Voss Readalong – Week 2

Voss Readalong

My first week of the Voss Readalong and AusReading Month was rather hectic thanks to a long weekend away. I have managed to keep on top of updating links, but not actually reading many of the posts. As this week settles back into normal, I promise to visit you all (see MASTERPOST for all the links as they come in).

For now, here are the prompts for the next week of our Voss Readalong:

Week 2: chapters 5 – 8

  • The quest begins. How does White contrast the idea of garden vs desert?
  • This part has been compared to Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness – civilisation vs savage? conquest vs discovery?
  • Letter writing – communication, meaning and language
  • The nature of passion, obsession, destiny?
  • Love/hate relationship with Australia – descriptions?

Week 1: My thoughts so far

I knew that my first week of reading Voss was going to fall into an unusually busy week, so I made the decision to start reading a couple of days early to give myself enough space.

I was pleasantly surprised by just how readable the first three chapters were. My memory had created a much bigger hurdle than was needed (the story of my life really!)

I saved chapter 4 for last night, after we returned from our long weekend away.

  1. In one of the articles I read last month, I had learnt that the name Voss is pronounced ‘foss’, so I have been carefully pronouncing it that way in my head at every mention.
  2. I was curious about the early mention of Voss’ walk from Sydney to Potts Point. He says ‘it is four kilometres.
    • Patrick White did a lot of research for Voss, checking minor details to be sure he had the time period right, things like when did South Head Rd become Old South Head Rd & New South Head Rd, to make sure the carriage journey to the picnic at Point Piper was along the correct road. So I was confused by the use of kilometres.
    • Until July 1974 Australians would have said miles & according to wikipedia Germany converted to metric on 1 January 1872 . Yet Voss is set in 1845? Why kilometres?
  3. Voss mentions visiting the Morovian Brothers (p.12) when in Moreton Bay
  4. I’m also attracted by new-to-me words:
    • Fustian – a variety of heavy cloth woven from cotton, chiefly prepared for menswear. It is also used figuratively to refer to pompous, inflated or pretentious writing or speech, from at least the time of Shakespeare. This literary use is because the cloth type was often used as padding. (wikipedia)
    • Golloped – (about Turner) North-West English slang meaning to eat something and swallow with a gulp, possibly quickly (urban dictionary)
    • Scurfy – (about the native plants) loose, scaly surface, rough to the touch
  5. Rose descriptions
    • monotonous, big breasts, weight of her silences, harelip, emancipist servant, ugly, unloved, with child
  6. Laura descriptions
    • she was happiest shut with her own thoughts, flawless, her face was long-shaped, likes to work mathematical problems, admirable self-sufficiency, she was the expert mistress of trivialities, parents both died when she was young, contemptuous of men, a stick, sly, clear skin
    • ‘she knew whe was beautiful, but fleetingly, in certain lights, at certain moments’ (p.9)
    • ‘sometimes her chin would take refuge in her neck’ (p.61)
  7. Voss
    • thick voice, thin man, blundering, thick accent, rather given to melancholy, his obsession became a joke, to be misunderstood can be desirable, he was sufficient in himself, enclosed man, bit of a scarecrow, uncouth, a madman, inherent helplessness, weak with knowledge, despised humility, no need for love, unconvincing, arrogant
    • ‘I am compelled into this country’ (p.14)
    • ‘he does not intend to make a fortune out of this country, like other men….he is obsessed by this country’ (p.22)
    • ‘to make yourself, it is also necessary to destroy yourself’ (p.29)
    • “Your future is what you will make of it. Future…is will.’ (p.63)
  8. Harry Robarts
    • good, simple, strong with innocence
    • ‘He would have liked to touch his saviour’s skin. Once or twice he had touched Voss, and it had gone unnoticed.’ (p.32)
    • ‘One day he would find the courage to kill this man’ (Frank p.35)
    • ‘Like all those in love, he would misinterpret lovingly’ (Voss p.35)
  9. Frank Le Mesurier
    • thoughtful, somewhat moody, a snob, he liked to discuss God, he was halfway between wanting and not
    • ‘the dark, young, rather exquisite, but insolent fellow did not cling like Harry Robarts’ (p.28)
  10. Palfreyman
    • ornithologist, Christian, honest simplicity, dressed carefully without vanity
    • ‘Dedication to science might have been his consolation, if it had not been for his religious faith’ (p.40)
  11. Turner
    • labourer, long, thin individual, sour, squint-eyed
  12. Angus
    • young, owner of property near Rhine Towers, ‘a fellow of spirit’
  13. Judd
    • strong, moral integrity, an improvisor, adaptable, a former convict
  14. Views on the country
    • Mrs Bonner ‘this miserable country’ (p.22)
    • Laura ‘She was also afraid of the country’ (p.5) ‘Everyone is still afraid, or most of us, of this country, and will not say it. We are not yet possessed of understanding’ (p.23)
    • Belle ‘I would not like to ride very far into it…and meet a lot of blacks, and deserts, and rocks, and skeleton.’ (p.23)
    • Le Mesurier ‘this damned country’ (p.27)
    • Voss ‘Your country is of great subtlety’ (p.5) ‘this disturbing country’ (p.29) ‘I will venture to call it my country, although I am a foreigner’ (p.35)
    • Mrs Thompson (landlady) ‘this is the most contrariest place’ (p.34)
    • Professor Topp ‘it is no country of mine’ (p.34)
    • Robarts ‘I see nothing wrong with this country’ (p.35)
    • Mr Pringle ‘you will discover a few black-fellers, and a few flies, and something resembling the bottom of the sea.’ (p.57)
  15. Views on religion
    • Laura ‘softly sceptical…suffocated by the fuzz of faith.’ (p.3)
    • Voss ‘I begin to receive proof of existence, Brother Müller. I can feel the shape of the earth….’Mr Voss’, he said…’you have contempt for God, because He is not in your image.’ (p.44)
    • Atheismus is self-murder’ (p.85)
  16. The Voss/Laura connection
    • ‘Words silences, and sea air had worked upon them subtly, until they had undergone a change. Walking with their heads agreeably bowed beneath the sunlight, they listened to each other’s presence, and became aware that they were possibly more alike than any other two people at the Pringles’ picnic.’ (p.63)
    • ‘the sense of inevitability that they shared’ (p.83)
    • ‘I am fascinated by you…You are my desert!’ (p.84)
    • ‘We were unwise…to flounder into each other’s private beings.’ (p.87)
    • ‘I must pray for him, she said, for he will be in need of it.’ (p.88)
  17. Metaphors:
    • ‘The still white world was flat as a handkerchief at that hour’ (p.8)
  18. Similies:
    • on Wooloomooloo Bay ‘glittering feverishly as the whites of certain eyes’ (p.21)
    • on inspiration ‘it is not stored up in a barrel, like salt herrings, to be doled out’ (p.33)
  19. Favourite quotes: People were looking questions at her (p.23)

I will cross the continent from one to the other. I have every intention to know it with my heart. (p.27)

Belle had a spray of the crimson bottlebrush that she had torn off recklessly. It was quite a torch flaming in her hand. (p.60)

The bottlebrush is in full bloom in NSW at the moment, especially the red crimson variety. Every time I see it now, White’s torch imagery springs to mind.

Mrs Bonner produced the flag she intended to plant upon the summit of her argument. (p.74)

Elizabeth Bay and Sydney from Mrs Darling’s Point Road by Conrad Martens, c1848. Sydney Living Museums

The island off to the right would be Garden Island and the town of Sydney is in the middle ground.

Poem ‘read, or dreamed aloud’ by Voss (p.77) –  Abenddämmerung | Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856). English translation (in Poems and Ballads of Heinrich Heine 1881) Twilight | Emma Lazarus (1849 – 1887) ‘Poetry will not bear translation. It is too personal.’ However Miss Hollier did not have access to the interweb…& I do!

Am blassen Meeresstrande
Saß ich gedankenbekümmert und einsam. 
Die Sonne neigte sich tiefer, und warf
Glührote Streifen auf das Wasser,
Und die weißen, weiten Wellen,
Von der Flut gedrängt,
Schäumten und rauschten näher und näher...

 On the wan shore of the sea
 Lonely I sat with troubled thoughts.
The sun dropped lower, and cast
Glowing red streaks on the water.
And the white wide waves,
Crowding in with the tide,
Foamed and rustled, nearer and nearer...

Readalong Discussion

  • Bill @The Australian Legends said, “My initial impression is that we are seeing Voss’s actions but Laura’s mind.”
  • Jinjer asked “Why so grumpy, Voss???”
    • I wonder if Voss would now be described as being on the spectrum – some obsessive behaviours, obviously brilliant in some areas, but socially awkward.
  • Brona – as you can see I have been too caught up in the details so far, to think about the bigger picture of what is White trying to achieve here.
    • There are a lot of outsiders, people who feel isolated or different – Laura, Voss, Rose, Professor Topp, Willie Pringle, Miss Hollier – which makes for some very modernist themes (spiritual loneliness, frustration, alienation, disillusionment…) along with some gentle mocking of social norms and traditions.
This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

15 thoughts on “Voss Readalong – Week 2

  1. I wondered about ‘kilometres’ but decided that that was what Voss was familiar with. You however pick up that Germany wasn’t metric back then either. Well done!
    I’m interested that Voss is trying to persuade Laura to believe. I would have thought White was atheist.
    The picnic reminded my of an Ethel Anderson short story from ‘At Paramatta’ (of a picnic on the North Shore in the 1870s). Although White and Anderson probably moved in the same painterly circles her story only came out in the Bulletin in 1956, too late to influence Voss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read this in my pre-Voss research about PW & religion,

      “It seems inescapable that White’s adolescence had a Christian shape and throughout his life and writing Christianity remained the dominant religious discourse, albeit significantly modified by a series of esoteric and diverse beliefs and philosophies. These modifications led him to describe himself famously as a “lapsed Anglican egotist agnostic pantheist occultist existentialist would-be though failed Christian Australian.”
      There’s more here if you’re interested in his ‘conversion’ story



    2. There was also this from 1970 In the Making – “Religion. Yes, that’s behind all my books. What I am interested in is the relationship between the blundering human being and God. I belong to no church, but I have a religious faith; it’s an attempt to express that, among other things, that I try to do. Whether he confesses to being religious or not, everyone has a religious faith of a kind. I myself am a blundering human being with a belief in God who made us and we got out of hand, a kind of Frankenstein monster. Everyone can make mistakes, including God. I believe God does intervene; I think there is a Divine Power, a Creator, who has an influence on human beings if they are willing to be open to him.”


      1. I’m deeply disappointed in PW now, but I’ll read on with his belief in an interventionist god in mind. More great researching! My David Marr has nothing in the Index under either god or religion.


  2. I linked my write-up on Chapters 1-4 on the wrong post, I think. Here it is again: https://intrepidarkansawyer.wordpress.com/2022/11/08/voss-readalong-ausreadingmonth-week-1/

    I agree with you that it is very readable so far! I’m enjoying it.

    Thanks for letting us know Voss is pronounced Foss!

    Being American, I’m used to everyone else saying kilometers so I didn’t think anything about it when it popped up in the book. lol

    I don’t know anything about the Zion Hill mission but will Google it.

    I like new-to-me words, too and somehow I missed the three you jotted down! Those were definitely new to me. The ones that caught my eye were hugger-mugger and holystone.

    Frank had better watch out for Harry on this expedition. He’s getting on Harry’s last nerve and they haven’t even left yet!

    I’m glad you jotted down each individual’s thoughts about their country. I had intended to do that but forgot. It looks like religion is going to be a hot topic. too, so glad you made a list of individual views on that as well.

    The Laura/Voss connection – she’s finally found someone she can discuss her ideas with and he’ll be leaving soon…how awful. And they can’t even text each other while he’s away.

    Thanks for the metaphor/similies examples! I’ll keep an eye out for them going forward.

    My favorite quotes are more like favorite descriptions, I think.
    1. Just then there was a crunching of soft stones, and a sound of leather and a smell of hot horse, followed by the terrible, distant voices of people who have not yet made their entrance.
    2. …trembling wine until it finally subsided in its decanter into a steady jewel.
    3. Her lustrous blue skirt added several syllables to her decision.

    I’d like to know how Belle managed to tear off a spray of crimson bottlebrush. I started to do that once until I realized the entire tree (?) was buzzing with bees. LOL


    1. So many things to comment on here Jinjer! Thanks for such a thoughful response.

      Somehow I knew hugger-mugger , or perhpas worked it out in context, but the holystone was knowledge gained from my years of reading the Master & Commander series and more recently, Moby-Dick.

      I laughed heartily at the idea of Voss & Laura not being able to text each other while apart 😀

      This book is giving me a crach course in metaphors and similes too. Similes I can work out fairly easily (thanks to the ‘like’ ‘as’ thing) but I always get muddled by metaphors (& always have).
      One I found recently that I’ve been keeping in the back of mind to help me is:
      “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time.” That is a metaphor.
      If it was a simile it would read “You’re like a hound dog,” or “You’re as sad as a hound dog.”

      Your three quotes are lovely – it’s great seeing which lines resonate with other readers. No. 2 is probably a metaphor as the wine is not really a jewel.

      If you are on Insta, there is a pic of me during the week clutching a spray of bottlebrush, thankfully sans bees!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a curious character trait.

      He does it again in Ch 6 when visiting Rhine Towers. There seems to be some kind of urge to suffer/inflict personal discomfort when faced with beauty, kindness, hospitality, generosity…?


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