Ever, Manning: Selected letters of Manning Clark 1938–1991
Allen & Unwin, $65 hb, 552 pp
In death, as in life, Manning Clark casts a long shadow. The author of A History of Australia (1962–87) remains a figure of considerable interest and contention in intellectual and cultural debate. Clark’s imposing oeuvre has its detractors and admirers. In pioneering a fresh and richly imagined awareness of national history for a post-World War II generation of Australians, Clark was an inspiring teacher. He encouraged his students to work with primary source materials. In doing so he assembled for publication three volumes of Australian historical documents that brought the underpinnings of Australian history into the ken of general readers. The publication of these documents served as something of a dress rehearsal for the great task Clark set himself: to write a version of the Australian story he conceived in grandeur and tragedy, nobility and ordinariness. As Carl Bridge has noted, Clark’s History has been seen by some as ‘a majestic blue gum of Australian historical scholarship’, and by others as ‘gooey subjective pap’. With the appearance of each volume, reviewers were sharply divided about the merits of Clark’s style, his interpretation, and even the veracity of his history. But while doubts remain, distance has conceded to the History its standing as a work of literature of the imagination that might sit in the same company as the paintings of Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan, or the novels of Patrick White.