E. M. Almedingen Guy Davenport - Essay

Guy Davenport

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Tomorrow Will Come] is a book about a woman who remained sane in a time of madness. It was written in 1936, written lucidly, truthfully, and with a firm exactitude that seems at times understatement, until we realize that only a few have been gifted with the mastery of words necessary to present such turbulence in its proper fire. Here we have instead cold truth exactly put. (p. 1072)

The first impact of this strange and heroic book is its realistic account of a revolution from the underside, wholly from the point of view of a young lady who knew nothing of it until it happened, and who had to survive it as a victim. The second is that it pictures the collapse of a civilization. The story has been told over and over, in history books and in fiction. By now the Russian Revolution has taken on the dimensions of legend. Madame Lenin spoke of its "slow grandeur"; the moving-picture Doctor Zhivago made it look as sweet as the Salvation Army marching against sin.

Miss Almedingen offers no political opinions, makes no passionate statements about civilization, extracts no conclusions; she is not writing that kind of book. Brilliant historian that she is, she chose rather to write a book in which one can feel page by page the anguish of the revolution and the loss of the civilization it destroyed. But it is the kind of book every wise reader prefers to the cold diagrams of the history book. Facts hide the knowledge they pretend to convey; real history is knowing that there was a time in one of the most civilized of cities when a broken shoelace was the last shoelace in the world. (p. 1073)

Guy Davenport, "They Call It a Revolution," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1968; 150 East 35th St., New York, N. Y. 10016), October 22, 1968, pp. 1072-73.