Who Cares Who’s Speaking? Cultural Voice in Peter Carey’s <em>True History of the Kelly Gang</em>


  • Victoria Reeve University of Melbourne


Peter Carey, True History, Ned Kelly, cultural voice


When we speak about voice as it relates to specific individuals, we invariably strive to define its qualities: idiomatic, posh, intellectual, lowbrow, highbrow, regional, rural, suburban, urbane, musical, mellow, honeyed—a range of tonal, and competence-defined terms get used, but also place-related ones in terms of accent—geographical indicators like language and vernacular patterns of speech. Our descriptions endeavour, in some form, to identify voices in sensual terms that either locate them in time and space or which respond to the sensuality of hearing by making value judgments that categorise voices as having an impact upon the listener—pleasurable or otherwise. Voice hints, somewhat tantalisingly, at the historical traces of its past locations through these telltale signs of social and cultural situatedness. It seems to want to tell us where it’s been over and above the grammatical indicators of where it’s coming from. Yet voice—whatever that may be and however we may define it—is a performance: “the writing in the voice” to which Derrida has referred, is that rhetorical expression of presence inherent in our speech and arranged according to the conventions and rules of language. I perform my presence, grammatically, rhetorically and semantically, when I speak: the true indicator of my being, my voice and my presence, is something I myself can only gesture toward, and in gesturing, I perform: I write myself into my voice every time I speak. In this essay I discuss, through an analysis of voice in Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, what this means in terms of understanding voice as it is identified in the novel, arguing that cultural voice performs, in its own way, the locatedness of voice within the history of its speaker’s life.

Author Biography

Victoria Reeve, University of Melbourne

PhD Candidate