Behind a historian's mask: Brian Matthews takes a look into the private life of Manning Clark





Biographer Brian Matthews was shocked as he read through Manning Clark's diaries and discovered the private anguish and ''multiplying betrayals'' behind the public mask.

The eminent historian and his wife, Dymphna, were ''a golden couple'' who appeared to have a very strong marriage, the author of Manning Clark said at yesterday's Melbourne Writers Festival...

... Clark's epic A History of Australia often reflected his personal life, Matthews said. He looked for key figures with ''a fatal flaw'', such as Henry Lawson, with whom he could identify. Although his mother had instilled in her brilliant son a sense that he was special, and he felt called to his great task, he had an amazing lack of self-esteem. He felt ''probably far too strongly'' that he too was fatally flawed.

Michael Cathcart, who abridged Clark's epic history, asked Matthews about some of the controversial episodes in Clark's life. One was his visit to Soviet Russia in 1958 and the subsequent book Meeting Soviet Man, which Gerard Henderson has called ''a disgraceful tract''. Matthews didn't agree: ''He was knocked out by the society, but he wasn't carried away by totalitarianism. He was very critical of some things.''

Another much-criticised episode was his claim to have been in Berlin in 1938 on Kristallnacht, when in fact it was Dymphna who was there as an eyewitness to the Nazi pogroms. ''He shouldn't have done it, true, but writers do that sort of thing,'' Matthews said. ''Historians don't, though. Historians shouldn't,'' Cathcart replied. ''But he doesn't do it as a historian,'' Matthews said. ''Oh, come on!'' Cathcart said.

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