Friday, March 25, 2011

How to Become a Writer: Patrick White's Voss

Voss (1957). The cover art was the first of se...Image via Wikipedia

Brief biographical notes

Patrick Victor Martindale White (28 May 1912 – 30 September 1990) was born in London to an English-Australian father and a English mother. But by all rights he is an Australian since his family moved to Sydney, Australia when he was only six months old, though he was sent to a public school in England.

Because he was plagued by asthma during his childhood and adolescence, he kept to himself and — according to his biographer— he only had one friend: an older boy with whom he spent most of his free time.

From 1932 to 1935, White studied French and German literature at King’s College, Cambridge. At the University, he fell in love with a young man who was studying to become an Anglican priest, and to his ill or lucky star he was corresponded, engaging then in his first homosexual liaison.

From 1935 until his death, he published 12 novels, two short-story collections and eight plays. Towards the end of the 1930s, White spent time in the United States, including Cape Cod Massachusetts, and New York City. During World War II he served in Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer, with Foreign Service in Egypt, Palestine, and Greece. While in the Middle East, he had an affair with a Greek army officer who was to become his life partner.

How to become a writer

From this selection of reviews one can get a good understanding of the value of his work:
  • "But re-reading Voss also demonstrates again that although White wasn't "a nice man", and indeed was -- perhaps rightly -- scathingly dismissive of my and other Australian writers' work and origins unless they were his friends, he was a genius, and Voss one of the finest works of the modernist era and of the past century." - Thomas Keneally, The Guardian
  • "White writes beautifully, precisely, and Voss is a heroic, brilliant novel. At its core is a haunting love story between the messianic Voss and Laura Trevelyan, the awkward young orphan he meets in Sydney before his journey." - Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times
  • "The pace of the book, the strength and power of the prose, the tension and dramatic force, were all there, but when the book strikes off into the deserts of mysticism, I am one of those people who would sooner slink home." - Kylie Tennant, Sydney Morning Herald
  • "The main virtue and justification of his novel lies in his profound and moving portrayal of the relationship that binds Voss and Laura, and also in his poetic and perceptive description of the Australia of a century ago." - David Tylden-Wright, Times Literary Supplement


Perhaps Patrick White’s most acclaimed novel gained international fame when it unveiled the rough terrain and reality of the Australian continent to a European readership.
The novel dramatizes a wild expedition into the heart of Australia in the 19th century, led by Johann Ulrich Voss. Yet, by a leap of the imagination, the author interjects romance: a relationship between Voss and Laura Trevelyan, rich daughter of one of the sponsors of Voss for the trip. How do the lovers communicate? By mental telepathy!

Much like what Mario Puzzo did with his novel The Godfather, Patrick White made accessible two worlds that then were but alien territories: the roughness of the Australian land and the drawing rooms of colonial Australia—wilderness and domesticity.

Though an original piece of fiction, readers cannot but compare and contrast Voss to Joseph Conrad’ novel Heart of Darkness in which Marlow—the narrator— penetrates the African landscape and heart.

Other works

Patrick White was a prolific writer and left an enormous literary legacy, much of which is forgotten, yet Voss deserves to be rescued and read by newer generations. After all he was a Nobel prize winner.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
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