Anthony Powell by Neil McEwan (auth.)

By Neil McEwan (auth.)

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Powell's enjoyment in writing about his characters and their antics, in the first three novels, allows hirn to be entertaining about almost anything; even trivial matters are enlivened by his way of looking at them. A girl's inept uncorking of a bottle of wine can be a memorable comic incident. There are also some passages that find new perspectives on conventionally farcical situations, as where Mavrin chats with Lushington or where Bobel guffaws at Lushington's bedroom door. Agents and Patients goes further, consistently asking us to look thoughtfully at farce rather than just to laugh, while discovering amusement in unexpected features of conventionally funny types of scene.

I think I'm rather nervy', Blore-Smith confesses in Chapter I; in Chapter 4 he confides, 'I'm rather a neurotic subject'. His innocent acceptance of Freudian terms and Chipchase's assertive use of them against hirn are early signs of the relish for bogusness which later produced much richer comic scenes in At Lady Molly's where St John Clarke practises the Marxist talk he has been taught by Quiggin. Sean O'Faolain might have remembered some of the novel's imagery. The man in chains is said to recall 'some high-renaissance picture ofJacob wrestling with the Angel, in which the Angel is not pictorially represented, being suggested only by the contortions of Jacob' ( I ).

The sequence can be seen as a massive reply, a work written 'against Widmerpool', a defence offiction, literature, the imaginative life, the narrator's mild, speculative, sceptical, poetic, humanist habits of mind, against everything that Widmerpool represents. The choice of first-person narrative, which Faces in My Time says 'was preferable in dodging the artificiality of the invented "hero" who speaks for the author', was crucial to the whole enterprise. What's Become ofWaring is told in a narrative voice in wh ich Powell feit at horne, while not entirely bound to create a selfportrait.

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