Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Reviewers were reasonably kind to Venusberg, many commenting upon Powell’s success in clearing the hurdle of a second novel, and its sale of about three thousand copies was quite respectable for the period. The worsening economic depression meant that unlike his first novel, Afternoon Men (1931), Venusberg did not find an immediate home with an American publisher, and it was only in 1952 that the book finally appeared in the United States.

In Venusberg, Powell can be seen moving toward the narrative point of view so skillfully utilized in his twelve-part masterwork, A Dance to the Music of Time (1951-1975). Lushington, Venusberg’s protagonist, is a problematic figure because he is deeply involved in the plot at the same time that he is attempting to explain it to the reader; forced to choose between objectivity and subjectivity, Powell chooses the former in ways that diminish the individual subtleties of Lushington’s character. A more satisfactory solution is achieved with Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator of A Dance to the Music of Time, who functions primarily as an observer and only secondarily as a participant in the action.

In Venusberg, Powell was still searching for the right balance between protagonist and plot, and thus it is probably most accurate to view it as an exploratory and somewhat tentative novel that nevertheless contains intimations of what Powell would subsequently achieve.