Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Agents and Patients was the fourth of the five novels which Powell wrote during the 1930’s and which established his early reputation as a writer of promise. The novel is typical of Powell’s rather narrow fictional world; like his first novel, Afternoon Men (1931), it deals with the bohemian side of English upper-class life, the world of artists and writers, journalists and intellectuals. Powell rarely strays outside this particular section of English society.

When compared to Powell’s series of twelve novels, collectively titled A Dance to the Music of Time (1951-1975), on which any estimation of his lasting importance as a writer rests, his achievement in Agents and Patients must be judged to be slight. Within the limits of the picaresque tradition in which it stands, however, the novel succeeds well enough. The dialogue is swift and witty, the plot hurries along entertainingly, and Powell smoothly combines comedy and farce with a serious moral purpose.