Voss Readalong – Week 3

Voss Readalong – Week 3

Firstly, apologies.

The first two weeks of AusReading Month and the Voss Readalong ended up being far busier than I had anticipated. The weekend away I knew about and planned for, but the unexpected, surprise visit from B25 and his GF this week threw several other plans out the window – namely reading other blogs and keeping up with comments.

Thankfully I had several scheduled posts to keep me going for about ten days, but as of this post, I am back to live posting as I finish!

My priority has been reading Voss and making notes, which will continue throughout November. I will do the best I can re commenting and reading your posts.

Below are our prompts for week 3 and my thoughts for the week 2 chapters. Please comment or leave links to your own posts – I’d love to hear how you’re fairing so far with Voss and Patrick White.

Week 3: chapters 9 – 12

  • The psychic bond between Voss and Laura has been compared to Ulysses (one of White’s favourite books) and the unspoken bond between Leopold Bloom & Gerty MacDonald. What do you make of this ability?
  • Religious symbolism – the Exodus, the Garden of Eden, the Devil, mercy, redemption, salvation, godliness vs godlike?
  • Aboriginal lore vs Christian myth?
  • Plato’s cave

Week 2: My thoughts so far

I did not count pages in chapters before starting Voss, so I was taken aback to discover after completing seven chapters, all of a reasonable length, to find out that chapter eight was 55 pages long! Late on Sunday night! Just as I was starting to feel pretty disgruntled with both Voss AND Patrick White (see rant below in the Patrick White on religion section).

I’m enjoying PW’s magnificent use of language – his sometimes startling, surprising imagery, the contrast of brutal and tenderness within characters and descriptions, the odd, sudden humorouos moment.

I’m confused by all the dream stuff as well as the disconcerting shifts between reality and mystical. There have been many statements and comments throughout chapters seven & eight that I do not undertsand at all. I’m starting to feel more lost than Voss.

How are you travelling so far?

Any highlighted sections below are mine.

Some reoccurring images/objects:

  • cumquats – a symbol of good luck?
  • roses – symbol for love, passion, woman?
  • peaches – happiness, immortality?
  • lilies – purity, modesty, femininity? Death?

Dreams references: A few examples…note to self – why was PW so fascinated by dreams? Did he read Jung?

  • ‘If it happened in a dream that was not distinguishable from the life, it is still a matter for your conscience,’ Palfreyman replied. ‘You wished to live what you dreamed.‘ (p94)
  • ‘I am for the rights of the common man,’ grumbled the sailor who had dreamed the dream. (p99)
  • the pressent, though which the riding party moved, was still to some extent an unpleasant dream (p116)
  • the dreams of men (p165)
  • the terrible relevant irrelevance of some dreams (p182)

Laura & Voss:

  • Jinger comment made me laugh, “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.”
  • bending down through that same dream, extending her hand in its black glove; you are my only friend, and I cannot reach you (p106)
  • For an instant their minds were again wrestling together, and he experienced the melancholy pleasure of rejecting her offered prayers (p109)
  • although her faith in reason was already less. She would prepare her mind, shall we say, to receive revelation (p159)
  • She was drugged. ‘Even when I cannot agree with him, I can understand him.’ (p160)
  • Or she closed her eyes, and they rode northward together between the small hills, some green and soft…others hard and blue as sapphires. As the two visionaries rode…their faces, anonymous with love, were turned, naturally, towards each other….What they were saying had not yet been translated out of the air (p162)
  • Arrogance is surely the quality that caused us to recognise each other (p185)
  • …the labyrinth of our relationship (p186)
  • Then Voss began to float…Now they were swimming so close they were joined together at the waist, and were the same flesh of lilies, their mouths, together, were drowning in the same love-stream (p187)
  • He would not, count not learn, nor accept humility, even though it was amongst the conditions she had made in the letter that was now living in him (p199)
  • He lay thinking of the wife from whose hands he would accept salvation, if he were intended to renounce the crown of fire for the ring of gentle gold (p213)
  • They had met, besides, by flashes of intuition and in dreams. Whether or not such knowledge, haunting and personal though it was from some aspects, sufficently justified his attitude… (p216)

Wind and sea tossing the slow ship. Gusts of that same wind, now fresh, now warm, troubled the garden, and carried the scents of pine and jasmine into the long balcony. The two young women could not have told whether they were quickened or drugged, until a kind of feverish melancholy began to take possession of them. Their bodies shivered in their thin gowns; their minds were exposed to the keenest barbs of thought; and the whole scene that their vision embraced became distinct and dancing, beautiful but sad. (p119)

The hospitality of 3 houses:

  • Potts Point, Rhine Towers and Jildra
    • When faced with a ‘civilised’, hospitable home, Voss rejects overtures for dinner, comfort, rest, but when faced with the basic, humble, dirty abode at Jildra, Voss is happy at every inconvenience. Why is Voss so determined to suffer?

The quest begins:

  • to chaos or to heroism (p93)
  • as they advanced into chaos (p211)

Patrick White on religion: from his 1970 In the Making essay,

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.

When I first found this quote I found it interesting.

I didn’t know that Patrick White had a religious bent. Curiously, at the same time, I also read that David Marr (who wrote the huge bio about PW in 1991) was criticised for not including enough details about PW’s religious beliefs. Perhaps he decided that his book was big enough already? Given how stuffed full of religious symbolism Voss is though, I would have thought a thorough going over of PW’s religious beliefs would have been in order (and I’m sure I’m only picking up half the allusions).

One quote Marr refers to says, ‘He [PW] would always believe Christian love should be ‘administered in homeopathic doses…Minute doses to be really potent. Not get up and charge about, not be evangelical about it.‘ (p262) Yet that’s not really the feeling I’m getting now that I’m halfway through Voss.

Chapters 7 & 8 in particular left me feeling like PW’s use of religious symbolism was actually pretty heavy-handed with a tendency towards proselytising. Perhaps I have been in a bad mood this week, but I am resenting Voss more and more, especially his desire to convert/convince/insist that Laura should return to religious belief. It feels manipulative and domineering and paternalistic. Also books heavily laden with religious symbolism are not really my cup of tea. I find them tedious as opposed to enlightening or homeopathic, thanks very much PW!

Religious symbolism:

  • No one would be crucified on any such amiable trees as those pressed along the northern shore (p90)
  • Palfreyman – Voss…is the ugly rock upon which truth must batter itself to survive….I must condemn the morality and love the man (p95)
  • All, sooner or later, sensed his divinity and became dependent upon him (p175)
  • …a prophetic figure in his dark clothes (p182)
  • …we may pray together for salvation (p186)
  • Only resist the Christ-thorn (p188)
  • I am reserved for further struggles, to wrestle with rocks, to bleed if necessary, to ascend (217)

Descriptions of Aboriginal life:

  • Nobel savage myth – Two aboriginal women, dressed in the poorest shifts of clothing, but the most distinguished silence, were seated in the dirt beside the wharf, broiling on a fire of coals the fish that they had caught (p97)
  • Belle – ‘I wish I was free,’ she paused, and pointed, ‘like that black woman.’ (p113)
  • …ground to dust under the hard feet of those black women who satisfied the crude requirements of Brendan Boyle (p167)
  • On Dugald & Jackie – their bare feet made upon the earth only a slight, but very particular sound, which, to the German’s ears, at once established their ownership (p169)
  • Judd – ‘These blacks would thieve any mortal thing.’ (p182)
  • Duglad – the hostile spirits of unfamiliar places were tormenting him (p214)
  • …the present absorbed them utterly (p220)


  • Do you not think that such arrangements of birth are incidental, even if in the beginning we try to persuade ourselves it is otherwise….we have not yet learnt to admit that destiny works independently of the womb (p109)
  • Blank faces…could prevent him from soaring towards the apotheosis for which he was reserved (p178)
  • Through the marriage of light and shadow, in the infinite distances of that dun country of which he was taking possession, all, finally, would be resolved (p190)
  • His laborious attitudes would fill the the foreground and become the right ones (p205)
  • That we should love each other, LAURA, does at last appear inevitable and fitting, as I sit here alone in this immense country (p216)

Descriptions of Australia:

  • Le Mesurier’s ‘oyster delusion’ – this colony is fatal to anyone of my bent….How can I make my fortune from merino sheep when at the same time there is a dream of gold, or of some sea floating with tropical birds? (p96)
  • The science of horticulture had failed to exorcise the spirit of the place. The wands and fronds of native things intruded still, paperbarks and various gums, of mysterious hot scents, and attentive silences (p155)
  • the ghosts of things haunted here (p210)

Gendered quotes:

  • Ladies like to fall in love (p100)
  • It is different for men…He creates his own logic (p104)
  • Men fall in love, over and over again, but it is always with themselves (p117)


  • Brendan Boyle was reminscent of the big, rude, red potatoes, the shapely ones, but hard, with the fine red dust coating them (p168)


  • Human beings, like intentions, he could never possess for long (p97)
  • A brown heat was descending like a flat lid (p175) – I know that kind of summer day exactly!
  • …as the pieces of paper fluttered round him and settled on the grass like a mob of cockatoos (p220)

Favourite quotes:

  • a blue coat with aggressive buttons (p95)
  • overcome by the distance between aspiration and human nature (192)

Surprising quotes:

  • A very pregnant Rose – Controlling her wind, the woman picked up the basket (p158)

Final Comments:

Jinjer asked last week about Rose and her background.

Being a former convict I had also assumed she would have been a poor white girl from England, yet on (p158) PW says about Rose, ‘Tt-tt-tt!’ sighed the brown woman. Now I don’t know either! Though maybe it’s a reference to her class? Being a working woman, she would be out of doors a lot, perhaps without a decent hat to keep the sun off her…therefore her skin would be tanned brown?

Thanks to Laura’s first letter, we now also have a definite date for the first time – Nov 1845.

Given I am feeling somewhat jaded about Voss right now, I’m going to give myself a two mini-break from his company, and read a novella or two instead!

I’d love to hear your thoughts, good, bad or indifferent, about your time with Voss. But right now, I am finding him as annoying, frustrating and ridiculous as Ahab in Moby-Dick!

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.

7 thoughts on “Voss Readalong – Week 3

  1. Love reading your analysis of VOSS during #AUSReadingMonth2022! I remember this ….Metaphor: (…strange…) Voss’s expedition is compared to
    “like being a worm…butting my head at whatsoever darkness of the earth” (ch 2). I don’t think I ever read anyone making a comparison with a worm!
    Your question “Why is Voss so determined to suffer?…he thinks he is Christ and must suffer for redemption. PW is an impressive writer …but this quest through the desert is such a strange way to save the world.


  2. I had to look up the worm metaphor as I couldn’t remember it (p38) it certainly speaks to the stubborn, almost blind way in which Voss persists at all costs.

    I struggle with self-inflicted suffering. There’s enough suffering in the world without bringing on more yourself. That’s the part I don’t understand about Voss. I also don’t have much patience for the whole Messiah Complex either, all that Catholic sin, guilt and redemption – bah humbug!! But as you say, thank goodness PW is such an impressive, even virtuosic writer.


  3. Welllll I’m sorry to say that I have dropped out of the Voss readalong. I was looking forward to having plenty of relaxing time to read on my staycation, but instead I’ve had stressful things, such as a roof leak pop up!!! I can’t read anything that takes a lot of brain cells right now and Voss takes A LOT of brain cells.

    So sorry to bail out this early in the game and hope everyone else continues and enjoys the book!


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