Magazine article The Spectator

After the Dance Is Over

Magazine article The Spectator

After the Dance Is Over

Article excerpt

A WRITER'S NOTEBOOK by Anthony Powell

Heinemann, L14.99, pp. 176

It is no disrespect to a grieving family and friends, perhaps, to say that the first question to be asked on the death of a writer whom one particularly admires is: what remains in the out-tray? In the case of Anthony Powell, who died last March at the ripe age of 94, the prospects for any kind of posthumous publishing schedule looked bad. Even towards the end of his long career, Powell was assiduous in keeping his name before the public: two fat books of collected criticism (Miscellaneous Verdicts, 1990, and Under Review, 1992), three volumes of journals, the last appearing as recently as 1997. There have been rumours of a final tranche of reprinted 'pieces' - and the Journals mention a work provisionally entitled Some Poets, Painter and a Reference for Mellors (the latter a short story written in the Forties which first appeared in an ephemeral called the New Savoy), apparently pulled by Heinemann on economic grounds. Until this surfaces, the Powell-fancier will have to make do with this slim, occasionally abstruse but always entertaining notebook.

Powell's own introduction, presumably written some years ago, dates the book's origins to around 1930. The publisher's publicity material maintains that it was kept up for 40 years, but the presence of the name 'Henchman' towards the end (a character in Powell's final novel, The Fisher King, 1986) suggests that 50 might be nearer the mark. The contents, apparently scribbled in a 'dummy' brought back from Duckworth, where Powell worked from 1926-35, are entirely characteristic of this type of book - quotations, epigrams, paragraph-long 'situations' - but they also carry their maker's stamp like a spiritual kite-mark.

Precise dating of these 30,000 words or so of jottings is more or less impossible. A little amateur detective work suggests that the most fertile periods were the early 1930s and the second world war. Rather than offering a seed-bed for his first novel Afternoon Men (1931) the early pages are much more various: ideas for characters that were never taken up, names such as 'Torquil' and 'Fosdick' that eventually appeared in his third novel From a View to a Death (1933). 'Pantamelion', ultimately reworked as 'Panteleimon', the name given to the child of Lushington's mistress in Venusberg (1932), for example, does not surface until as late as page 20. Subsequently, notes for Agents and Patients (1936) and What's Become of Waring? (1939) follow chronologically, trailed by a mass of notes that derive from Powell's service days in 1939-45. …

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