Extract from oral history of Tom Fitzgerald by Ken Inglis

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the National Library of Australia. Interview of Tom Fitzgerald, 01/02/1988 - 3/09/1988. JCPML00658/1. Original held by National Library of Australia TRC 2247

I came across, many years ago, a passage in what is almost certainly Thomas Hardy’s own reminiscences of his early life, though they are under the name of his second wife, Florence. In which it is said that he, Thomas Hardy, in his boyhood was 'of an ecstatic temperament'. Ecstatic temperament. And I thought, 'Well, mutatis mutandis, that certainly goes for me too.'

I was continually excited by things like that. Music. And there was that heavy English orientation to it all....it’s been a succession of enthusiasms, one’s reading. I’m sure that goes for everybody, one after another. You take up somebody, exhaust that person and then move onto somebody else. And, oh goodness, we’ve all had phases. You don’t dump them, you don’t reject, or usually you don’t reject an author you’ve been excited by but you pass on to others.

And...among my age of enthusiasms in creative literature was certainly James Joyce of whom I had a taste even as an undergraduate though his Ulysses was banned but I’d seen sufficient of it to realise that it was an engrossing book for me with my Irish Catholic background. James Joyce. Gerard Manley Hopkins for a great part of my life, even from schooldays. Again I think you might say an ecstatic kind of person. My last long relationship with Hopkins was in 1973-4 while I was working on the minerals...minerals report with Mr Connor. I had books of his, not only his verse but his letters and his...his prose and I found them the ideal relaxation while I was working on that report...

Just as I was leaving school TS Eliot…was unquestionably the biggest impact on my adolescence. 1936. I’m not sure whether The Waste Land or Murder in the Cathedral came first. The juxtaposition of the two was fascinating. Murder in the Cathedral had a nice rhetorical attractiveness. I can still rattle off passages. 'I see nothing quite conclusive in the art of temporal government but violence, duplicity and frequent malversation.' 'Kings rule or barons rule, the strong man strongly, the weak man by caprice and the steadfast can manipulate the greed and lust of others, the feeble is devoured by his own.'

That sort of stuff was good to a youth but much more important were his earlier poems. And I was never able to resolve the initial conflict in his Four Quartets. The opening passage, 'Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future' and so on. That passage I’ve pondered over many times and looked up all the authorities and I’m sorry to say, in my humble opinion, they dodge it. They don’t offer an explanation of what he meant. With one possible exception, Northrop Frye.