O, How the Wheel Becomes It! Characters

Anthony Powell

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

G. F. H. Shadbold is a professional man of letters, author of a slim volume of verses, mostly juvenilia; a play about his school experience, which exists in a limited edition tagged in catalogs “Does not turn up often”; two novels, long out of print; a critical study of the Cavalier poets; and two notebooks, one entry of which attempts to explicate Ophelia’s cry in Hamlet, “O, how the wheel becomes it!” in terms of the wheel of fortune. The titles and descriptions of the works are ample indication of the triviality of Shadbold’s literary efforts. He “keeps his hand in” primarily by writing reviews, notices, and obituaries of other writers.

Shadbold is not only the main character of this slight Powell novel; he is also its sole reason for being. The novel seems primarily to have been written to expose just the type of pompous literary drone that Shadbold is. From the beginning of the novel to its end, Powell mercilessly exposes him as a smug and self-satisfied old fool. Indeed, the novel is like an extended obituary of Shadbold, written by someone as smug as he; thus, it is a true case of poetic justice, for Shadbold is given to attacking his own literary enemies after their death.

The other characters in the novel fare no better. If they seem to be less the butt of Powell’s satiric joke than Shadbold, it is only because they occupy the center stage less often. Isolde Upjohn, for example, is another literary ghoul, who, like Shadbold, hopes to capitalize on the past and the dead Winterwade. The television interviewer, Rod Cubbage, is the classic example of one who feeds on the fame of others, for he makes his living digging up whatever gossip that will make his show a success. In the academic world, Horace Grigham, the jargon-spouting literary critic, is guilty of much the same kind of unearthing of the secrets of the creative and the famous and surviving on them. As is typical of satire, Powell’s characters function largely as representations of the subject of his barbs—in this case, all those who feed on the fame of others.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Geoffrey F. H. “Shad” Shadbold

Geoffrey F. H. “Shad” Shadbold, a writer in his mid-seventies with a lingering reputation as a literary reviewer and broadcaster. He considers himself a better man of letters than he ever was. His early work as a poet and a minor novelist is almost forgotten. Rather affected in his old age, bearded, long-haired, and given to eccentric garb, he guards his modest fame fiercely and is much disturbed when asked to judge the diary of an old friend, Cedric Winterwade, who died in World War II. The work turns out to be disturbingly good, but Shadbold tells the prospective publisher otherwise, partly out of professional jealousy and partly because the diary reveals that Winterwade, whom Shadbold had patronized as nondescript during their friendship, had been sexually involved with Isolde Upjohn, a pretty model whom Shadbold had pursued in vain. Despite Shadbold’s bad report, the diary seems to get a second life when Isolde suddenly appears, eager to publish her memoirs and full of enthusiasm for telling all about the Winterwade escapade. Shadbold, who is bruised professionally and personally—as well as long since inclined to bask lazily in his old reputation—is roused to move quickly to protect his ego.

Isolde Upjohn

Isolde Upjohn, who in her youth was a model, pursued by young men of fashion but “kept” by an older man. She suddenly shows up as Mrs. Abdullah, having written her...

(The entire section is 602 words.)