Book 4 – Power Without Glory

There is a constant stream of conflict in Frank Hardy’s part history, part fiction ‘Power Without Glory’. This is a story of a man, John West, and of a town turning into a city, a colony turning into a state and a nation. He is an everyman, more Victorian than Australia, he rebuts the ideals that are often misrepresented in the history of the colonial period: this is not the man of the bush, this is not the bronzed Aussie or even the tragi-hero of the ANZAC. Hardy’s Australia is no white mans utopia. Instead the conflict that appeals is seen in every facet of social and cultural life.

He would confess only trivial transgressions: impure thoughts, swearing,missing Mass and eating meat on Friday. He never confessed of his bribery, his violence, or his business trickery; somehow he could not view these things as sins.

Beginning in the depression of the 1890’s, the immediate impression of West is one of mere circumstances. He needs a way to make money, having been laid off from the shoe factory. Sometimes Hardy goes into such detail about the inner workings of the first tote that the human element is lost. The mood of the clear and reflective prose matches the historical or social situation. With the improvements in the economy, with the easing of strikes and social unease, West’s plans for wealth, influence and to place enough space between himself and poverty is told without arrogance.

The controversial background to Hardy’s publication could hide the quality of the story. You can find plenty of information on the basis of Hardy’s characters elsewhere. Instead, look into the story. The use of ‘real’ characters as the models for fiction allows Hardy space for the irony surrounding the last colonial period and the historical events that are the backdrop to the West character. European Australia was founded with crime and conflict, with men that revered crime and conflict. The conflict between the classes- something often glossed over in the myth making of an egalitarian Australia- is matched between the political and religious conflict. West wants to consolidate his influence. The Labor party is his machine, the Catholic church, when needed is respected. This is central to the saga: the conflict is personal, about class, religious and political. In the turbulence comes a man made to weld influence.

Power becomes more mighty and satisfying when exercised by remote control. He did not want glory, he wanted power- power without glory.

Like Australian history, West is a contradiction. A family man, a recruit for World War One who never fires a weapon and is never fired upon, a man who makes money from the poor, a man in mansion. He is at once a family man and a manipulator. The ultimate irony being that his children regress from the family business and regret his actions. Many of us, having gained from the original illegal dispossession of the land have much to learn from Hardy’s historical saga.

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Book 3 – The Mandarins

What do you do when the news come through that after four years, your country is liberated? That the war you and your brilliant friends could not prevent is over and while there may be another war, do you sigh? This novel, published in 1954 is exactly what you should do. But first, you would have a party. You have around the same group of people who would have come before the invasion. You would drink, you would smoke, you would dance. You would remember those who were no longer there. You are still in Paris and you have survived.

Do you think it’s possible to bring back the past?

No one else should write a novel set in Paris, at this time, as Simone De Beauvoir has done it all and with such style that no one else should bother. The Mandarins is a big, serious novel. That first scene, first in third person, almost objectively observing the group of thinkers, writers, workers, lovers, friends, is perfectly poised. It is a serious question: what to do now that you can dare to hope? First, let us have a party. De Beauvoir then gives us the astute eyes of Anne. The same apartment is fresh and the worries different.

‘How’s your light novel coming along? Paula asked.
‘It’s coming,’ Henri replied.

Henri is the focus. He is a writer, not a mere writer, but a published author from before the war. During the occupation, he had been active in the Resistance. A hero, a lover. The owner of left leaning journal, his support is sort for the creation of a new France. With the slow drip feed to what the Americans and Russians are finding in the death camps, Henri takes a trip to Portugal, leaving his lover in Paris and taking a younger woman. It has been said De Beauvoir’s Henri is Albert Camus.

Surviving one’s life, living on the other side of it like a spectator, is quite comfortable after all.

The shear size of the different layers of the novel could be confusing in anyone’s hands. De Beauvoir controls the mood- something between hope and despair- with biting dialogue and short sweeping scenes of Paris. But this is not just a Paris novel, but a human one. Anne travels to America and her short affair is another level that would in any other time be an entire novel. Then, of course, is the political side.

Peace was assured, the future was guaranteed, the near and distant were one, indivisible.

With the interaction between the third person and then perspective of Anne, gives the novel so much scope and space to explore how the social and political world of that moment when the world took a breath, before the final defeat of Nazism. There will never be another novel like this, hopefully because there will never be another time like this.

Things are never as important as they seem; they change, they end, and above all, when all is said and done, everyone dies. That settles everything.

Book 2- Voss

There is a brooding understated style to Patrick White. His 1957 novel ‘Voss’ is an early work in the colossal figure of Australian literature, but its scope in character and plot is such that it is easily a classic piece of prose. There is an ingrained heighten drama and an irony that bewilders and bemuses.

One doesn’t need to invent explorers when considering Australian history. A writer can take their pick of naïve European naturalists with fatalistic tendencies. Here, the central haunted figure is Voss, based upon the Prussian explorer Ludwig Leichardt. This is not just about a fatal trip into the interior lands of Australia, but a love story between two people, both orphaned in the colony. Laura and Voss share the stage with a minimalist meeting before Voss leaves Sydney for Newcastle and then the interior.

‘Human behaviour is a series of lunges, of which, it is sometimes sensed, the direction is inevitable.’

The dual setting of the novel, between Sydney and the travelling party, is expertly constructed. With the fringe of the city melting into places we know today- the Domain, Potts Point, the Harbour- there is a family life of servants, luncheons and an inherited class system that seems to contradict the social Furphy of an egalitarian Australia. The colonial life is depicted in its raw brutal self, with little sentimentality.

‘And a little boy, introduced especially into this regretful picture, was selling hot mutton pies that he carried in a wooden box. He was walking, and calling, and dawdling, and looking, and picking his snub nose. The little boy would not have asked to live in any other surroundings. He belonged to that place.’

It may seem like an author’s trickery, but the expedition from Sydney, up the coast, to Newcastle and through the Hunter to land that White knew intimately, is not deemed to fail from the start. There is a hope, naïve, perhaps, but a hope for the party, led by the mythical figure of Voss, to ‘discover’ the centre.

‘So they advanced into country which now possessed them, looking back in amazement at their actual lives, in which they had got drunk, lain with women under placid trees, thought to offer their souls to God, or drive the knife into His image, some other man.’

The party that travels with Voss is a disjointed Australian Canterbury Tales. The most interesting being the reformed former convict, and only survivor, Judd and the two Aboriginal guides. There dialogue is driven with precise moments that reflect the men and their views. These views move from grandeur to survival and delusions of a land that eats them alive.

‘Have I taught you nothing? He (Voss) asked.

‘To expect damnation,’ said Le Mesurier, without considering long.

 

With humour and raw natural flourishes, ‘Voss’ will catch the reader in a duel. The city grows into a fever as the party traversers across country that is shadowed in black. There is forever spirituality to the novel, with Voss at once, revered and veiled with religious imagery. But the land is another beast that must be contended with. Voss and the party attempt to fight, but submit, while those in the city, attempt to contain and ignore the land.

Book 1 – The Go-Between

First published in 1953.

Here is a boy’s summer, where turning 13 is the least of his troubles. Written from the perspective a sixty something, looking back upon the summer of 1900, there is a tenderness, edged with guilt and sorrow, this is a classy examination of memory, loss, lust and the ritual and routines of adults.

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

It is signalled from the opening that a single diary is the source of these memories. We can trust the writer, the aged protagonist Leo, or we can acknowledge that memories fade, merge and are altered to suit why one recounts them. There is a frankness to how frail these memories are for Leo. The beauty I found in his memories lay in how each would be attached to shades and colours.

Scenes linger with me- generally in tones of light and dark, but sometimes tinged with colour.

After a torrid introduction to the social ladder of the school yard, Leo recalls his rise to fame that ended in an early break from school and an extended summer break. He believes he had the power to create spells and influence others. Of course, looking back, Leo knows his diary and his incarnation to set measles upon two school yard bullies is just a sign of his youth.

One remembers things at different levels.

There, for me, no single moment of climax. Leo travels to fellow schoolboy Marcus’ family home, the esteemed Brandham Hall. These are distinct English scenes of a home of servants, a village green and aged Church. The rituals and routines of the home are still important to Leo. These rituals, of a well-established family are contrasted with the romantic neighbour, the farmer, Ted.

“Nothing is ever a lady’s fault; you’ll learn that,” Lord Trimingham told me.

Soon, Leo, as an outsider is entrusted with passing notes between the beautiful Marian and Ted. He relishes the attention, drifting from Marcus and the home, instead, the temptation to be more than a tool in a love affair that moves against social mores drives his actions.

…the conflict between Hall and village. It was that, but it was also a struggle between order and lawlessness, between obedience to tradition and defiance of it, between social stability and revolution, between one attitude to life and another.

With a birthday coming, a staring role in a cricket match and a ball to look forward too, Leo is drawn to the house rubbish tip. At first this seems immature, a boy out of his comfort zone, away from home, retreating to a quiet place. Instead, it is used to show how when we are all gone, it is our own rubbish that is left. The rubbish is how our story will be pieced together. The fossils of the house hold rubbish are much like his memories: discarded, worn by the weather, broken, forgotten. In his diary, Leo finds his fossils, his memories though discarded, worn by time, are being fixed and remembered.

When I put down my pen, I meant to put away my memories with it. they had had days, weeks, months to settle, but in the end they didn’t, and that is how I came to write this epilogue.

The novel is perfectly paced, and nothing compares to the scenes of an aged Leo returning to the village and Brandham Hall. This piece of prose is powerful, tender, with an underlying pain that overcomes the prospect of a neat ending.

There let them stay, fixed in their two dimensions: I did not want to free them.