(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Agents and Patients is a farcical tale about the unscrupulous ways in which two sophisticated men of the world fleece a young innocent of his money. The rogues in question are Oliver Chipchase, an art critic, journalist, and amateur psychoanalyst, and his friend Peter Maltravers, who dabbles in the writing of film scripts. Chipchase is looking for a patient so that he can experiment in new methods of psychoanalysis. Maltravers is planning to make an unusual film which would document human behavior in the “candid camera” manner: He wants to assemble a group of people, preferably intellectuals, in a situation which is likely to produce interesting behavior, and film whatever develops. He needs financial backing, however, since the venture has no commercial value.

When the two of them discover young Blore-Smith, a shy, awkward, and inexperienced Oxford graduate who is studying law in London, they exploit him without mercy. Blore-Smith is very easy to exploit; he is pleased to enter a world which offers him what he thinks is lacking in his life: excitement and “meeting people who count and doing important business.” He agrees to finance Maltravers’ film and is quickly convinced that he could benefit from psychiatric treatment by Chipchase. Predictably, he gets what he wants but finds that it is not to his liking. His initiation begins when he meets the odd assembly of people who make up Maltravers’ and Chipchase’s social world: Mrs. Mendoza, known as Mendie, a beautiful and distinguished woman who owns a flower shop in a fashionable part of London; Commander Venables, a retired naval officer who is courting Mendie; and Maltravers’ attractive wife, Sarah. Blore-Smith distinguishes himself in this company only by his awkwardness.

Chipchase decides to take him to Paris to expand his horizons and loosen his inhibitions....

(The entire section is 762 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Bergonzi, Bernard. Anthony Powell, 1962, 1971.

Morris, Robert K. The Novels of Anthony Powell, 1968.

Tucker, James. The Novels of Anthony Powell, 1976.