a boarding school in Wales. in an attempt to abate his asthma. Even at this early age White wrote about noticeably adult themes. in Gloucestershire. White struggled to adjust to his new surroundings at Cheltenham College. to an English-Australian father and an English mother. It took him some time to adjust to the presence of other children. At the age of ten White was sent to Tudor House School. He later described it as "a fouryear prison sentence". At boarding school he started to write plays. Australia when he was six months old.
.White was born in Knightsbridge. London. His family later moved to Sydney. White withdrew socially and had a limited circle of acquaintances.
The Tree of Man was released to rave reviews in the US. Voss. During these years he started to make a reputation for himself as a writer. the Greek he had met during the war. milk. in the end. but.After the war White once again returned to Australia. was panned in Australia. and cream. White had doubts about whether to continue writing after his books were largely dismissed in Australia (three of them having been called ‘un-Australian’ by critics). decided to persevere. but. Here he settled down with Lascaris. publishing The Aunt's Story and The Tree of Man in the US in 1955 and shortly after in the UK. buying an old house in Castle Hill. now a Sydney suburb but then semi-rural.
. vegetables. They lived there for 18 years. His first breakthrough in Australia came when his next novel. as well as pedigreed puppies. selling flowers. in what was to become a typical pattern.
orphaned and new to the colony of New South Wales. Johann Ulrich Voss sets out to cross the Australian continent in 1845. Mr Bonner. a German.Plot summary The novel centres on two characters: Voss. After collecting a party of settlers and two Aborigines. The explorers cross droughtplagued desert then waterlogged lands until they retreat to a cave where they lie for weeks waiting for the rain to stop. his party heads inland from the coast only to meet endless adversity. It opens as they meet for the first time in the house of Laura's uncle and the patron of Voss's expedition. and Laura Trevelyan.
. Voss and Laura retain a connection despite Voss's absence and the story intersperses developments in each of their lives. a young woman.
The party is also attended by Laura Trevelyan and the one remaining member of Voss's expeditionary party.
. The novel draws heavily on the complex character of Voss.Laura adopts an orphaned child and attends a ball during Voss's absence. insight and doom. The strength of the novel comes not from the physical description of the events in the story but from the explorers' passion. The travelling party splits in two and nearly all members eventually perish. Mr Judd. The story ends some twenty years later at a garden party hosted by Laura's cousin Belle Radclyffe (nee Bonner) on the day of the unveiling of a statue of Voss.
Like Christ he goes into the desert. Laura's adoption of the orphaned child. White presents the desert as akin to the mind of man. and in doing so. There is a continual reference to duality in the travelling party. become more 'godlike'. In Sydney. Voss and Laura have a meeting in a garden prior to his departure that could be compared to the Garden of Eden. Christ and the Devil. Voss is compared repeatedly to God. Voss and Laura are permitted to communicate through visions. The intellect and pretensions to godliness of Mr Voss are compared unfavourably with the simplicity and earthliness of the pardoned convict Judd.
. A metaphysical thread unites the novel. he is a leader of men and he tends to the sick. Mr Palfreyman. a blank landscape in which pretensions to godliness are brought asunder. represents godliness through a pure form of sacrifice. it is implied. with a group led by Voss and a group led by Judd eventually dividing after the death of the unifying agent. Mr Judd.Symbolism The novel uses extensive religious symbolism. has accepted the blankness of the desert of the mind. Mercy.
In Ralph Angus. the compassion for the convict began to struggle with the conventions he had been taught to respect (p292) . in Voss’s party. and the questioning about God and religion. but also Laura adopting the baby. especially in Jackie’s behaviour.THEMES The Breakdown of Social Norms The inclusion of the convict.The grazier apologises to the convict for Voss’s rudeness. The servant Rose Portion not only staying on in a middle-class family when pregnant. the way that traditional morality is abandoned. The catastrophic breakdown of Aboriginal social norms.
. Judd. and his subsequent elevation to leader.
The Sense of Alienation Laura’s from society and family. Voss’s from society and his homeland and language – he even wants to be alone when the expedition is out in the middle of nowhere. and The personification of vast distances and a hostile landscape. Jackie and (at least initially) Dugald from their own people.
. and Judd choosing not to return to ‘civilisation’ for so long The sense of spiritual loneliness Laura prays but not to a kind and loving God.
jumping from Laura in Potts Point. to Voss in the unknown inland. like the spaniel being preferable to children.Stylistic features The discontinuous narrative. like the pieces of paper reduced to being like a mob of cockatoos – meaningless chatter when Voss’s letter is profoundly serious (p220). (p221)
. words meaning their opposite. It’s more pronounced in later chapters. A spaniel is more satisfactory. Sydney. Children are little animals that begin to think by thinking of themselves. and back again. Antiphraxis (ironic figures of speech. Parataxis –short sentences juxtaposed without any obvious connection.
It’s included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and the summary of Voss suggests an enticing story. and difficulties’ and this movement was out-ofdate by the end of the 1920s. a clear distinction between capital-A Art and mass culture. and it places itself firmly on the side of Art and in opposition to popular or mass culture
. High Modernism is characterised by the ‘Great Divide’ i. Alternatively. complexity. What was distinctive about Voss is that the novel is an example of High Modernism – which according to Norton celebrates ‘personal and textual inwardness. according to Wikipedia.e.
the thoughts that were too heavy. meeting up with his people and trying to explain his burden: These papers contain the thoughts of which the whites wished to be rid. explained the traveller. Away. and escaping from the white man’s bad thoughts. These came out through the white man’s writing stick.
. he tore them into little pieces… The women were screaming. away. kinship and the vulnerability of their way of life? Here is Dugald en route. Some of the men were laughing. down upon paper.This was the first time in literature that a writer has understood with such sensitivity the Aboriginal world view. and were sent away. the crowd began to menace and call… With the solemnity of one who has interpreted a mystery. the bad. or in any way hurtful. by inspiration: the sad thoughts.
Only Dougal was sad and still. like a mob of cockatoos. and children. and they were going in that direction. and their dillybags. The old man went with them. and they all trooped away to the north where at that season of the year there was much wildlife and a plentiful supply of yams. They went walking through the good grass. and the present absorbed them utterly. (p220)
. because they were his people. of course. Then the men took their weapons. and the women their nets. as the pieces of paper fluttered around him and settled on the grass.