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Last Updated on May 24, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1114

Psychic Connection

Voss proposes to Laura by letter, and receives her acceptance in the same way. After this, although they attempt to write to one another, Voss is beyond the reach of physical communication. Their minds, however, are in constant contact. Voss continually visualizes Laura riding with him into the desert, enduring the same hardships, “sharing the same hell, in their common flesh.” White makes it clear that this is something more than ordinary sympathy or imagination. Laura’s sickness, for which the doctors can find no cause, is directly linked to the suffering and death of Voss. He see a vision of her without her hair just as her hair is cut off. Laura is “locked inside him permanently,” even though they have only spent a few hours in one another’s company.

Although the mental connection between Voss and Laura is at the center of the novel, there are various other examples of the same phenomenon. Laura feels a strong connection to Rose, feeling her baby kick and experiencing the pain of her labor. After Rose is buried, she writes that she “seemed to enter into wind, earth, the ocean beyond, even the soul of our poor dead maid.” Voss often appears to be devoid of ordinary humanity and sympathy, but his understanding of others can be nothing short of visionary. When Palfreyman describes his sister’s suicide attempt, Voss takes over the narration, describing not only the feelings of Palfreyman and his sister but the physical details of the scene. Just before his own death, he screams as he feels the suffering of the horses and mules that are being slaughtered.

Even the least sensitive characters are occasionally affected by psychic connections, which often occur in dreams or periods of drowsiness. Colonel Hebden sees an accurate representation of the deaths of Turner and Angus in a dream. Earlier in the book, Angus has just told Turner that he thinks they have all “become a bit mad” when he suddenly feels a mystical connection to Judd, a man whom he has always regarded with suspicion and distaste. This vision of them sitting together companionably mending hobble-chains later allows him to accept the leadership of the former convict and follow him back to Jildra.

Religion and Doubt

When Voss and Laura first meet, she is at home on a Sunday morning because she chooses not to accompany the rest of the family to church. She later tells Voss that she does not pray, and he immediately assumes that she must be an atheist. Voss does not respect atheists because he thinks they ascribe their own meanness and lack of magnificence to the God in whom they do not believe. However, he is equally contemptuous of conventional Christians, particularly Mr. Palfreyman, the clergyman, whom he regards as weak and credulous.

Voss is interspersed with conversations about religion. Voss himself is intrigued by the topic and continually returns to it amid the hardships of the Australian desert. However, the other men also engage in theological discussions. Angus is shocked when Turner says that he does not believe in God and asks if he is not unhappy in his atheism. Angus’s own Christianity is initially a matter of form, part of his upper-class education, but his surroundings in the desert force him to think more deeply about the nature of religious faith and religious doubt. This is true, to varying degrees, of all the explorers, especially Palfreyman, who tells Voss that “there is a great deal I take on trust, until it is proved at the end.”

Palfreyman has a sister who is a hunchback, and “does not feel she is acceptable to God,” a situation which he feels is exacerbated by his own inability to imitate Christ in taking her suffering upon himself and loving her as she needs to be loved. Laura, like Palfreyman, is plagued not so much by doubts about the existence of God as she is by uncertainty about her own capacity for Christian charity. Her way of addressing these doubts is to care for Mercy, a solution that shows her kinship with Voss in its practicality. Voss, however, is unlike Laura or Palfreyman in that he creates God in his own image, meaning that religious doubt in his case would be self-doubt, a feeling of which he is incapable.

An Undiscovered Country

Voss comes to Australia because he regards it as a country of infinite possibility, in which there are magnificent discoveries to be made. When Mr. Bonner asks him if he has studied a map of the country, he responds that he will have to draw one first. This is a reasonable point, as nobody knows quite what Voss will find when he ventures into the interior. Mr. Pringle ventures a conventional guess when he says he thinks Voss will find nothing but “a few black-fellars, and a few flies, and something resembling the bottom of the sea.” Voss’s response is to ask if Mr. Pringle has ever walked on the bottom of the sea. Voss himself has not, and regards such new experiences as one of the joys of exploration.

When he first meets Frank Le Mesurier, Voss unhesitatingly tells him that he has come to Australia to cross the continent and that he intends to know it with his heart. However, he adds that it is impossible for him to say why he is “pursued by this necessity.” As he talks to Le Mesurier it becomes clear that although Voss cannot communicate precisely why he wants to cross the interior of the continent, he finds a grandeur in this objective that satisfies both the egotist and the visionary in him. He has come from Europe, a continent where countries are small, densely populated, and intimately known, to a place of extremes, where a man can “discard the inessential” and “attempt the infinite.”

Voss’s thirst to discover Australia is greater than that of anyone else in the novel, and his curiosity remains undiminished throughout all manner of hardships and dangers. It is his eagerness to understand the native people and his contempt for safety that leads him to underestimate the danger he is in. However, Voss, though an extreme case, is not unique. Colonel Hebden also has “the insatiable desire for perpetual motion through the unpleasanter portions of Australia” and has no trouble finding four like-minded friends when he decides to go into the bush in search of Voss. The majority of the novel is set in the 1840s, a golden age of exploration when Captain Cook was still within living memory, and Australia posed an irresistible challenge to the world’s most intrepid adventurers.

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