Mark McKenna is one of Australia’s leading historians. Seven years in the making, his biography of Manning Clark is his most ambitious project to date. Here, he discusses his work – its burdens and revelations – with Michael Cathcart.
Amongst the breadth of topics discussed — covering many aspects of the iconic Clark’s life — are his unusual relationship with his parents, the tension in his relationship with academia, his role as a key articulator of Australian national identity and his journey to becoming a public figure, which McKenna argues happened under the guise of an artist rather than as an academic.
McKenna discusses Clark’s admiration for fellow epileptic Dostoevsky, his relationship with Patrick White and his experience of history as ‘real reality’. McKenna reveals parts of the process of uncovering Clark’s private life through anecdote and artefact — some of which appear to have been left for his posthumous biographer to find.
McKenna shares his feelings on having accessed “over 53 years of private correspondence between Manning and Dymphna”, and considers the difference between Clark as public figure and as the much more flawed character of McKenna’s portrayal. In one example, Cathcart suggests we are “inclined to judge pretty harshly” the apparent fabrication of Clark’s Kristallnacht story.
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