Patrick White – Voss – Read along

voss

Tomorrow the read along of Patrick White’s “Voss” will commence. White is Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, and winner of the inaugural Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s, self-proclaimed, pre-eminent literary award. The Miles Franklin Award was won 60 years ago in 1957 and the Nobel in 1973.

The Guardian’s “100 best novels” rated “Voss” number 77 on their list, commenting;

Until the 1950s Australian poetry and fiction, like American literature in the 19th century, was in thrall to dusty English models. Angry and often obscure, deeply intellectual and gay, Patrick White liberated his readers from a cultural prison. Parts of Voss, notably the treatment of Indigenous Australians – “black swine” to the explorer – remain contentious but White is a founding father of the literary independence movement that followed in the 1970s and 80s.

The Guardian article also notes that “the distinguished Australian poet AD Hope once said of White that, although he “shows on every page some touch of the born writer”, he nevertheless lacked style, choosing “as his medium this pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge”.”

As you start your “Voss” read along you may find the literary style and wordiness “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge” something I hope a few of you comment on during the reading.

A couple of other questions for your journey;

From the first chapter is it obvious the three players here are Voss, Laura and the harsh new Australian colony and landscape?

Like Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is it obvious that Voss’ journey into the interior is also a march towards self realisation and oblivion?

As I mentioned in my post in December when I decided to start a read along of this novel please join in the debate whether here via comments, or Twitter @messy_tony I’m also more than happy to open my blog to guest posts, and would love to have as many people as possible join in for this one off event.

A number of well known bloggers are joining the journey, so please join in, the more the merrier.

Good luck with your journey of this iconic Australian novel, may your reading be pleasurable.

Patrick White – Voss – Read Along March 2017

voss

My recent reading and blog post of Randolph Stow’s “To The Islands” created a little conversation over on Twitter (I’m @Messy_tony if you want to follow me there), and more specifically the Miles Franklin Award. As I mentioned in that post the Trustees of the Award tell us;

“The Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia’s most prestigious literature prize. Established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Miles Franklin, the prize is awarded each year to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.”

First presented in 1957, to Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, for Voss  “the Award helps to support authors and to foster uniquely Australian literature. Miles Franklin believed that “Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil.”  She also had first-hand experience of struggling to make a living as a writer and was the beneficiary of two literary prizes herself.”

The subsequent discussion centred around Patrick White and his novel “Voss”, the inaugural winner of the award in 1957. A number of well-known bloggers, Stu at Winston’s Dad https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/ , Kim at Reading Matters https://readingmattersblog.com/ and Grant at 1st Reading https://1streading.wordpress.com/  were keen for a read along of White’s book and so an event was born. I’m hoping the three bloggers are still keen to read White’s book as I’ve now named them publicly!!!

From 1 March 2017 the four of us will read Patrick White’s novel “Voss” and we invite you to join in, I’m more than happy to open my blog to guest posts, and would love to have as many people as possible join in for this one off event.

The novel is quite lengthy, my edition runs to 454 pages, so at 15 pages per day it should be covered in a month, but there is no pressure to read it all within that time if you feel that is too cumbersome. Posting questions at our blogs, or via twitter (@messy_tony, @stujallen @kimbofo and @GrantRintoul our handles) is another way you can join in.

With Patrick White being Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, this is a great way to become involved in his writing, throwing up differing opinions, questions, likes, dislikes, an open slather looking at a renowned writer and the first winner of the most prestigious writing award in Australia.

Here’s a little about “Voss” from the Penguin webpage:

The novel that put Australian literature on the map is now in a Vintage Classic edition

Set in nineteenth-century Australia, Voss is the story of the secret passion between an explorer and a naïve young woman. Although they have met only a few times, Voss and Laura are joined by overwhelming, obsessive feelings for each other. Voss sets out to cross the continent. As hardships, mutiny and betrayal whittle away his power to endure and to lead, his attachment to Laura gradually increases. Laura, waiting in Sydney, moves through the months of separation as if they were a dream and Voss the only reality.

From the careful delineation of Victorian society to the sensitive rendering of hidden love to the stark narrative of adventure in the Australian desert, Patrick White’s novel is a work of extraordinary power and virtuosity.

Join in by adding a comment here, buying the book or borrowing from your local library, and keeping an eye on our blogs leading up to March 2017. We would love to have you along for the ride.

To the Islands – Randolph Stow

islands

A week without work, that has to mean, not only, more time for reading, but a time to get the outstanding reviews in order. With close to twenty books read and not reviewed here, it is time I got my act together, and I’m not procrastinating until the New Year, so I can make some resolution to not fall so far behind, only to break it within a week or so.

By recently reading David Ireland’s haunting “The World Repair Video Game”, I became aware of my ignorance of older Australian literature. Whilst each year I try and read a few Stella Prize nominated novels, and I occasionally pick up a longlisted fiction work from the Prime Minister’s Awards or one the State Awards, my delving back to 1950-1970’s Australian books hasn’t really happened. This could be due to a very staid English Literature teacher in the 1970’s who believed Australian writers had nothing to offer, they didn’t have a unique voice and therefore he told us to avoid the local writers if we were to study “true” literature. Although rebelling (of course) at the time and reading Jack Hibberd plays and attending theatre events at La Mama and The Pram Factory, my novel reading was extremely limited. Time to fix that and fill up on a few Miles Franklin Award winners from the early years.

As the Trustees of the Award point out, “The Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia’s most prestigious literature prize. Established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Miles Franklin, the prize is awarded each year to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.”

First presented in 1957, to Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, for Voss  “the Award helps to support authors and to foster uniquely Australian literature. Miles Franklin believed that “Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil.”  She also had first-hand experience of struggling to make a living as a writer and was the beneficiary of two literary prizes herself.”

With my edition of White’s Voss running to 454 pages, the inaugural Miles Franklin winner has been put to one side for a few weeks. Keeping in mind the Afterword of David Ireland’s “The World Repair Video Game”, and although the content was specific to Ireland, it nagged at me the “cultural moment” where working class white voices gave way to “women, migrants and indigenous Australians”. Here’s a section of the Afterword in Ireland’s latest book;

His writing had not altered considerably across time but the hierarchy of values by which such work was judged had. During a period when Ozlit was mainly concerned with the recuperation or celebration of once-marginal literary voices belonging to women, migrants and indigenous Australians, Ireland’s transgressive tales of working-class white blokes rubbed against the weave of the cultural moment.

Randolph Snow’s 1958 novel, winner of that year’s Miles Franklin Award and the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal in the same year, “To the Islands”, deals with a subject not often approached in 1950’s Australian literature, the missionaries and their work with Aboriginal Australians. Although slightly dated in some of the indigenous character portrayal, it is still a landmark work, where the subjects of Aboriginal massacres, and their connection to country were thoughtfully portrayed, not as an oddity, but using sympathetic voice.

From the opening paragraph, you get a sense of place, social realism, although in the vast desert lands of northern Western Australia the remoteness and the isolation is there from the off;

A child dragged a stick along the corrugated-iron wall of a hut, and Heriot woke. His eyes, not yet broken to the light, rested on the mud-brick beside his bed, drifted slowly upwards to the grass-thatched roof. From a rafter an organ-grinder lizard peered sidelong over its pulsing throat.

Heriot is our protagonist, and early on we have an understanding that although a missionary, for many years, he is struggling with the clash of the Aboriginal culture. Their “Sorry business” practices and their belief of not mentioning the names of the dead, the spirits may come back to haunt you as you call them “Or might hang around the bush and come if someone say his name.”

‘I won’t say anything more. But it was a great – a great sorrow to me, to hear what you’d done. Your father was my good friend, my brother, He would have been very much ashamed.’

At this reference to the dead, Stephen moved uneasily. ‘Yes, brother.’

Our protagonist Heriot, begins to question his role as a missionary, what has he achieved during his many years in remote Australia? Seen as ageing, harsh and unsympathetic by the other workers as well as the Aboriginal inhabitants of the missionary, he loses all faith and belief in his life’s work;

‘I believe in nothing,’ Heriot said softly. ‘I can pull down the world.’

Heriot is not the only one who has wizened away here in the remote Australian desert, the shopkeeper, ration master Harris, “after twenty years in the country, he longed at times for death, but could not die until someone has been found to replace him.”

As the story unfolds we learn of Heriot’s loss of his wife, his daughter, those who are close to him, and this becomes a tale of Heriot’s exploration to find himself, it uses the physical journey as the metaphor for his self-awareness, our protagonist leaving the mission, after a violent incident with an Aboriginal man who has recently returned, a journey to the islands;

‘Oh, inlands in the sea. Where spirit goes. Spirit of dead man, you know, bungama.’

The interior of Australia, the harsh landscape, a backdrop for Heriot’s exile and reconciliation with himself, his life’s work;

When he woke again there was a rock hanging above his head, and he remembered all his journeying past cliffs rising out of their ruins, the huge size of the boulders that strewed the valleys, and the debris of vast and ancient landslides. Because of this his eyes fastened apprehensively on the cliff overhanging his sleeping-place; he saw cracks in it, thought he saw them widen, thought he heard the grating of moving surfaces and sharp sounds of fission. He hauled himself upright on his aching bones and ran out into the camp area, shouting: ‘Justin!’

The book contains an author’s preface, where Rudolph Stow explains his edits and how “in the original edition” he “was consciously making propaganda on behalf of Christian mission-stations”. There are still sections explaining the practices;

‘Well, you know, I pledge myself to do the usual things as far as I possibly can. And I hope that in my time and in my successor’s time we’ll see some development in – well, in the relations between ourselves and the people. I hope we’ll come closer and have the time and the staff eventually to make ourselves understood to them, teach them something of their own position in society, and their obligations, and their future. We’re coming to a very bad time in the history of their development, and if we don’t succeed in making contact with them and giving them some – orientation, the results could be unhappy for everyone. But with faith in them I think we’ll come through. I ought to say that these ideas are as much Heriot’s as mine, and when he spoke to me he was more or less handing over the problem to us. So if we succeed, we can feel that we’re carrying out the plans that he hasn’t the – opportunity of putting into action. That’s really all I have to say.’

This work was written by Stow when he was only 22 year’s old, an amazing achievement as the work reads as one from an old wise man, one bitter with the failure of his mission, his own failure, his journey into self-exploration. With inciteful quotes such as; “White man always talking and never listening”, and the white people saying “as long as we live here we can never be ourselves, unless ourselves – break out, like Mr Heriot’s.”

A thoroughly enjoyable work, an Australian journey into the centre, or harshest parts, of this land, revelatory for the literary treatment of indigenous Australian’s in the 1950’s. A work that comes with an ending that resonates, stunning that it came from the pen of a mere 22 year-old. I will be attempting to read a few early Miles Franklin Award winners, the best laid plans….