The opening pages of Venusberg introduce a young English journalist, Lushington, who is about to embark on a voyage into unfamiliar emotional and geographical territory. Lushington’s assignment to a country still torn by political strife (never named but, according to Anthony Powell’s memoir Infants of the Spring, 1976, based on Finland) comes at a time when his personal affairs are in limbo. His former lover Lucy, with whom he is still on very good terms, has conceived an unrequited passion for his friend da Costa, who is now stationed in the country to which Lushington has been assigned. Since this relationship shows no signs of resolving itself into either a complete break from or a reconciliation with Lucy, Lushington starts his journey with feelings of both sadness and romantic expectation: Although he will certainly miss Lucy, his new posting may result in new loves and adventures.
On the sea voyage out, Lushington makes the acquaintance of Count Scherbatcheff, an exile from his native Russia who serves as Lushington’s guide to the cultural peculiarities of the Baltic region, and Count Michel Bobel, a smooth-talking schemer who is obviously not the member of the nobility he claims to be. Lushington also becomes intimate with Ortrud Mavrin, a beautiful young married woman who has been away from home and husband on a shopping trip. They soon become lovers with a brisk, matter-of-fact directness that both does and does not satisfy Lushington’s romantic yearnings: While, on the one hand, Ortrud is the physical embodiment of his conception of feminine beauty, on the other, her calculating manner and sexual frankness make her a less than satisfying object of his deeper affections. This collision between the musings of fantasy and the facts of reality is the first sign of a dichotomy that will prove to be fundamental to Venusberg’s narrative development.
Lushington’s arrival in the capital city, which is also where Ortrud lives, sets the stage for the subsequent plot developments. He resumes his friendship...
(The entire section is 841 words.)