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Voss by Patrick White
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Voss (1957)

by Patrick White

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Apparently White listened repeatedly to Alban Berg's violin concerto while composing Voss. I was made aware of this about half way through. I lazily experimented but found myself engulfed in the novel's emotional torrents. Maybe my ears popped, but I wasn't aware of the music.

Voss is a story of volition. It is sun-baked and agonizing. Quickly thereafter I bought a half dozen of White's other works but Voss remains the only one I've finished.

Not to elaborate but Voss is about curiosity and will. Burr is about avarice.

File this one under day-after-review. A night of excess left the world aslant today. Thinking about Voss helps. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
I have mixed feelings about this book. I can't say I really liked it -- probably because I really couldn't identify with any of the characters. Yet the writing was beautiful, and the themes were universal and well described. Really, the story is about human weaknesses and ignorance of our real selves.At the most obvious level it's about Voss's journey into the unexplored territory of the interior of Australia - but of course it's equally a journey into the unknown territory of his own self, one that's all the more important because he's so hopelessly out of touch with himself -and with other human beings.

I found it, at times, melodramatic. The whole relationship between Laura and Voss is based on two short meetings and one or two letters, yet each is obsessed with the other. Other times, it was so real -- there is a scene involving a Mrs. Asbold and Laura that really touched me.

An Australian friend told me that the book also deals with themes of Australia's origins as a convict settlement and British colony, and the search to establish an Australian identity outside of this; the settlers' very uneasy relationship with indigenous peoples and extremely poor treatment of them (both of which continue today), and the uncertain relationship with the Australian countryside (or bush or outback) - as White shows, the Australian landscape was seen as hostile, unpleasant, dangerous and frightening - and many still see it as such, never venturing very far inland.

Still, I found it a difficult read -- but glad I persevered. ( )
  LynnB | Dec 1, 2016 |
Patrick White has written a stunning epic based on the true story of Ludwig Leichhardt who vanished in the Australian wilderness in 1848. Voss, a German of heroic proportions, envisages the epic exploration of Australia from east to west and to do so engages Australian businessmen and government officials in his dream. In 1845, with a small group of men, some handpicked and some attached by others, he sets off with two aborigine guides, mules, horses, cattle, sheep, and goats. Voss’ ambition was struck down by the treachery of an aboriginal guide, local aborigines, and by his own inability to stockpile suitable food and water for the journey across the desert, with the resultant scurvy, starvation, lack of water, treachery, mutiny, and death. Woven throughout is the vision of and conversations with Laura, the niece of his financial backer, she who waits in vain for his return. Patrick White was awarded the 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature for Voss. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
I had a look over all my reviews and realised that I'd only reviewed books that, in general, I liked. So i decided then and there for a bit of balance to review a book I really, really loathed. It took all of 5 seconds to recall the most despised book its ever my misfortune to read. This dismal bit of dreck was the subject of my major essay in 3rd year Comparative History and Literature (not my choice I assure you) way back in the mid-80s, and boy did I suffer in reading it. In fact reading it launched me into a major depression which wrecked the last months of my degree and still sends shudders through me when I think about it. I've never had such a visceral sense of loathing towards a book before or since, and of course once I discovered the character of the author, it wasnt hard to work out why. What a miserable excuse for a human being White was. He may be accounted as one of the great writers of the 20th century, but delving into his biography is like taking a glass-bottom boat ride through a sewer. And this is the result of that character. is a book by somone who hates the human race and who's deepest, heartfelt wish is that people suffer through reading his works. It gets half a star because its in English and therefore legible. That's all. ( )
  drmaf | Sep 5, 2013 |
“It is for our pride that each of us is probably damned” Laura said (to Voss)

Voss a German arrives in Australia with the purpose of leading an expedition across the unexplored breadth of the country. The novel is set in the mid nineteenth century when such a journey had not yet been made and Sydney was still a fairly small town in which a society was just emerging. Voss is a man supremely confident that he can achieve anything that he has a will to do and he gathers around him by force of personality a few sycophants while others are thrust upon him, by his sponsors led by Mr Bonner; a wealthy Sydney merchant. Laura Trevelyan niece to Mr Bonner and herself an outsider becomes fascinated by the German Explorer, she sees a kindred spirit but one like herself that is equally doomed, if redemption is not forthcoming. They meet briefly at only a handful of social occasions, before Voss departs, but a bond develops between them and Laura attempts to provide a sort of salvation for them both.

Patrick Whites previous novel The Tree of Man had sold well and had been critically acclaimed in England and America. Like Voss its story was set in an emergent Australia, but had received mixed reviews in White’s home country. Still keen to write the great Australian novel he decided to go further back in Australian history and deal with the mysteries of the interior. Published in 1957 it was a hit in both England and America, critically acclaimed and featuring in the best seller lists, but in Australia he again received mixed reviews, White was disgusted and was only mollified when he received the first Miles Franklin Literary Award for a novel of ‘the highest literary merit which must present Australian life in any of its phrases.’

It is not difficult to see why White’s novel did not immediately sweep all before it in Australia. The two central figures Voss and Laura are outsiders and unlovable ones at that. For all White’s writing about Voss he still remains a bit of an enigma. His overweening pride, his delight in his own suffering and one suspects the suffering of others takes him outside of accepted norms for heroic characters. Laura also fails to register much sympathy with her stand offish behaviour and pride in her own abilities The grand passion between the two is conducted via a couple of letters and then dream visions and hallucinations fill in the rest. Many of the other characters in the novel also appear as human beings with all their faults on show and the overall feeling is that the author is not much in love with the human race.

It is however an excellent novel and worthy of its critical acclaim. White has structured the novel in three unequal parts although they are not formally divided. The first part mainly set in Sydney portrays the merchant society that supports Voss’s expedition and the family life around Laura. Voss’s team are introduced and Laura’s meetings with Voss and the verbal sparring that takes place are cleverly done. The largest section of the book describes the attempt to cross the outback, White intersperses his enthralling narrative with occasional visits back to life in Sydney which contrasts with the terrible deprivations that Voss and his followers have to endure. They are not professional explorers, they are being led by a man who is variously described as ‘mad ‘ or ‘lost’ and Voss feels that his authority is challenged by the practical ex convict Judd. Things soon start to go wrong and the expedition takes on the feel of a battle of survival against insurmountable odds. White’s writing here is powerful and as hard and bright as the landscape he describes. It soon becomes clear that the expedition is doomed and the short final part deals with Laura’s psychic health and the myth making that develops around the mysteries that surround the demise of Voss and his party.

There are powerful themes running through this novel: man’s battle against the natural world, a search for a meaning to life both through belief in God (Voss as a Christ figure) and the power of love, suffering as a means to find redemption, civilization and it’s intrusion into the world of the indigenous population, which is violent and beyond comprehension and finally the myth making and legends that are such a necessary part of human existence. The novel develops its themes as the plot unfolds, in such a way that I became anxious to re-read earlier sections to find what I might have missed. This confirmed my view that White was a master of his craft. It all fits together wonderfully well and new ideas spring to mind as earlier passages resonate with events that occur later on in the book. White’s characters are superbly drawn and there are many memorable passages in the book. .

This is not a comfortable novel; events in the outback are brutal. The hard dry landscape has debilitating effects on the explorers and they are graphically described. The landscape and its deprivations also lead to dream visions that become real to the sufferers and give rise to the almost telepathic love affair between Voss and Laura. The reader must accept these as well as the depiction of the aboriginal people as filthy and repulsive; a constant menace to the explorers and their sudden violent actions shock and dismay.

I have to say that I did not enjoy Voss as much as The Tree of Man, but I think that Voss is the greater of the two novels. Perhaps not the “great” Australian novel but taken together with The Tree of Man then it could be in with a shout. It is one that I will want to re-read, because there is so much going on, so much to think about and structurally it feels so right. Recommended
. ( )
17 vote baswood | Jun 21, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patrick Whiteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Golüke, GuidoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keneally, ThomasIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Odom, MelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Marie D'Estournelles de Constant
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'There is a man here, miss, asking for your uncle,' said Rose.
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Book description
In 1845 Voss sets out with a small band to cross the Australian continent for the first time ... His relationship with Laura Trevelyan is the central personal theme of the story. The true record of Ludwig Leichhardt, who died in the Australian desert in 1848, suggested Voss to the author. (from back cover ISBN 0 14 00.1438 1 - 1980 re-print)

In 1973, Australian writer Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature." Set in nineteenth-century Australia, Voss is White's best-known book, a sweeping novel about a secret passion between the explorer Voss and the young orphan Laura. As Voss is tested by hardship, mutiny, and betrayal during his crossing of the brutal Australian desert, Laura awaits his return in Sydney, where she endures their months of separation as if her life were a dream and Voss the only reality. Marrying a sensitive rendering of hidden love with a stark adventure narrative, Voss is a novel of extraordinary power and virtuosity from a twentieth-century master
Haiku summary
Voss and Miss Laura
Meet briefly, before he gets
His socks full of sand
(thorold)

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A reunion with old schoolfirends can be a truly joyful occasion. Then again, as Camilla Stewart discovers, sometimes it can change your world forever.

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