27 March 2008

Powell Quotes – Eton

Eton College [5 March 2003]

Anthony Powell, in his essay on Eton [in Graham Greene's The Old School], tells us that the day after he arrived at school he saw a boy whistling a popular song, with his hat on the back of his head, his hand in his pocket, and 'an almost perfect specimen of the world-famous Eton slouch' - one shoulder high, both knees sagging.

This was the most sophisticated thing I had ever seen ... All this elegance gave me at an early stage in my career a conception of the school of which I was never able to divest myself entirely ... There was a certainty about the standards of the people I found myself among which was to make the assurance even of undergraduates seem vapid and self-conscious.

Like many of the other contributors, Powell had hated his preparatory school, and he claimed he would remember Oxford only in terms of 'querulous phantoms'. Eton, however, was a romantic experience ...

Eton is in most ways a typical British public school - in the class origins of its boys, in its teaching methods and subjects, in its games and leisure occupations, in its ethos. Anthony Powell's account of it ... does not differ that much from LP Hartley's account of Harrow, William Plomer's account of Rugby, or Harold Nicholson's of Wellington. At Eton, as at other such schools, the athletes have traditionally been the heroes of the community, and intellectuals and aesthetes have been a minority.

Martin Green; Children of the Sun; Constable, 1977

Dance and Eton College [12 October 2002]

He [AP] was certainly much concerned with Eton, as his contribution to The Old School shows, and his novels often seem to demonstrate Connolly's 'theory of permanent adolescence'. His most ambitious work, the novel sequence entitled A Dance to the Music of Time, takes its origins, in every sense, at Eton. The first scene in the first novel, A Question of Upbringing, presents the three main characters as schoolboys there; the school buffoon Widmerpool, appears out of the autumn dusk from a solitary run, and Nick Jenkins goes into his study to discuss the phenomenon with Stringham. And the central story of the whole sequence is the decline of Stringham and the triumph of Widmerpool, as seen through the mildly startled eyes of Jenkins – startled because from the Etonian point of view that decline and that triumph are so unnatural and inexplicable. Stringham was one of the princes of Eton, one of its exquisite dandies, and Widmerpool was one of its butts and buffoons – he is a Billy Bunter, the fat boy of Frank Richard's schoolboy stories, gross, clumsy, anxious, indignant, alien, the schoolboy's nightmare. He is the opposite of a dandy. Stringham is described as looking like 'one of those stiff sad young men in ruffs, whose long legs take up so much room in eighteenth century portraits; or perhaps a younger – and slighter – version of Veronese's Alexander'. (There is a photograph of Brian Howard in El Greco fancy dress that would fit this description very well.) And Stringham's voice is the dandy voice. Thus, of the character Peter Templer: "'I'm devoted to Peter," said Stringham, "but really I'm not sure one could have him in the house, could one?"'

Widmerpool is Powell's most original creation, and in him he explores an aspect of dandyism that Waugh never successfully coped with. The negative pole of Etonian values, Widmerpool is a grown-up Billy Bunter not only in his physique – the glasses, heavy breathing, clumsiness, heaviness, constant grievance of tone – but in the things that happen to him – the banana in the face from Budd, the sugar in the hair from Barbara Goring, the car that won't start and then runs out of control at Sir Magnus Donners's, and so on. A Dance to the Music of Time is in many ways a
schoolboy saga. By temperament, Widmerpool is a Caliban servant of the world of men, the world of the fathers, who refuses to acknowledge the standards of Adonis. Jenkins, on the other hand, can only live imaginatively by Adonis, although he sees very clearly – and with some satisfaction – that the world is run by those other principles that Widmerpool in his clumsy way represents.

Martin Green; Children of the Sun; Constable, 1977

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