Two Thousand Million Man-Power

Gertrude Trevelyan


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UEA Publishing Project
30 November 2022
ISBN: 9781913861858
308 pages

From the publisher

"A real discovery." – David TrotterLondon Review of Books

In its panoramic view of English life from 1919 to 1936, Two Thousand Million Man-Power is no wistful, nostalgic account of its time. Instead, Gertrude Trevelyan shows how even the brightest and most able personalities can be ground down by economic highs and lows and a system in which individuals quickly disappear into crowds and statistics. 

One year, Robert and Katherine are enjoying the consumer comforts of a radio, a car, a house in the suburbs. The next, they are struggling to make ends meet in a tiny, squalid East End flat as Robert trudges hopelessly into London each day in hopes of finding work. The result is a savage portrait equaled only by George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier.

‘A 20th century literary classic!’ was best-selling novelist Rachel Hore’s reaction when asked to introduce this, Gertrude Trevelyan's, masterpiece.

We follow Robert, a chemist, and Katherine, a schoolteacher, through two tumultuous decades in English history: from New Year's Eve 1919 to the funeral of King George V in 1936, they experience youthful radicalism, economic boom and bust, comfortable middle-class life in the suburbs and grinding poverty; the debilitating experience of looking for work where there is none to be found.

Trevelyan sets this story against the backdrop of newspaper headlines, radio broadcasts and advertising slogans, contrasting the promises of progress and technology with the brutal effects of economic upswings and downturns. The result is one of the finest fictional portraits of English life in the 1920s and 1930s – the equivalent for the United Kingdom of John Dos Passos's epic, U.S.A..

Utterly forgotten for over 80 years, Gertrude Trevelyan is finally being rediscovered. The stylistic and imaginative daring of her fiction arguably makes her one of the finest English novelists of the generation that followed Virginia Woolf and Two Thousand Million Man-Power is among her greatest achievements. 

As David Trotter describes in the London Review of Books, "this is a novel about the encirclement of human consciousness by a non-stop demonstration of what machines of all kinds are capable of accomplishing... I can’t easily think of another novel which so uncompromisingly obliges you to experience encirclement as you read." As such, it has a resounding resonance with and relevance to offer our understanding of our contemporary moment.