Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5465
Powell, Anthony 1905–
Powell, a major British novelist, has been working since 1951 on his roman fleuve, A Dance to the Music of Time . Eleven of the projected twelve novels in the series have now been published. Most consider Powell's greatest achievement to be his witty and masterful portrayal...
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Powell, Anthony 1905–
Powell, a major British novelist, has been working since 1951 on his roman fleuve, A Dance to the Music of Time. Eleven of the projected twelve novels in the series have now been published. Most consider Powell's greatest achievement to be his witty and masterful portrayal of the insular world of the English upper and middle classes. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Anthony Powell … seems to me the best comic writer going, and The Soldier's Art is [a work] in which I sensed the harmony, the security, the inner integrity and vitality of important art. I must point out, however, that this novel is the eighth installment in the long novel called A Dance to the Music of Time, and there is no use denying that the series has to be read as a whole and that the later novels in particular may make only a rather dim impression on readers who haven't done so. There are other caveats to be mentioned too. Powell has chosen his minimizing title accurately: it really is a dance that he is recording, which is to say that Powell's structure is exceptionally linear and undramatic, and that his view of life fairly consistently avoids the brilliance of major comic art. And there is another very mild and unassertive narrator to be dealt with: Powell's first-person narrative requires an "I" whose behavior with other people won't impede the continual flow of their personalities, so we never get any inner drama of personal relations. But the mildness of Powell's narrator, Nick Jenkins, is never disquieting; his reticence about his work as a writer and his private life—about his marriage, for instance—never seems secretive or self-denigrating. Powell's success here is partly a matter of the security of his tone,… but the more important reason is that there is a clear harmony between Jenkins' mild reticence and his comic view of the will and the passions. We don't feel that Jenkins has oddly decided not to dramatize his own life, but rather that he is not a self-dramatizing person. This makes him a valuable observer. For Powell's work, though not closely organized as drama, is steadily organized in theme, and his main theme is not time, as the title might suggest, but the self-dramatizing will.
Robert Garis, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1967 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XX, No. 2, Summer, 1967, pp. 331-34.
In Powell we know what Proust would have been had he been English. Powell is quite candid in acknowledging the (not his) master…. Both writers share a great talent, taking the cataclysmic event and by extending it to a personal moment in time, thereby raising the magnitude of the event. Thus Nick Jenkins, the narrator, says: "During the period between the Potsdam Conference and the dropping of the first atomic bomb, I read in the paper that Widmerpool was engaged to Pamela Flitton." This sentence is no act of trivialization or contrivance but surely the way we all relate important personal events to the world outside…. By moving in and out to the music of time, Powell has created a number of characters who are among the most memorable in modern fiction….
Powell has taken for himself not merely the personal lives of a group of Britons but the story of their wars and their politics and the maddening way in which life goes on amidst death, the maddening way in which private lusts are displayed in public places, the maddening way in which none understands the why of his interminable existence, the maddening way in which a man named Blackhead, forever the bureaucrat, spends the war writing memoranda about bicycles for the Belgian Women's Corps, second echelon lorries for the Royal Netherlands Artillery, Luxembourg shoulder flashes or soap issue for the Polish Women's Corps….
What is Powell's secret? A great cosmic sadness about our lives, the cosmic sadness which flowed from Pascal as he described man's condition in the Pensées. It is Powell's skill and power in depicting man's helplessness that makes this, like his other novels, so unforgettable, so wonderfully sad.
Arnold Beichman, in Commonweal (reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), May 30, 1969, pp. 326-27.
In [Afternoon Men] Powell first established the fictional territory that he continues to occupy nearly forty years later: it is a world where members of the aristocracy, often slightly eccentric or seedy and never of the first brilliance, associate with writers, artists or musicians, and other, less clearly talented, inhabitants of bohemia…. In the later volumes of The Music of Time this world has been reinforced by businessmen and—during the war years—by soldiers, but it has never lost its basic flavour. Apart from its intrinsic merits, Afternoon Men shows the essence of Powell's fictional method. There is, in the first place, his reliance on style as a mode of mediating experience; this is not to say that he has sought after poetic effects or aesthetic concentration; but Powell has relied, far more than most contemporary English novelists, on the establishment of his own peculiar verbal environment….
The Music of Time is, in essence, a vast intricate collection of anecdotes, some of them as brief and cryptic …, others of them very prolonged and circumstantial, like Nicholas Jenkins's childhood memory of the dramatic episode one Sunday in the summer of 1914, concerning his father's cook, Albert, and a female servant called Billson, which takes up the first seventy pages of The Kindly Ones. This superb piece of writing, one of the great achievements of the whole sequence, also contains within itself hints of small-scale anecdotes….
Since [The Music of Time] is one continuous novel, Powell's custom of publishing a fresh volume every two years, although there may be sound economic reasons for it, does not serve him particularly well. The separate volumes are by now quite unintelligible without a good knowledge of the previous volumes, which novel reviewers do not necessarily possess, and the large-scale dimensions of Powell's unfolding narrative are often lost sight of. In fact, in its larger structure, The Music of Time is built up out of groups of trilogies, each of them covering a different phrase in the life of the narrator, Nicholas Jenkins. The first trilogy, comprising A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer's Market and The Acceptance World, covers the formative years of Jenkins's adolescence and young manhood…. The second trilogy, comprising At Lady Molly's, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant and The Kindly Ones, shows us Jenkins's life in the thirties, a period of consolidation, in which he gets married and begins to establish a modest literary reputation, against a background that looks increasingly sombre…. The third trilogy, which is made up of The Valley of Bones, The Soldiers Art and The Military Philosophers, covers the six years of war and the narrator's military service, first as a rather over-age subaltern with a Welsh regiment stationed in Northern Ireland, then as an officer with the Intelligence Corps in London, engaged on liaison duties with the allied armies…. The Music of Time would, I think seem a much more coherent work if it could be published in these constituent trilogies, instead of in separate short volumes which claim to be what they are not, self-contained novels. (The first trilogy has in fact appeared in one volume.)
The bald summary I have just given will not convey anything of the flavour of The Music of Time; particularly its multiplicity and intricacy of anecdote, and its immense range of characters, major and minor, which must run into about two hundred names. The appeal of Powell's work is of a suspiciously simple kind: it is, above all, to a love of gossip, to an intense though uncommitted curiosity about humanity, and to a general fascination with characters, and more especially with 'characters' in the sense of eccentrics and oddities. It is possible for sophisticated but addicted readers of The Music of Time to become caught up in the antics and interrelations (particularly the sexual alliances and severances) of Powell's characters, just as if, in the time-honoured phrase, 'they were real people'…. A whole-hearted absorption in Powell's work denotes that, whether one likes it or not, one is an adherent of what I have called the 'ideology of being English': to refer again to a relevant remark by Lionel Trilling: 'one of the things which makes for substantiality of character in the novel is precisely the notation of manners, that is to say, of class traits modified by personality'. This is peculiarly relevant to Powell…. Powell is exceedingly conscious of [the] 'hum and buzz', and part of the pleasure of reading him comes from seeing made explicit what previously has only been implicit and unexpressed in one's own consciousness. He is, in fact, a superb mimic; and, arguably, such a high degree of minicry—which we find in other English novelists also—is a danger as well as an accomplishment. One is uncertain how far Powell can appeal outside his own culture….
Although The Music of Time is full of chance meetings and the discovery of coincidental links between previously unrelated people, none of them seems to strain credulity, since they are typical of the strata of English life Powell has made his own, where novelistic possibilities lie all around. Not that the possibilities can be realised without some degree of determination and struggle….
Although Powell offers us a plentitude of character comparable to one of the great Victorians, he knows that, unlike theirs, Jenkins's world is not at all solid or stable; we are constantly aware of its inherent fragility and of the uncertainty of Jenkins's relation to it. Hence Powell's use of style—admittedly a tentacular, groping, leisurely style, in contrast to the brisk manner of the early fiction—as a means of preserving his narrator's poise and equilibrium….
[To] have Powell mentioned in the same context as Waugh and Proust is helpful at this point in the discussion, since it is precisely these two novelists who are most often compared to Powell. Compared with Waugh, Powell is not a mythologiser, and there is nothing in his fiction comparable to the recurring image of the doomed gentleman … in Waugh's novels. Although Powell is acutely interested in the past, he does not lament it; change and even decay are seen as inevitable and something to be endured with as good a grace as possible, since, whatever happens, life goes on. There are certainly traces of nostalgia in Jenkins's make-up, usually called up by paintings or buildings, but he never allows them to dominate him. His habitual stance … is not that of the judge or moralist, nor of the laudator temporis acti, but that of a cool but kindly anthropological observer. Because of his lack of mythic or obsessive preoccupations, Powell's fiction is less clearly patterned or structured than Waugh's. Both novelists, of course, owe a debt to Proust….
[The Music of Time] is a great work of social comedy in a central English tradition, but it also conveys the cumulative sense of a shabby and dispirited society; one's delight in his characters is, from time to time, tempered by a feeling akin to Matthew Arnold's outburst at the Shelley circle: 'What a set!' In the first two trilogies Powell is writing about a world still suffering from the physically and morally traumatic effects of the First World War, and in a quiet and unembittered way he is continuing the anatomy of a society in decline embarked on by Ford in Parade's End. Yet one must avoid seeing The Music of Time in too portentous terms;… it is essentially a comedy, and Powell has always been sceptical about myths of catastrophe….
The ultimate question is, how far can The Music of Time continue as the great comic work that it has, so far, essentially been? And then, how can it end? The dance is less elaborate and assured, and the surviving dancers are becoming visibly older and infirmer. For all his distanced discipleship of Proust, one doubts if Powell has the capacity for the triumphant recapitulation of a Temps retrouvé. His sceptical, empirical, untheoretical vision does not seem capable of a final, large-scale resolution. With this conviction, one regards the whole work at the three-quarter point with gratitude for what Powell has given us, and a certain muted disquiet about its future. The final volumes are likely to be increasingly overshadowed by what Kermode has called 'the sense of an ending', a sense which is not, I think, reconcilable with the freedom from change and mortality that we inevitably associate with the dance.
Bernard Bergonzi, in his The Situation of the Novel (reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press; © 1970 by the University of Pittsburgh Press), University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970, pp. 118-33.
'The smell of Venice suffused the night, lacustrine essences richly distilled.' The opening sentence of Temporary Kings sent me straight to the Oxford English Dictionary…. Dandyish as ever, and of course you might have known that he would go and choose the absolutely right word in the first sentence of a new novel, a word which looks pretentious but turns out to be precise and indispensable…. Admiration for Mr. Powell grows anew. Not just the meaning, but the overtones. Gosh, the chap has perfect pitch….
One book to go. No final judgement can be made until that novel is out, of course, but it does seem to me that two doubts which began round about The Kindly Ones (1962) have not been allayed by the instalments published since, indeed have grown keener. The first is that in order to tie the sequence up satisfactorily we still need to know a lot more about Nicholas Jenkins than he has ever been willing to tell us. Nick makes connection between events, but he scarcely exists except as connection, as a ghost whose function it is to recognize the old familiar faces. Is it too late to reiterate the hope that in the last volume Mr. Powell will turn the dry light on his hero's own face, so that for the first time someone has a sense of recognising him, instead of observing him recognising other chaps for the umpteenth time? The second doubt is rather a wondering whether the success which the sequence has undoubtedly found has been quite the success promised on the first page of A Question of Upbringing. Tact and taste and teasing irony are all very nice, and most of the reviewers, bemused by that authorial high talk about the evolutions of the dance taking 'recognisable shape', and eager to pick up the Proustian parallel, have credited these qualities with another beyond them: namely, coherence. How can we tell the dancer from the dance? The answer in Proust, is: Not at all. But is there absolutely in Mr. Powell's collection of brilliant separate comedies such a sense of one dance to be traced, such a unity making sense of the variety, such a common step or music for the reader to discern and enjoy and carry over from this book to the next? A key passage from The Acceptance World (1955), cogent halfway through the sequence, seems even more apt now it is nearly done:
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.
Mr. Powell's technique, his flair for intricate understatement, his ability to draw blood by raising an eyebrow, all this is, indeed, wonderfully adjusted for reducing the different speeds of human life to satirical slow motion, and his focus is unerringly close-range (which is why he is so funny), but Temporary Kings no more than The Military Philosophers (1968) and Books Do Furnish a Room (1971) has quite succeeded in unclouding the lacustrine depths of one reviewer's mind of the lingering suspicion that unfortunately he sees it as unnecessary to achieve a certain distancing, within the framework of his roman fleuve, to prove that this is not just an 'ordinary' world of bizarre 'characters' written up in a private diary. Who can hear the music? Where are the Furies?
Robert Nye, "Come Dancing with Anthony Powell," in Books and Bookmen, August, 1973, pp. 52-3.
So distant is the tone of "Temporary Kings" from that of the prewar volumes that Powell himself seems to express a yearning for his early manner. Near the end of the book he turns a recital performance of "The Abduction From the Seraglio" into a thickly nostalgic curtain call for the remnants of his cast, in which his old style and old characters are joined, perhaps for the last time.
The deliberate slowing down of the "Dance" is part of the gloom that has been closing in on Powell's novel sequence….
Working with the thoroughly gothic material business of "Temporary Kings," Powell remains in manner uncompromisingly classical. He has learned from Proust that subjective fiction can sometimes be speculative and analytic rather than irrational and emotionally indulgent; and he has made this classical subjectivism an all-purpose style, maintaining always the same dry, inquiring tone. Fortunately, Powell's gift for comic invention has also survived.
Leonard Chazen, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 14, 1973, p. 46.
Powell's novel [Temporary Kings], a consummate work of imagination, is fittingly coming to a close by concentrating on the processes and vagaries of imagination. Being also a great social document, this installment's shift to cosmopolitan Venice, where a writing conference is held, enables Powell to take measure of the new professional gregariousness that throws together people of all nationalities and backgrounds: the reference is now profession, not class….
Powell knows how to bring into the ambience of The Music of Time the unsettling presence of exhibitionism, of voyeurism, of totemism, of necrophilia….
Hearsay has always been important in The Music of Time, where the foreground, like life, is compounded mostly of regularities. When Powell wrote The Kindly Ones he had to report one of the nuclear events—the appearance in the Jenkins drawing-room of a naked maid-servant—at second hand, for Nick Jenkins was only a child and could not have been there to see it. One of the finest achievements in Temporary Kings, though a rather surreptitious one, is the occasional resumption of this brand of second-hand narration. The reason is that Nick is older—in his 50s. He is not in the presence of as much that is outré as he was once likely to be, so that, with the revelations of perversion, of passion, of near-treason—one is tempted to say, of damnation—Nick is near but not there. Nick, trying to glean all this from chance participants, makes it all tenuously alive.
John Russell, "More Music of Time," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1973 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc.), October 27, 1973, p. 30.
[The] story of Candaules and Gyges is not only the ruling metaphor of this profoundly comic meditation on sex and death in and out of Venice [Temporary Kings]. It may also be the single most illuminating clue in what I regard as the most absorbing literary jigsaw puzzle of our time—Anthony Powell's lapidary series of novels called "A Dance to the Music of Time," of which "Temporary Kings" is the eleventh, penultimate and, perhaps, richest piece….
Having long since accustomed ourselves to encountering Powell's self-effacing alter ego, Nick Jenkins, in situations no more remarkable than school drudgery at Eton, conventional deb parties in Belgrave Square, remote wartime training camps in Wales and dusty back rooms of obscure literary magazines, we Powell fanciers won't be put off by his turning up at nothing more exciting than a congress for intellectuals in Venice….
By choosing such "undramatic" terrain, Powell/Jenkins is better able to highlight the real drama that has made the "Music of Time" series, among other things, so vivid a social history of the British middle class in this century: the appallingly entertaining incivilities—conversational thrusts and parries, sexual advances and retreats, rumor mongering and professional jockeying—that constitute so much of "civilized" behavior in the West. By trotting out such "flat" characters as Dr. Brightman and Gwinnett, he can better keep them where they belong—under the microscope of a hyperactive sensibility that is at once satirical, bemused and panoramic ("Halfway between Henry Adams and Charles Addams?" he speculates about the transplanted, gloomy Gwinnett). And by proceeding in serpentine prose that can only be followed with a slow eye and a sense of caution, he puts the reader behind the microscope and asks him, as few books do, to look for himself.
Charles T. Michener, "Peeping Toms," in Newsweek (copyright Newsweek, Inc., 1973; reprinted by permission), October 29, 1973, pp. 102-04.
The Music of Time is a discreet, minor homage to Proust; but it is also a sort of muted answer to Proust, a restrained cross-channel echo. Not a quest, and not a record of an exceptional sensibility, it portrays merely a dance, and progressively reveals the not unattractive, as Powell might say, but distinctly ordinary mind of the man watching the dancers.
Although it looks like a chronicle, The Music of Time is really a set of strictly selected, highly focused scenes, spots of time rather than chunks or stretches of it. The scenes serve to underscore myths, point up patterns, connect characters, sever identities, and only incidentally, it seems to me, record anything much about the history of England. That is to say that the books offer the pleasures primarily of formal design, or more precisely of designs forming and unforming and reforming, like figures in a dance. The most persistent pleasure to be had from reading Powell is that of having your expectations skillfully and elegantly cheated: the musician plays a strange chord, or an old chord you haven't heard for a long time, even a wrong note now and then. Characters drop in and out with what seems afterward to have been inevitability, but at the time surprised you completely: you really thought it was someone else at the door.
Michael Wood, "It's Later than You Think," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1973 by NYREV, Inc.), November 1, 1973, pp. 20-1.
Unflinching coincidence is part of the formal structure of [Temporary Kings] as it is of the entire series; functionally, coincidence reminds the reader that all of the characters in the series inhabit a continuing social world (as do most of us). The very essence of the series is that the characters keep meeting each other in encounters over which they have but little conscious control. And it is the difference in their relationships over time, measurable because the reader is expected to recall the previous occasions on which their trajectories crossed, that enables the author to create a mood compounded of nostalgia and objectivity. It is a mood quite unlike that of any other novel that comes to mind and one that achieves an altogether remarkable feeling of reality.
Powell's capacity to provide details so striking that they seem, inevitably, to be reports of an observed original does not suffer, but, on the contrary, gains great power, from his elliptical technique….
No one would maintain that Powell's characters are drawn from the entire breadth of British class structure, although it is a fact that in the period he describes the rigidities of class origins had become far more flexible than they had been previously. It is important to recognize, however, that Powell is not involved in writing an exposition of social relationships or an explanation of the relationship between men and women and their specific environment. The book makes little appeal to sentimental recollection; what fascinates the author is the repeated interplay of characters in a social order as it changes over a period of time. In the social order with which Powell is familiar, the tempo of change accelerates but never quite reaches so high a speed that one cannot follow the dance or notice the changed relationships among the dancers….
In addition to attacking his subject matter and the narrowness of his social canvas, Powell's detractors focus on his politics. Powell is attacked for being a Tory (I have no idea whether or not he is one) and for being anti-Labour party and anti-communist (he surely is). Powell's objections to the Labour party and to the representatives of the Liberal-Labour establishment abound. I think it important to make it clear that the objections are not ideological, in the sense that they might be directed to elements in the system of beliefs or the program of the Labour party, or the Left, generally. Powell's value judgments are stimulated, rather, by the behavior he catalogues in those of his characters who adhere to the Left….
Like any other major novelist, Powell does adhere to a set of values in human conduct, and like many of the great English novelists of the nineteenth century—George Eliot and Jane Austen come to mind—he finds his characters' values in their deeds, not in their consciousness.
Roger Starr, "The Eleventh Movement," in Saturday Review/World (copyright © 1973 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), November 11, 1973, pp. 18-21.
At a time when so much new fiction reads as though it had been pounded out on a supersonic electric portable between a late lunch and an early martini, there is something hugely comforting about the very existence of a novelist like Anthony Powell. For over two decades he has been working steadily, at his own leisurely pace and with undiminished brilliance, on the 12-volume roman fleuve to which he has given the Proustian title A Dance to the Music of Time. Since 1952, when A Question of Upbringing appeared, devotees of Powell's subtly constructed epic comedy have awaited each new installment as though it were a letter from home packed with fascinating news of old friends and enemies, past acquaintances and one-time lovers….
What counts is the singular authenticity and wit of Powell's vision: his flawlessly patient scrutiny of manners as the token of character; his deft choice of gossipy anecdote as an indispensable means of probing the mysteries of sexual, social and political power; his tenacious curiosity about the slow changes in human fortune over decades of public and personal erosion and upheaval; the penetrating reach of his sardonically observant sensibility….
By his own count, Powell has drawn some 300 characters into the loosely knit texture of A Dance to the Music of Time, yet the architectonic authority of his imagination maintains this novelistic crowd in precisely the relaxed order—or controlled disorder—he means it to have at every given moment.
Pearl K. Bell, "Masterful Music and Muddled Magic," in The New Leader, November 26, 1973, pp. 14-15.
Over the summer I read, for reasons not entirely clear to me now, all the volumes that Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time then comprised. As a result, the summer of '73 will go down in my life as one of the longest I have ever spent. Fortunately, I emerged from that interminable period a wiser man: It is better to feel guilty about dropping a ponderous novel or series of novels in midcourse than to preserve a clear conscience by struggling through it….
To analyze the musical structure of a work composed mainly of trivial, unamusing, and pointless cocktail-party chatter is a wildly imaginative but totally misguided feat of creative criticism.
Temporary Kings is the eleventh volume in the projected twelve-book series, and it seems like one of the "better," more "serious" volumes chiefly because Powell disposes of a number of his characters and refers to others who have already passed on. Death haunts the book and gives it an illusion of poignancy and importance. An "illusion" because though we may be struck by the characters' final exits, we realize that we are mourning a collection of two-dimensional bores.
A sense of tension and finality, absent from the other volumes, is, at least in part, present here….
Still, Powell tends to ramble on in this novel, intent as before upon recording his forever floating cocktail party. The gossip, although more sexually explicit, is as petty as ever. I have long since given up trying to figure out who has slept or is sleeping with whom. As usual, Widmerpoole, supposedly one of Powell's great comic creations, makes his inevitable "surprise" appearances. Characters again chat about his wife's predictably unpredictable love affairs. (Pamela is a bitch, but do we need reams of testimony to support the fact?) Again, a few new characters are tossed in to shift the focus of the gossip for awhile. And again we wonder what Powell is trying to accomplish, other than to create a work that exists merely for the sake of existing, and why he needs so much space to say so very little.
I hate to be so hard on Mr. Powell for I do rather like his early works (particularly From a View to a Death) and admire his biography of his literary hero, John Aubrey. He is obviously an intelligent, sophisticated, and learned man. Perhaps to be entirely fair to his series we must accept it on its own rather limited terms and then admit that what it does it does well enough. But too often while reading A Dance to the Music of Time we question whether what it does was really worth doing at all.
Ronald De Feo, "Dancing in the Dark," in National Review (150 East 35th St., New York, N.Y. 10016), December 7, 1973, pp. 1367-68.
In one way we can marvel at Temporary Kings as being to date Powell's greatest feast of mythic allusion, liberally salted and peppered with overtones of love and sex and death. But in another way it embodies a grim metaphysic that transcends the explicit ingenuities of style, theme and plot, and approaches the near-final statement that Powell must make in the end. Such a statement has been latent in the series longer than one imagines. Previously it was scattered over the eleven volumes—in the deaths of the painter Deacon and the novelist St. John Clarke, and in the suicides of Maclintick, Barnby and Trapnel—a musician, a painter and a writer respectively; in the present volume it inheres in the myths drawn from literature (Frazer), painting (Tiepolo), and music (Mozart). What I am implying is that Powell's preoccupation throughout the series with the artist's death, and with art in general as being representative of mutability and decay, has been transferred to the imminent death of one work of art in particular. Temporary Kings does not merely view the passing of friends, family, society and culture; it looks on, inevitably, at the passing of Powell's great sequence itself.
I say "looks on at," for a novel so wrapped up in voyeuristic imagery tells its own tale: or rather, a tale that we might have realized Powell was telling all along. For like Proust, Powell is one of the supreme voyeuristic novelists of our era. His surrogate, Nick Jenkins (like Proust's "Marcel"), has been looking on these twenty years, and patiently transcribing the decline and fall of his class and his world. No detail of the lives of others has escaped him. Though he has been loath to comment on his own life, almost to the point of a maddening selflessness, the reader has understood it to have become a fine, tough web of knowledge and experience spun from the fragile threads of those around him. Now Jenkins/Powell is preparing to cut the threads. And here, I think, all the obvious comparisons with Proust end. We can expect no gathering of strands in the last volume of The Music of Time, no recueillement as in Proust's The Past Recaptured. For there are scarcely any strands left to gather. Of the old boys, Nick, nearing 60 in 1958 (the year during which Temporary Kings is set), and a broken Widmerpool are about the only ones left; and save for a few motley peripheral talents, Nick is the only artist left. Powell, who is as sensitive to the play of time and art as anyone who has ever written about them, must be torn between urgency and reluctance in completing what will undoubtedly be one of the masterpieces of our language. One senses this conflict, as well as detects the click of fate's shears in Nick's words to Widmerpool on the last page of Temporary Kings: "I must be getting on. There's a lot to do. I want to get home before dark."
Robert K. Morris, "Penultimate Pavane in Venice," in The Nation, December 10, 1973, pp. 632-33.