E. M. Almedingen Roger Sale - Essay

Roger Sale

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[E. M. Almedingen's preface to the 1967 edition of Tomorrow Will Come] is sour, clear and simple about her loathing of the revolution and Soviet Russia, but the narrative is different, written with loving care of the blinding pain and loneliness that was her childhood and with little regard to what the adult writer "makes" of it all. (p. 549)

The first third of the book is simply magnificent, sharp and poignantly seen vignettes in which the girl's way of seeing is everything—her older brother is drowned in an act of childish bravery, but we get the faces at the door, the hushed conversations, the worry for mother that precedes worry for self because the girl cannot fathom what has happened, then her first meeting with her father, and a move to a shabbier home…. Miss Almedingen takes each event for itself and assumes that if each experience is accepted fully the patterns must necessarily appear by themselves. In each scene the people are "there" so completely that they can barely be seen as personalities.

There is a slight falling off when the revolution comes and life becomes so crushing and grim and aimless that the narrative method itself is partially victimized by the staggering events. Hunger, marginal jobs, a rescue into the cloister of the University and even into a teaching position, typhus, relief work, Moscow and finally escape to Italy—there is no sense of history here because the girl could not have one, and the form is thus forced to imitate the effortful and empty quality of the events. The buildings become communal and people are moved endlessly and nothing is repaired; shops are closed, bread lines are long, clothes are made from curtains, the winters bring bitter cold and the summers epidemic. But none of this is seen politically because Miss Almedingen could not afford the luxury of a self, could not see the need for one beyond simple, pathetic efforts for people to be helpful to each other…. [The] line between respect and contempt in the rendering of one's youth [is delicate]. Miss Almedingen is [often] unembarrassedly serious about what [happens to her characters]…. [The experiences in the book] her mind cannot naturally grasp, but that is her work's strength, and rare beauty. (pp. 549-50)

Roger Sale, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1968 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXI, No. 3, Autumn, 1968.