By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark
By Mark McKenna (Melbourne University Publishing, $55.00, hardcover, 793 pages)
In the public domain, Manning Clark (1915–1991) was a brilliant giant of Australia’s cultural landscape who lived and represented his life as “one extended experiment, all the while riding a wave of hypnotic, inspired melancholy”.
Mark McKenna’s gripping biography elucidates the mind of the controversial historian, his private life and his marriage to Dymphna with astounding and, at times, disconcerting familiarity.
Demanding and complex, Clark flaunted his flaws as much as his virtues. He deeply
touched many lives, but this retelling fails to convey the ‘sense of fun’ that he’s said to have possessed.
It took Mark McKenna, an associate professor of history at the University of Sydney, seven years to write An Eye for Eternity, after he accessed an extraordinary collection of Clark’s unpublished writings and correspondence that had previously never been studied.
Clark’s “inner ‘soul’ is extensively archived, spending as much time documenting himself, as he did documenting Australia’s past”.
McKenna says the paper trail was daunting: “He kept everything from theatre tickets to newspaper clippings, reviews, lecture notes, address books, mountains of correspondence and 53 years of notebooks and personal diaries.”
While elaborating on his friendships with Sidney Nolan and Patrick White, the all-encompassing portrait spells out how a vibrant marriage is torn apart by Clark’s “greatest requirement from women was to feel ‘in love’ … and his great need for intimacy”.
Here is a writer and teacher who placed narrative ahead of facts; a doubter who flirted with Catholicism; a son who wrote letters to his dead parents; and a contentious public figure who marked slights and criticisms with deeply held grudges.
McKenna’s informed reading will leave an indelible mark peppered with a keen understanding of Manning Clark – and his deep need to be remembered.
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.