Okay, maybe Two Thousand Million Man-Power by Gertrude Trevelyan isn’t exactly a classic. But in the words of her most recent publisher, “If [Trevelyan] was a bloke, she’d still be in print”, some eighty years after she died.
It’s a novel that isn’t helped by its title, until you read the opening pages of Trevelyan’s novel and see how labor & human dignity, labor & human necessity are centered in the story.
Set between 1919 & 1936, Two Thousand Million Man-Power tracks the fortunes of Robert & Katherine, a chemist & a schoolteacher. Each just beginning a career or a life that could possibly be a career or a life of the mind. Every day, Robert, a recent graduate, works in a lab for ladies cosmetics, and every evening, he takes notes on a theory of time he hopes to one day complete. Kath has narrower ambitions but thinks big, mostly thanks to big dreamers around her, like Robert (and like a colleague who invites her to communist party meetings). Their courtship is slow & thoughtful–they attend weekly lectures–and it is bound by convention, which means they must sneak around in order to spend evenings together. Either due to true love or historical necessity, they get married. It is hopeful for a time.
It’s an honest love story–which includes daily pettiness & small joys, struggles over shared money & individual hopes, friendships & unavoidable comparisons with couples outside one’s relationship. It is deeply realistic about the loss of youth and the allure of materialism / comfort. It’s very nuanced & ambiguous about politics & history, cities & work, communities & countries. And it’s got a perfect ending.
Thanks to this one, I’ll definitely keep my eye on the publisher Recovered Books.