freakish in her black dresses.
- ” No, I will not go. I am here. I will stay. Thus she made her covenant”. (ch 16)
- …her divine promise establishing God’s relationship to humanity.
19. Can you find any examples of figurative language? (ch 8)
- White can go overboard with the ‘poetic style’…example:
- Valley = bride; sun = bridegroom; joined in = liquid gold of complete union
- White can be so so original…example:
- – pelicans, making off on wings of creaking basket-work
- – creases in his black trousers appeared to have been sculpted for eternity
- White can be a word virtuoso…example:
- “Blank faces (members team) like so many paper kites
- …dangling a vertebral tail, could prevent him (Voss) soaring
- towards the apotheosis (god-like state) for which he was reserved.”
20. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
- Voss hopes to be absorbed by the land ( conversation at the Sanderson’s home)
- This is a terrible foreshadowing.
- …but the reader has no idea what it relates to.
- The ‘ah-ha’ moment will come at the end of the story. (ch 2)
- Mirror = reflects the true self
- Laura gazes in the mirror to see her deformities
- Voss gazes in the mirror to see his importance (god-like figure,) (ch 4)
- Desert = represents Voss
- Laura describes Voss ‘vast and ugly‘; ‘with rocks of prejudice’; a person ‘isolated’
- She is fascinated by him: “You are my desert.” (ch 4)
- Voss asks Judd to kill a lamb for the Christmas celebration in the camp
- Foreshadowing: sacrifice of a lamb in the OT was a symbol to
- …the complete and perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
- (Hebrews 9:22) “…without shedding of blood there will be no forgiveness (redemption).
- This is symbolic because Voss, who sees himself as a Christ-figure,
- will at the end submit to the aboriginals, be humbled and also sacrificed.
- His blood will be absorbed by the earth.
- He will be finally redeemed. (ch 8)
Names of characters: (clever…)
- Mr Plumpton – was thin, scrawny and always hungry
- Mrs. Child – was…’the midwife’
- Mr. Palfreyman – member of expedition, name reminds one of medieval quests
- Brendan Boyle… was like the big, rude, red potatoes, the shapely ones,
- but hard with the fine red dust coating them” (ch 8)
- Voss’s expedition is compared to
- “like being worm…butting my head at whatsoever darkness of the earth” (ch 2)
- The farther Voss and Laura are separated from each other physically ( Sydney – the desert)
- …the closer they become spiritually.
- “…(I) include my love, since distance has united us thus closely.” (ch 8)
21. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for the reader?
- The book left me with one effect….exhaustion.
- Patrick White is very poetic, verbose (descriptions) and
- ….allusions representing complex ideas and emotions.
- At times it was hard to keep up with…his genius.
- In chapters 10-13 White mingles Voss’s thoughts
- ….about Laura with the narrative without warning.
- Voss sees her with him ….there in the desert.
- This was at times very confusing.
22: What were the sentences that impressed you the most?
Laura: quotations (ch 4)
- Laura’s realization that she is beset by dark helplessness
- …that might become obsessions:
- ” If I am lost, than who can be saved…”
- Laura told Voss what she thought about him:
- ” Everyone is offended by the truth and you will not be an exception”. (ouch!)
Voss: quotation (ch 8)
- ” Life starts fresh with every new journey…even into the dust.”
- After I finished the book I realized the foreshadowing implied.
- Voss’s blood will be absorbed by the dust (execution).
- The beginning of his new journey will start….his redemption.
- I could not put this book down.
- It cast a spell
- …but not always in the good way.
- The chapters paralleling the relationship between Laura and Voss
- with the fate of the expedition were very good.
- The descriptions of secondary characters,
- The Bonners, Belle, maid Rose, The Pringles was Dickensian.
- We read details of houses, interiors, ball gowns, parties and picnics.
- White paints a picture of jollity and conviviality
- ..that are a stark contrast to the chapters describing the expedition.
- These sections were at times gruesome.
- I read a summary of the book before reading.
- I was afraid Patrick White would otherwise overwhelm me.
- He is an author that can be intimidating.
- Pre-warned about the eventual fate of Voss,
- …I was able to identify many moments of ‘foreshadowing’.
- Last thoughts:
- Warning: Ch 10 ends with Voss finally reading Frank Le Mesurier’s secret journal.
- The journal contains poems.
- Remember all these strange poems = the voice of Patrick White!
- Beyond strange…
- I am impressed by Patrick White’s writing.
- He deservedly received the Nobel Prize 1973.
Patrick White: (1912 – 1990)