30 March 2008

Quotable Powell 60 & 61

Quotable Powell #61 [3 March 2008]
She passed her convalescence [in the London Clinic, from a face-lift] reading Anthony Powell's latest novel which, with a bold stab at accuracy, she called 'At Aunt Mabel's'. She liked it greatly but it filled her with disquiet. 'Quite a bit of Evelyn Waugh, a dash of Proust, and the purpose - description of the slow decay of top people due to social revolution - a grim subject to me, excruciatingly funny for those who are not of noble class.

Philip Ziegler; Diana Cooper: A Biography (Penguin, 1983)
[Contributed by George Lilley]


Quotable Powell #60 [3 February 2008]

I reflected, not for the first time, how mistaken it is to suppose there exists some 'ordinary' world into which it is possible at will to wander. All human beings, driven as they are at different speeds by the same Furies, are at close range equally extraordinary.

Anthony Powell, The Acceptance World
[Contributed by Julian Allason]

Quotable Powell 55 - 59

Quotable Powell #59 [13 December 2007]

Twenty million monkeys typing into infinity would type the works of Shakespeare much sooner than twenty million professors of linguistics.

Anthony Powell, A Writer's Notebook
[Contributed by John Gould]


Quotable Powell #58 [12 November 2007]

Mr Powell is, mercifully, a writer without a 'message', either philosophical, religious or political; he is content to examine without comment, and to illustrate through character in action, the changes in human nature brought about by the changing face of the social order in which we live: in other words, he is attempting to fulfil the novelist's only true function.

Julian Maclaren-Ross, "From a Chase to a View" (review of A Question of Upbringing), TLS, 16 February 1951
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #57 [26 August 2007]

Later on in the evening, while sitting out with Miss Manasch, I was suddenly made aware of him [Widmerpool] again when he stumbled over her foot ...
'I know who he is!' she said, when he had apologised and disappeared ... 'He is the Frog Footman. He ought to be in livery. Has he danced with Anne yet?'
'Anne Stepney?'
'They would be so funny together.'

Anthony Powell; A Buyer's Market
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #56 [28 May 2007]

From time to time throughout the course of the evening, I saw Widmerpool ploughing his way round the [ball]room, as if rowing a dinghy in rough water.

Anthony Powell; A Buyer's Market
[Contributed by Paul Guinery]


Quotable Powell #55 [7 April 2007]

'What did you do today?' Daniel would ask at dinner.
'Messed about in the car [...] Read that novel of Anthony Powell's you lent me. I didn't realise you English could be so oblique.'

Simon Raven; The Sabre Squadron
[Contributed by Peter Bolger]

Quotable Powell 50 - 54

Quotable Powell #54 [29 January 2007]

Cocksidge's demeanour to his superiors always recalled a phrase used by Odo Stevens when we had been on a course together at Aldershot:"Good morning, Sergeant-Major, here's a sparrow for your cat."Cocksidge was, so to speak, in a chronic state of providing, at a higher level of rank, sparrows for sergeant-majors' cats.

Anthony Powell, The Soldier's Art
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #53 [1 January 2007]

Such prodigious gifts might seem the stuff of fiction, and sure enough, Lambert was the model for Hugh Moreland, one of the principal characters in Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time. Indeed, the fictional Lambert at one time seemed more likely to be remembered than the real one, who died of drink two days short of his 46th birthday and was promptly relegated to deepest obscurity ...

Terry Teachout, "A British Bad Boy Finds His Way Back Into the Light" (story about Constant Lambert), New York Times, 02 May 1999
[Contributed by John Gould]


Quotable Powell #52 [9 December 2006]

In the more bookish areas of English middle-class society, whenever a coincidence occurs there is usually someone at hand to comment, "It's just like Anthony Powell." Often the coincidence turns out, on the shortest examination, to be unremarkable: typically, it might consist of two acquaintances from school or university running into one another after a gap of several years. But the name of Powell is invoked to give legitimacy to the event; it's rather like getting the priest to bless your car ... I don't
even care for harmless, comic coincidences. I once went out to dinner and discovered that the seven other people present had all just finished reading A Dance to the Music of Time. I didn't relish this: not least because it meant that I didn't break my silence until the cheese course.

Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot
[Contributed by Kevin Flynn]


Quotable Powell #51 [19 November 2006]

Intricacies of social life make English habits unyielding to simplification, while understatement and irony - in which all classes of this island converse - upset the normal emphasis of reported speech.

Anthony Powell, The Acceptance World
[Contributed by Henke van Linde]


Quotable Powell #50 [2 September 2006]

To be circumscribed by people constituting the same professional community as myself was no wish of mine: rather the contrary. However, an inexorable law governs all human existence in that respect, ordaining that sooner or later everyone must appear before the world as he is. Many are not prepared to face this sometimes distasteful principle. Indeed, the illusion that anyone can escape from the marks of his vocation is an aspect of romanticism common to every profession: those occupied with the world of action claiming their true interests to lie in the pleasures of imagination or reflection, while persons principally concerned with imaginative or
reflective pursuits are forever asserting their inalienable right to participation in an active sphere.

Anthony Powell, The Acceptance World
[Contributed by Tom Myron]

Quotable Powell 45 - 49

Quotable Powell #49 [17 June 2006]
I suppose, the one and really only possible mitigation and excuse for the unbridled incoherence of this existence of ours, it is then, and only then, that we realise fully, that we shall realise in its entirety, that we shall in soon come to know with any degree of accuracy. What was I saying? I seem to have lost the thread.

Anthony Powell, Afternoon Men
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #48 [29 April 2006]

Powell is above all funny, and makes humour out of both the gravity and perceptiveness to which the narrative aspires, as witness the scene between Henchman and Sir Dixon Tiptoft at the breakfast table. [...] In the end, it is not the way it is done which matters but the personality who controls it. [...] But I could read whatever Powell writes from here to eternity, or at least until the Sultan decided that execution could no longer be stayed.

John Bayley reviewing The Fisher King in London Review of Books, 17 April 1986
[Contributed by Peter Kislinger]


Quotable Powell #47 [23 March 2006]

... she's not a great one for bed. A chap I knew in the Ordnance, who'd carried on quite a bit with the girls, told me those noisy ones seldom are. Don't do much in that line myself nowadays ... Feel too cooked most of the time. Never sure the army vets got quite all those separate pieces of a toffee-apple out of my ribs. Tickles a bit sometimes. Still, you have to step out once in away.

Anthony Powell, At Lady Molly's
[Contributed by Colin Donald]


Quotable Powell #46 [22 January 2006]

Wednesday, 23 July [1986]
V and I watched on TV the wedding of Prince Andrew & Miss Sarah Ferguson, now Duke & Duchess of York. Unusually good show. The bride's father, Major Ronald Ferguson, late The Life Guards, had braid piping on his tailcoat. As he is not old enough for this to have been a normal fashion for tailcoats (Goodhart, for instance, had it on his) one presumes him still wearing coat he had at Eton when in Pop, braid being a Pop privilege. It would be interesting to check this.

Anthony Powell, Journals 1982-1986
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #45 [30 December 2005]

It was that prolonged, flat, cheerless week that follows Christmas ... those latter days of the dying year create an interval, as it were, of moral suspension: one form of life already passed away before another has had time to assert some new, endemic characteristic. Imminent change of direction is for some reason often foreshadowed by such colourless patches of time.

Anthony Powell, The Acceptance World
[Contributed by Dr Peter Kislinger]

Quotable Powell 40 - 44

Quotable Powell #44 [11 December 2005]
Those who no longer walk beside us on the void expanses of this fleeting empire of created light have no more reached the absolute end of their journey than birth was for them the absolute beginning.

Anthony Powell, The Kindly Ones
[Contributed by Dr Peter Kislinger]


Quotable Powell #43 [15 November 2005]

Having reread A Dance To the Music of Time fairly often, always with increased pleasure and understanding, I used to feel that I liked the work more each time only because I was more familiar it. But now, with The Fisher King, I'm quite sure that Powell's fiction has been designed to stir just such a response - that all the while he has been perfecting a technique I'll call "spiral narrative", which virtually guarantees that his novels will inexhaustibly renew themselves.

Larry Kart reviewing The Fisher King in Tribune, September 1986
[Contributed by William Wleklinski]


Quotable Powell #42 [1 October 2005]

'Are you waiting for something, Greening?'
'The General bade me discourse fair words to you, sir, anent traffic circuits.'
'What the hell do you mean?'
'I don't know, sir,' said Greening. 'That's exactly how the General put it.'

Anthony Powell, The Soldier's Art
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #41 [16 September 2005]

'Sole nantua,' said Isobel, firmly bringing the conversation back to the point.
'That's a sauce is it?'
'Yes, made with crayfish' Adam explained, 'You would poach about a dozen small crayfish in a court-bouillon with white wine and herbs.'
'Murtlock and his friends caught crayfish in Somerset,' said Tom but nobody took up the reference, Adam remarking that the flavour of Somerset crayfish would hardly be up to a nantua sauce.

Barbara Pym, A Few Green Leaves
[Contributed by David Lowis]


Quotable Powell #40 [26 August 2005]

'One of the strange things about the Victorians,' wrote Antony Powell in one of his notebooks, 'was seeing refinement in women, whereas one of the attractions of women is their extreme coarseness'. From the scrappy unannotated nature of the great novelist's cahier it is impossible to know whether this contention was intended to be placed in the mouth of one of the more outrageous characters in A Dance to the Music of Time or whether it was an opinion he held himself.

AN Wilson; The Victorians
[Contributed by Nick Hay]

Quotable Powell 35 - 39

Quotable Powell #39 [17 July 2005]
He was bald but seemed to be bearing up well.

Anthony Powell, Afternoon Men
[Contributed by B Douglas Russell]


Quotable Powell #38 [27 June 2005]

It is tempting to regard The Fisher King as Anthony Powell's Tempest - for even though one hopes that this profoundly touching comic novel is not Powell's final work, the book deals openly with questions of decay and rebirth, and also includes a singularly shrewd set of musings on Powell's fictional techniques. Indeed the 80-year-old author salts his tale with so many clues about how he feels novels ought to work that The Fisher King could serve as an after-the-fact guide to his 12-volume A Dance to the Music of Time, which I am not alone in regarding as the century's finest English-language work of fiction.

Larry Kart reviewing The Fisher King in Tribune, September 1986
[Contributed by William Wleklinski]


Quotable Powell #37 [30 May 2005]

A certain amount of brick-throwing might even be a good thing. There comes a moment in the career of most artists, if they are any good, when attacks on their work take a form almost more acceptable than praise.

Anthony Powell, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant
[Contributed by Stephen Holden]


Quotable Powell #36 [23 April 2005]

There is a French saying that 'a bottle of Chambertin, a ragout a la Sardanapalus, and a lady causeuse, are the three best companions at table in France'. I have been unable to trace a recipe for this particular dish, apparently a well-known one, but not to be found in several French cookery books.

Anthony Powell, "Cyrus Redding: Wine and Friends" in Cyril Ray (ed), The Compleat Imbiber 10
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #35 [13 March 2005]

One of the things about being deserted by Matilda or anyone is that it leaves you in a semi-castrated state incapable of fixing yourself up with an alternative girl. Deserting people, on the other hand, is positively stimulating. I don't mind betting that Matilda is surrounded by admirers at this moment ...

Anthony Powell, The Kindly Ones
[Contributed by Larry M Allis]

Quotable Powell 30 - 34

Quotable Powell #34 [30 January 2005]
No novelist has more than a few stories to tell. They are the myths of life which each novelist creates for himself.

Anthony Powell on John Galsworthy
[Contributed by Dr Peter Kislinger]


Quotable Powell #33 [31 December 2004]

The General, speaking one felt with authority, always insisted that, if you bring off adequate preservation of your personal myth, nothing much else in life matters. It is not what happens to people that is significant, but what they think happens to them.

Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time
[Contributed by Julian Allason]


Quotable Powell #32 [1 December 2004]

I have only twice in my life been aware of the 'scent of violets' bursting from the uncorked burgundy bottle as one reads about – once in Beaune, the other occasion in England in the second or third year of the war, when all wine at the Travellers' club was being drunk up by the members, whatever the price.

Anthony Powell, "Cyrus Redding: Wine and Friends" in Cyril Ray (ed), The Compleat Imbiber 10
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #31 [22 October 2004]

What really needs to happen ... is for Powell's critics to follow the advice he himself doled out to those of Evelyn Waugh: to stop talking about what a snob he was and start talking about how good the writing was.

Brooke Allen; New Criterion, 25(1), September 2004, reviewing Michael Barber, Anthony Powell: A Life
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #30 [2 October 2004]

I reflected, not for the first time, how mistaken it is to suppose there exists some "ordinary" world into which it is possible at will to wander. All human beings, driven as they are at different speeds by the same Furies, are at close range equally extraordinary.

Anthony Powell; The Acceptance World
[Contributed by Julian Allason]

Quotable Powell 25 - 29

Quotable Powell #29 [22 August 2004]
A certain amount of brick-throwing might even be a good thing. There comes a moment in the career of most artists, if they are any good, when attacks on their work take a form almost more acceptable than praise.

Anthony Powell; Casanova's Chinese Restaurant
[Contributed by Stephen Holden]


Quotable Powell #28 [22 May 2004]

The [Compton-Burnett] novels ... are primarily concerned with human passions, and the ruthless manner in which these are usually satisfied ... [In] the [Victorian-Edwardian] accepted routine of manners ... much that is said and done is not made explicit ... Of course, much of Victorian life was licentious. Everybody knew that at the time ... However, the particular social technique of that epoch was to deal with such matters obliquely ... All these subjects are dealt with in the [Compton-Burnett] novels in a manner ... unlikely to be made more effective or convincing by the recital of elaborate physical details.

Anthony Powell; Miscellaneous Verdicts
[Contributed by Ed Bock]


Quotable Powell #27 [22 May 2004]

Atwater ... began to bite the apple. It was green and tasted of absolutely nothing. It was like eating material in the abstract.

Anthony Powell; Afternoon Men
[Contributed by B Douglas Russell]


Quotable Powell #26 [7 March 2004]

Parents ... are sometimes a bit of a disappointment to their children. They don’t fulfil the promise of their early years.

Anthony Powell; A Buyer's Market
[Contributed by Laurie Adams Frost]


Quotable Powell #25 [1 February 2004]

[Bithel] "Told me you were quite a reader – like me – didn't you?"
[Jenkins] "Yes, I am. I read quite a lot." I no longer attempted to conceal the habit, with all its undesirable implications. At least admitting to it put one in a recognisably odd category of persons from whom less need be expected than the normal run.

Anthony Powell; The Soldier's Art
[Contributed by Stephen Holden]

Quotable Powell 20 - 24

Quotable Powell #24 [13 December 2003]
The critic John Bayley has remarked that "nothing shows the complete originality of Powell's technique more than the way his fiction imitates memoir, and almost in a double sense, like a trompe-l'oeil painting", so that the novel becomes "an anecdote arranging itself in the elaborate composition of a picture".

Allan Massie; The Novel Today
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #23 [13 October 2003]

'In vino veritas – I don't know,' Anthony Powell once said to me, 'but in scribendo veritas – a certainty.'

Kingsley Amis; Memoirs
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #22 [4 September 2003]

Finn pushed back his chair. He spoke slowly. "Borrit told me when he was serving on the Gold Coast one of the Africans said to him: 'What is it white men write at their desks all day?'"

Anthony Powell; The Military Philosophers
[Contributed by Larry M Allis]


Quotable Powell #21 [22 June 2003]

Here, among these woods and clearing, sand and fern, silence and the smell of pine brought a kind of release to the heart, together with a deep-down wish for something, something more than battles, perhaps not battles at all, something realised, even then, as nebulous, blissful, all but unattainable: a feeling of uneasiness, profound and oppressive, yet oddly pleasurable at times, at other times so painful as to be almost impossible to bear.

Anthony Powell; The Kindly Ones
[Contributed by John Gould]


Quotable Powell #20 [2 February 2003]

I began to brood on the complexity of writing a novel about English life, a subject difficult enough to handle with authenticity even of a crudely naturalistic sort, even more to convey the inner truth of the things observed ... Intricacies of social life make English habits unyielding to simplification, while understatement and irony – in which all classes of this island converse – upset the normal emphasis of reported speech ... Even the bare facts had an unreal, almost satirical ring when committed to paper, say in the manner of innumerable Russian stories of the nineteenth century: 'I was born in the city of L-, the son of an infantry officer ...' To convey much that was relevant to the reader's mind by such phrases was in this country hardly possible. Too many factors had to be taken into consideration.

Anthony Powell; The Acceptance World
[Contributed by John Perry]

29 March 2008

Quotable Powell 15 - 19

Quotable Powell #19 [27 December 2002]
... as if they had heard that enchanted horn of Astolpho, that English duke in Ariosto, which never sounded but all his auditors were mad, and for fear ready to make away with themselves ... they are a company of giddy-heads, afternoon men ...

Anthony Powell, Epigraph to Afternoon Men
[Contributed by Michael Henle]


Quotable Powell #18 [27 November 2002]

Intricacies of social life make English habits unyielding to simplification, while understatement and irony – in which all classes of this island converse – upset the normal emphasis of reported speech.

Anthony Powell, The Acceptance World
[Contributed by Clifford Huffman & Henk van Linde]


Quotable Powell #17 [13 October 2002]
Another element which certainly does nothing to alleviate the confusion is the fact that they [the characters in Dance] are, or appear to be playing a game of matrimonial or at any rate sexual twos and threes most of the time and while this was no doubt true of the people of that class at the time of which Powell is writing it is not something to which I am accustomed. Most of my friends go through life with the same spouse. I am not here levelling any moral charges at these people, since representatives of the Law and the Church and a number of other eminent people have shown us recently that adultery is of the utmost respectability, if not a sacrament.

Stephen Bagnall, "Anthony Powell and the Music of Time", Papers of the Manchester Literary Society, vol LXXII, 1961-62, pp 12-23
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #16 [23 August 2002]

Anthony Powell should be read by anyone who is sick of the minimalist tripe that passes for contemporary fiction. His characters are among the most memorable created by any novelist writing in English since Dickens. The positive virtues of courage and honor are celebrated, but perhaps the ultimate moral value of Powell's work is as a cautionary tale. As Sir James Murray, a former British Ambassador who looks like he stepped out of the pages of a Powell book, once reminded me: 'The question is not whether we know a Widmerpool in our own lives, but whose Widmerpool are we?'

Dwight Sutherland, The University Bookman, Summer 2002
[Contributed by William Wleklinski]


Quotable Powell #15 [2 June 2002]

People think because a novel's invented, it isn't true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Because a novel's invented, it is true. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they can't include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that. The novelist himself lays it down. His decision is binding. The biographer, even at his highest and best, can be only tentative, empirical. The autobiographer, for his part, is imprisoned in his own egotism. He must always be suspect. In contrast with the other two, the novelist is a god, creating his man, making him breathe and walk.

Anthony Powell, Hearing Secret Harmonies
[Contributed by Laurie Adams Frost]

Quotable Powell 10 - 14

Quotable Powell #14 [13 March 2002]
One passes through the world knowing few, if any, of the important things about even the people with whom one has been from time to time in the closest intimacy.

Anthony Powell, The Kindly Ones
[Contributed by Joan Williams]


Quotable Powell #13 [29 January 2002]

Sillery, I thought, was like Tiresias: for, although predominantly male, for example, in outward appearance, he seemed to have the seer's power of assuming female character if required. With Truscott, for instance, he would behave like an affectionate aunt; while his perennial quarrel with Brightman – to take another instance of his activities – was often conducted with a mixture of bluntness and self-control that certainly could not be thought at all like a woman's row with a man: or even with another woman; though, at the same time, it was a dispute that admittedly transcended somehow a difference of opinion between two men.

Anthony Powell, A Question of Upbringing
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #12 [23 September 2001]
A friend bought me the first three of this sequence [Dance] for my birthday one year. I was sceptical at first, but was soon won over by some of the most magical prose in the English language. Powell made me care about these old Etonians and titled ladies, this crew of bohemians, charlatans, whingers, malcontents and survivors. He created some of the most complex villains in all literature, and transports the reader to a fully realized world - a world I revisit whenever I can.

Ian Rankin, The Good Book Guide, March 2000
[Contributed by Peter Kislinger]


Quotable Powell #11 [23 July 2001]

The method is all part of his [John Aubrey's] presentation of life as a picture crowded with odd figures, occupying themselves in unexpected and sometimes inexplicable pursuits. He wrote down what appeared to him the truth, but it is often the truth of poetry rather than the truth of science.

Anthony Powell, John Aubrey and His Friends
[Contributed by Noreen Marshall]


Quotable Powell #10 [7 June 2001]

Many critics have called Dance a comedy of manners. They're right, to be sure, but they've missed the point. "It is always difficult," Powell observed, "to know how human beings really live. If you describe it, you often appear to be a humorous writer, even if you have merely reported exactly what happened." In its uniquely backhanded, understated, supremely ironic way, A Dance to the Music of Time comes as lose as a novel can come to telling us "exactly what happened.

Bill Ott, American Library Association Booklist, 15 May 2000
[Contributed by Michael Henle]

28 March 2008

Quotable Powell 5 - 9

Quotable Powell #9 [23 January 2001]

Although wholly idiosyncratic and personal, Anthony Powell’s humour shares with Proust’s the same irresistibly comic feeling for human differentiation, and the immovable misunderstanding which results from it. If there is any summing-up of A Dance to the Music of Time, it is the narrator’s observation that whatever happens to people comes in time to seem appropriate ...

John Bayley, London Review of Books; 12 Oct 1989
[Contributed by Peter Kislinger]


Quotable Powell #8 [23 December 2000]

I spent Christmas Day cleaning out the kennels', said the General. 'Went to Early Service. Then I got into my oldest clothes and had a thorough go at them. Had luncheon late and a good sleep after. Read a book all the evening. One of the best Christmas Days I've ever had'.

Anthony Powell, At Lady Molly's
[Contributed by John Potter]


Quotable Powell #7 [20 November 2000]

There is a strong disposition in youth, from which some individuals never escape, to suppose that everyone else is having a much more enjoyable time than we are ourselves.

Anthony Powell, A Buyer's Market
[Contributed by Terry Labach]


Quotable Powell #6 [29 September 2000]

Many critics have called Dance a comedy of manners. They're right, to be sure, but they've missed the point. "It is always difficult," Powell observed, "to know how human beings really live. If you describe it, you often appear to be a humorous writer, even if you have merely reported exactly what happened." In its uniquely backhanded, understated, supremely ironic way, A Dance to the Music of Time comes as close as a novel can come to telling us "exactly what happened".

Bill Ott in Booklist; 15 May 2000
[Contributed by Michael Henle]


Quotable Powell #5 [27 August 2000]

What will happen to people like him [Trelawney] as the world plods on to standardisation? Will they cease to be born, or find jobs in other professions? I suppose there will always be a position for a man with first-class magical qualifications.

Anthony Powell; The Kindly Ones
[Contributed by Noreen Marshall]

Quotable Powell 1 - 4

Quotable Powell #4 [30 July 2000]

Each recriminative decade poses new riddles, how best to live, how best to write. One's fifties, in principle less acceptable than one's forties, at least confirm most worst suspicions about life, thereby disposing of an appreciable tract of vain expectation, standardized fantasy, obstructive to writing, as to living. The quinquagenarian may not be master of himself, he is, notwithstanding, master of a passable miscellany of experience on which to draw when forming opinions, distorted or the reverse, at least up to a point his own. After passing the half-century, one unavoidable conclusion is that many things seemingly incredible on starting out, are, in fact, by no means located in an area beyond belief.

Anthony Powell; Temporary Kings
[Contributed by RD Angel]


Quotable Powell #3 [13 June 2000]

It was Dr Trelawney's view – and also that of his old friend Mrs Erdleigh – that death was no more than transition, blending, synthesis, mutation. To be fair to them both, they seemed to some extent to have made their point. Mrs Erdleigh (quoting the alchemist, Thomas Vaughan) had spoken of how 'the liberated soul ascends, looking at the sunset towards the west wind, and hearing secret harmonies'.

Anthony Powell; Hearing Secret Harmonies
[Contributed by Peter Kislinger]


Quotable Powell #2 [27 March 2000]

Pacing with Bag-Pipe in a bosky Square,
One morn a Piper rent the vernal air,
Dispelling by his savage, baleful Strains
That Freudian Pageantry, which Night-time gains.
(He wore a garb deprived of all amenity,
Save for vile jest and Smoking-Room obscenity.)
And hearkening to the Pibroch's raucous Note,
Bursting as if from tortur'd porcine Throat,
To Reverie did errant Fancy yield ...

Anthony Powell; Caledonia
[Contributed by Keith Marshall]


Quotable Powell #1 [15 March 2000]

As troubles get worse, small satisfactions increase, both in intensity and in expectation. I look forward with passion to the moment after I put Iris to bed. I come down, pour myself a drink, and while enjoying it read a page or two of a book, some old favourite that is lying near the kitchen table. Nothing new – never a newspaper or periodical – but nothing old and famous either, and nothing demanding. Something I have read many many times before. It might be a Barbara Pym or a James Bond novel, or Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, or a travel book by Ian Fleming's brother Peter ... All these lie about within easy reach.

John Bayley; Iris and the Friends: A Year of Memories
[Contributed by John Potter]

27 March 2008

Powell Quotes – Dance

The Planning of Dance [1 January 2004]

Turning to frankly non-socialist dandies, we find that Anthony Powell had left Duckworths in 1936, and was devoting more of his energies to his vocation as a novelist. In 1938-9 he was already beginning his Music of Time series, because he foresaw the war that was coming, and also foresaw a post-war world in which the people he wanted to write about would have disappeared, so that he would be lost – without his bearings as a novelist. In other words, he needed a dandy subject, and he feared it would disappear, as history punished his generation's frivolity.*

* Powell speaks of his literary intentions of 1938 in an interview in The New Yorker, 3 July 1965.

Martin Green; Children of the Sun; Constable, 1977


The Soldier's Art [11 January 2004]

This is the eighth volume of Mr Powell's much praised Music of Time sequence. As an act of continuous dedication to the art of fiction the achievement continues to be impressive. But how thinly the material is sliced, how carefully arranged on the exquisitely patterned plate. It is interesting that much of the praise has come from fellow-craftsmen: the favourite son of favourite sons, the novelist's novelist - is this the role one would have predicted for the author of those brilliant, Mozartian comic-opera novels of the 'thirties?

KW Gransden; Taste of the Old Time a review of The Soldier's Art
[Contributed by John Potter]


Casanova's Chinese Restaurant [4 October 2003]

In 1960 Evelyn Waugh wrote a review of Casanova's Chinese Restaurant which included both a quotable encomium and an observation about reading the novels at the intervals at which they were originally published. Evelyn Waugh writes of Powell:

He is slightly my junior in years. I have few reasons to desire longevity. One of them is the hope that I (and he) may be spared to see the completion of the fine sequence which he calls The Music of Time and to sit (or lie) back to read it continuously, for the annual instalments he provides, eagerly expected and keenly enjoyed, do put something of a strain on an already faltering memory.

Of course Waugh, who died in 1966, would never read Dance to the end.

[Contributed by William Wleklinski]

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

Powell Quotes – Other Authors

PG Wodehouse [1 March 2004]
Wodehouse, then, has been an important influence on English dandyism, creating – with his enormous sales over sixty years – an audience ready to appreciate the bolder flights of writers like Waugh and Powell ... Anthony Powell called him 'a kind of genius'.
Martin Green; Children of the Sun; Constable, 1977


AP Compared with Evelyn Waugh [6 August 2003]

Another dandy novelist made a similar beginning. Anthony Powell edited a collection of family letters in 1928, and then published one novel (Afternoon Men) in 1931 and another (Venusberg) in 1932. These were both rather like Waugh's fiction; they are less purely satirical than much of his work, more like A Handful of Dust than Decline and Fall, but definitely dandy fiction. Powell's collection of family letters, moreover, corresponded to Waugh's Rossetti, just as later his John Aubrey corresponded to Waugh's Edmund Campion; and it is fairly certain that Powell felt himself in competition with Waugh all along.

Martin Green; Children of the Sun; Constable, 1977


George Orwell
[11 January 2002]

Orwell's years at Eton were a dim experience to him even at the time. One of his contemporaries described him as having been the 'dimmest' member of a brilliant Election, and he is practically unrecorded ... Anthony Powell says he cannot remember him there, even though they were both in the same company of the Army Corps; and Harold Acton could only remember a tall figure flapping sombrely about the Yard in his black gown.

Anthony Powell speaks of PG Wodehouse mannerisms in Eric Blair [George Orwell] and of a moustache (later) on George Orwell that was 'a concession to the dandyism that undoubtedly existed below the surface'.

Martin Green; Children of the Sun; Constable, 1977

Powell Quotes - Parody

Parody of Powell [4 October 2002]

Little Jack Horner
by Anthony Powell

Horner had got himself established as far as possible from the centre of the room and I was suddenly made aware, as one often is by actions which are in themselves quite commonplace, that he was about to do something which would give him enormous satisfaction. He had somehow acquired a large seasonal confection which he was beginning to attack with a degree of enthusiasm I had not seen him display since the midnight feasts we had enjoyed at school. Eschewing the normal recourse to eating utensils, he plunged his hand through the pastry and extracted an entire fruit, an achievement which was accompanied by a cry of self-congratulation and a beatific expression reminiscent of some of those on the faces one sees in the more popular of the pre-Raphaelite portraits.

Prof. Alan Alexander; reproduced in EO Parrott, Imitations of Immortality; Penguin, 1987. Originally written for New Statesman.
[Contributed by Noreen Marshall]

26 March 2008

Powell Quotes – Miscellaneous

Politics [4 July 2004]

I love to read Christopher Hitchens – except when he writes about politics. An essay of his on one of my obsessions, the British novelist Anthony Powell, was the shrewdest analysis of that writer's 12-volume exploration of this century I had read – until Hitchens started throwing charges of Powell's 'extreme and splenetic conservatism' around.

Alan Wolfe; in a review of Christopher Hitchens's book No One Left To Lie To in Washington Post; 04 July 1999
[Contributed by Jane Helwig]


Rebellion [17 March 2003]

It has been said (by Anthony Powell whose twelve-volume A Dance to the Music of Time provided the greatest reading pleasure of my first 40 years) that we date ourselves by the standards against which we rebel.

George F Will; quoted by Nexis in Newsweek; 27 April 1981
[Contributed by William Wleklinski]