A Dance to the Music of Time: 2nd MovementAnthony Powell
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Anthony Powell
Part 1: Books do Furnish a Room
Part 2: Temporary Kings
Part 3: Hearing Secret Harmonies
About the Book
Anthony Powell’s brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations.
The final three novels contained in this omnibus show Powell’s characters, old and new, now with the insights, maturity and obsessions of middle age. From a cultural conference in Venice to the decline and fall of Kenneth Widmerpool, it is a triumphant conclusion to a masterpiece of English fiction.
About the Author
Anthony Powell was born in 1905. After working in publishing and as a scriptwriter, he began to write for the Daily Telegraph in the mid-1930s. He served in the army during World War II and subsequently became the fiction reviewer on the TLS. Next came five years as literary editor of Punch. He was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1988. In addition to the twelve-novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell is the author of seven other novels, and four volumes of memoirs, To Keep the Ball Rolling. Anthony Powell died in March 2000.
Also by Anthony Powell
From a View to a Death
Agents and Patients
What’s Become of Waring
A Dance to the Music of Time
A Question of Upbringing
A Buyer’s Market
The Acceptance World
At Lady Molly’s
Casnova’s Chinese Restuarant
The Kindly Ones
The Valley of Bones
The Soldier’s Art
The Military Philosophers
O, How the Wheel Becomes It
The Fisher King
John Aubrey and His Friends
Selections from John Aubrey
The Album of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time
Miscellaneous Verdicts (criticism)
Under Review (criticism)
To Keep the Ball Rolling (memoirs)
Infants of the Spring
Messengers of the Day
Faces in My Times
The Strangers All Are Gone
The Garden God
The Rest I’ll Whistle
A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME
Books do Furnish a Room
Hearing Secret Harmonies
Books do Furnish a Room
REVERTING TO THE UNIVERSITY AT forty, one immediately recaptured all the crushing melancholy of the undergraduate condition. As the train drew up at the platform, before the local climate had time to impair health, academic contacts disturb the spirit, a more imminent gloom was re-established, its sinewy grip in a flash making one young again. Depressive symptoms, menacing in all haunts of youth, were in any case easily aroused at this period, to be accepted as delayed action of the last six years. The odd thing was how distant the recent past had also become, the army now as stylized in the mind—to compare another triumphal frieze—as the legionaries of Trajan’s Column, exercising, sacrificing, sweating at their antique fatigue, silent files on eternal parade to soundless military music. Nevertheless, shades from those days still walked abroad. Only a week before, the peak of a French general’s khaki képi, breaking rather too abruptly through the winter haze of Piccadilly, had by conditioned reflex jerked my right hand from its overcoat pocket in preparation for a no longer consonant salute, counterfeiting the gesture of a deserter who has all but given himself away. A residuum of the experience was inevitable.
Meanwhile, traditional textures of existence were laboriously patched together in an attempt to reaffirm some sort of personal identity, however blurred. Even if—as some thought—the let-up were merely temporary, it was no less welcome, though the mood after the earlier conflict—summarized by a snatch Ted Jeavons liked to hum when in poor form—was altogether absent:
‘Après la guerre,
There’ll be a good time everywhere.’
That did not hinder looking forward to engrossment during the next few weeks amongst certain letters and papers deposited in the libraries here. Solitude would be a luxury after the congestions of wartime, archaic folios a soothing drug. War left, on the one hand, a passionate desire to tackle a lot of work: on the other, never to do any work again. It was a state of mind Robert Burton—about whom I was writing a book—would have well understood. Irresolution appealed to him as one of the myriad forms of Melancholy, although he was, of course, concerned in the main with no mere temporary depression or fidgetiness, but a ‘chronic or continued disease, a settled humour’. Still, post-war melancholy might have rated a short sub-section in the great work:
THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY
What it is, with all the Kindes, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and severall cures of it. Three Maine Partitions with their severall Sections, Members and Sub-sections, Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and cut up by Democritus Junior. With a Satyricall Preface, conducing to the following Discourse. Anno Dom. 1621.
The title page showed not only Burton’s own portrait in ruff and skull cap, but also figures illustrative of his theme; love-madness; hypochondriasis; religious melancholy. The emblems of jealousy and solitude were there too, together with those sovereign cures for melancholy and madness, borage and hellebore. Burton had long been a favourite of mine. A study of him would be a change from writing novels. The book was to be called Borage and Hellebore.
As the forlorn purlieus of the railway-station end of the town gave place to colleges, reverie, banal if you like, though eminently Burtonesque, turned towards the relatively high proportion of persons known pretty well at an earlier stage of life, both here and elsewhere, now dead, gone off their rocker, withdrawn into states of existence they—or I—had no wish to share. The probability was that even without cosmic upheaval some kind of reshuffle has to take place halfway through life, a proposition borne out by the autobiographies arriving thick and fast—three or four at a time at regular intervals—for review in one of the weeklies. At this very moment my bag was weighed down by several of these volumes, to be dealt with in time off from the seventeenth century: Purged Not in Lethe … A Stockbroker in Sandals … Slow on the Feather … Moss off a Rolling Stone … chronicles of somebody or other’s individual fate, on the whole unenthralling enough, except insomuch as every individ
ual’s story has its enthralling aspect, though the essential pivot was usually omitted or obscured by most autobiographers.
However, nearly all revealed, if not explicitly in every case, a similar reorientation towards the sixth climacteric, their narrative supporting, on the whole, evidence already noticeably piling up, that friends, if required at all in the manner of the past, must largely be reassembled at about this milestone. The changeover might improve consistency, even quality, but certainly lost in intimacy; anyway that peculiar kind of intimacy that is consoling when you are young, though probably too vulnerable to withstand the ever increasing self-regard of later years.
Accommodation was in college. The place looked much the same as ever. Only one porter, his face unfamiliar, was on duty at the lodge. After studying a list for a long time, he signified a distant staircase for the rooms allotted. The traditional atmosphere, tenuously poised between a laxly run boarding-school and seedy residential club, now leant more emphatically towards the former type of institution. The rooms, arctic as of old, evidently belonged to a fairly austere young man, whose only picture was an unframed photograph of a hockey team. It stood curling on the mantelpiece. In the bookcase, a lot of works on economics terminated with St John Clarke’s Dust Thou Art, rather a recondite one about the French Revolution, which might be pleasurable to reassess critically. I pushed on into the bedroom. Here a crisis declared itself. The bed was unmade. Only a sombrely stained blue-grey mattress, folded in three, lay on the rusty wires of the frame. Back at the porter’s lodge, the inconceivable difficulties of remedying lack of bedclothes at this hour were radically discussed. Later, in hall, a few zombie-like figures collected together to consume a suitably zombie-sustaining repast.
This was the opening of a routine of days in the library, nights collating notes, the monotony anodyne. One became immediately assimilated with other dim, disembodied, unapproachable entities, each intent on his own enigmatic preoption, who flit through the cobbled lanes and gothic archways of a university in vacation. It was what Burton himself called ‘a silent, sedentary, solitary private life’, and it well suited me during the middle of the week. For weekends, I returned to London. Once Killick, a hearty rugby-playing philosophy don of my college, now grunting and purple, came bustling up the street, a pile of books under his arm, and I accosted him. There were explanations. Killick issued an abstracted invitation to dinner. The following week, when I turned up, it was to be told Professor Killick had gone to Manchester to give two lectures. This oversight hardly came as a surprise. In a city of shadows, appointments were bound to be kept in a shadowy fashion.
At the same time something very different, something perfectly substantial, not shadowy at all, lay ahead as not to be too long postponed, even if a latent unwillingness to face that fact might delay taking the plunge. A moral reckoning had to be discharged. As the days passed, the hypnotic pull to pay a call on Sillery grew increasingly strong, disinclination—that was, of course, far too strong a word, indeed not the right word at all—scarcely lessening, so much as the Sillery magnetism itself gathering force. Pretendedly heedless enquiries revealed that, although retired for some time from all administrative duties in his own college, Sillery still retained his old rooms, receiving visitors willingly, even avidly, it was reported, with so far as possible the traditional elements of welcome.
To enter Sillery’s sitting-room after twenty years was to drive a relatively deep fissure through variegated seams of Time. The faintly laundry-cupboard odour, as one came through the door, generated in turn the taste of the rock-buns dispensed at those tea-parties, their gritty indeterminate flavour once more dehydrating the palate. The props round about designed for Sillery’s nightly performance remained almost entirely unaltered. Eroded loose-covers of immemorially springless armchairs still precariously endured; wide perforations frayed long since in the stretch of carpet before the door, only a trifle more hazardous to the unwary walker. As might be expected, the framed photographs of jaunty young men had appreciably increased, several of the new arrivals in uniform, one in a turban, two or three American.
In this room, against this background, Sillery’s machinations, such as they were, had taken shape for half a century. Here a thousand undergraduate attitudes had been penitentially acted out. Youth, dumb with embarrassment, breathless with exhibitionism, stuttering with nerves, inarticulate with conceit; the socially flamboyant, the robustly brawny, the crudely uninstructed, the palely epicene; one and all had obediently leapt through the hoop at Sillery’s ringmaster behest; one and all submitted themselves to the testing flame of this burning fiery furnace of adolescent experience. Such concepts crowded in only after a few minutes spent in the room. At the moment of entry no more was to be absorbed than the fact that another guest had already arrived, to whom Sillery, with much miming and laughter, was narrating an anecdote. Any immediate responses on my own part were cut short at once, for Sillery, as if ever on his guard against possible assassination, sprang from his chair and charged forward, ready to come to grips with any assailant.
‘Timothy? … Mike? … Cedric? …’
‘Carteret-Owen? … Jelf? … Kniveton? …’
‘Jenkins—how are you, Sillers?’
‘So you’ve come all the way from New South Wales, Nick?’
‘No—of course—you were appointed to that headmaster-ship after all, Nick?’
‘I can see you haven’t quite recovered from that head wound …’
The question of identification was finally established with the help of the other caller, who turned out to be Short, a member of Sillery’s college a year senior to myself. Short had been not only a great supporter of Sillery’s tea-parties, but also vigorously promulgated Sillery’s reputation as—Short’s own phrase—a ‘power in the land’. We had known each other as undergraduates, continued to keep up some sort of an acquaintance in early London days, then drifted into different worlds. I had last heard his name, though never run across him, during the war when Short had been working in the Cabinet Office, with which my War Office Section had occasional dealings. He had probably transferred there temporarily from his own Ministry, because he had entered another branch of the civil service on leaving the University.
Short’s demeanour, now a shade more portentous, more authoritarian, retained, like the sober suit he wore, the same consciously buttoned-up character. This mild, well-behaved air concealed a good deal of quiet obstinacy, a reasonable amalgam of malice. Always of high caste in his profession, now almost a princeling, he stemmed nevertheless from the same bureaucratic ancestry as a mere tribesman like Blackhead, prototype of all the race of fonctionnaires, and, anthropologically speaking, might be expected to revert to the same atavistic obstructionism if roused.
Sillery, moustache a shade more ragged and yellow, blue bow tie with its white spots, more likely than ever to fall undone, was not much changed either. Perhaps illusorily, his body and face had shrunk, physical contraction giving him a more simian look than formerly, though of no ordinary monkey; Brueghel’s Antwerp apes (admired by Pennistone) rather than the Douanier’s homely denizens of Tropiques, which Sopcr, the Divisional Catering Officer, had resembled. Even the real thing, Maisky, defunct pet of the Jeavonses, could not compare with Sillery’s devastating monkeylike shrewdness. So strong was this impression of metempsychosis that he seemed about to bound up on to the bookcases, scattering the photographs of handsome young men, and pile of envelopes (the top one addressed to the Home Secretary) as he landed back on the table. He looked in glowing health. No one had ever pronounced with certainty on the subject of Sillery’s age.Year of birth was omitted in all books of reference. He was probably still under eighty.
‘Sit down, Nick, sit down. Leonard and I were talking of an old friend—Bill Truscott. Remember Bill? I’m sure you do. Of course he was a wee bit older than you both’—Sillery had now perfectly achieved his chronol
ogical bearings—‘but not very much. These differences get levelled out in the sands of time. They do indeed. Going to do great things was Bill. Next Prime Minister but three. We all thought so. No use denying it, is there, Leonard?’
Short smiled a temperate personal acquiescence that could not at the same time be interpreted for a moment as in any way committing his Department.
‘Wrote some effective verse too,’ said Sillery. ‘Even if it was a shade derivative. Mark Members always sneered at Bill as a poet, even when he respected him as a coming man. Rupert Brooke at his most babbling, Mark used to say, Housman at his most lad-ish. Mark’s always so severe. I told him so when he was here the other day addressing one of the undergraduate societies. You know Mark’s hair’s gone snow white. Can’t think what happened to cause that, he’s always taken great care of himself. Rather becoming, all the same. Gives just that air of distinction required by the passing of youth—and nobody got more out of being a professional young man than Mark when the going was good. He was talking of his old friend—our old friend—J. C. Quiggin. JG’s abandoned the pen, I hear, perhaps wisely. A literary caesarean was all but required for that infant of long gestation Unburnt Boats, which I often feared might come to birth prematurely as a puling little magazine article. Now JG’s going to promote literary works rather than write them himself. In brief, he’s to become a publisher.’
‘So I heard,’ said Short. ‘He’s starting a new firm called Quiggin & Craggs.’
‘To think I used to sit on committees with Howard Craggs discussing arms embargoes for Bolivia and Paraguay,’ said Sillery. ‘Sounds like an embargo on arms for the Greeks and Trojans now. Still, I read a good letter from Craggs the other day in one of the papers about the need for Socialists and Communists hammering out a common programme of European reconstruction.’
‘Craggs was a temporary civil servant during the war,’ said Short. ‘Rationing paper, was it? Something of the sort.’