Study Guide

O, How the Wheel Becomes It!

by Anthony Powell

O, How the Wheel Becomes It! Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

To anyone familiar with the massive and magnificent twelve-volume novel series published by Anthony Powell between 1951 and 1975, A Dance to the Music of Time, this more recent comic satire will seem slim indeed. In fact, the book’s brief length (143 pages) and its narrow width in the British hardback edition make one think that Powell has written it to be literally a “slim” novel, confident that the critics will name it that anyway. This work is less a novel than a clever and witty literary indulgence, a satiric jab at creative and critical poseurs. The only character in the novel who remains unscathed at the end is Prudence Shadbold, for she pretends to be nothing more than what she is—a good craftsman and a good hand at a detective story.

The primary purpose of the novel seems to be to create an elaborate trap of poetic justice to destroy G. F. H. Shadbold, a pompous old hack who has not published anything in twenty-five years and whose earlier works, both critical and creative, were self-important and pedantic. The series of comic events which catch Shadbold in the web of his own past pomposity begin when his publisher, Jason Price, asks him to evaluate a recently discovered diary of Cedric Winterwade, author of a long-forgotten novel titled The Welsons of Omdurman Terrace, which Shadbold has previously recommended against republishing.

After Shadbold reads the diary of his old school companion and discovers Winterwade’s love affair with Isolde Upjohn, a 1920’s beauty much sought after by Shadbold himself, he recommends against publishing the diary in the most damning terms. His hopes to lay the...

(The entire section is 676 words.)