You are on page 1of 6

ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 23, No. 1, 56–60, 2010 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0895-769X print / 0895-769X online DOI: 10.1080/08957690903496242

JUNE STURROCK

VANQ0895-769X0895-769XANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 23, No. 1, Dec 2009: pp. 0–0

Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 23, No. 1, Dec 2009: pp. 0–0 ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of

ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews

Simon Fraser University

The Arts in Anthony Powell’s Temporary Kings:

A Note and Some Comments

Anthony Powell’s Temporary Kings, the eleventh of twelve novels that form the sequence A Dance to the Music of Time, begins in Venice with a group of itinerant musicians performing the once popular Neapolitan song, “Funiculì- Funiculà,” outside a hotel to a group that includes the series’ narrator, Nicholas Jenkins. 1 Near the end of this novel, now back in London, Nicholas and his wife attend a charity performance of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The occasion in itself is important to the narratives of A Dance—two of the principal characters take a long stride towards death that evening—but Jenkins’s com- ments on the actual performance are perfunctory, unlike his protracted musings on “Funiculì-Funiculà,” and performances of it, present and long past. The arts—literature, music, the visual arts—are obviously central to this sequence and Powell continually evokes art of all levels: “high art” and popular art, the serious, the playful, and the meretricious. This observation perhaps applies in a special way to music, which functions in the series differently from either painting or writing. References to music occur probably as frequently, but more casually 2 —and more historically, so to speak. That is, whereas much of the painting and literature discussed and “quoted” is fictitious—either the work of fictitious artists or the fictitious work of actual artists, 3 the music in A Dance is almost always actual music. 4 Recognizable popular music—hymns, music hall songs, parlour ballads, Broadway classics—echoes through A Dance. 5 In part no doubt, Powell is exploiting the notoriously evocative quality of popular music (“strange how potent cheap music is,” as Noel Coward’s Amanda says) because of his concern with the complexities of how we experience time. The Rodgers and Hart songs of the 1920s immediately summon up the ballrooms frequented by the young Nicholas, as “Guide me O thou great Jehovah” and the other hymns and songs of his Welsh regiment help evoke the wartime experiences of Second

TheANQ:ArtsA Quarterlyin TemporaryJournalKingsof Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews

56

The Arts in Temporary Kings

57

Lieutenant Jenkins. In part no doubt, too, popular music is more casually evident than popular forms of the other arts because of Jenkins’s (and Powell’s) own tastes: “Music holds for me none of that hard, cold-blooded, almost mathe- matical pleasure I take in writing and painting,” he asserts (Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant 15). Painting and writing are assessed with some stringency, but any assessment of music is made only in passing, and then through the voices of Hugh Moreland, the composer (and to a lesser extent through Maclintick, the music critic), rather than through Jenkins’s own narrative voice. Although painting and literature function quite differently from music in A Dance, Powell moves as readily between different levels of these arts, from a pic- ture postcard captioned “Sex Appeal” to Poussin, from The Prisoner of Zenda to Proust. 6 However, allusions to these arts almost invariably involve an implied assessment. With literature and the visual arts, what is good and what is bad matters to Jenkins, as to his author. An important series of confrontations in Temporary Kings takes place beneath an (imaginary) Venetian ceiling painting by Tiepolo, who, with Poussin, is one of Nick Jenkins’s “most admired Masters” (Temporary Kings 48). The painting, of King Candaules showing off his naked wife to the hidden Gyges, plays an essential part in the beautiful and deadly Pamela Widmerpool’s intense interactions with her present lover, her future lover, and, most venomously, her husband, Kenneth Widmerpool: 7 as Hilary Spurling writes, using this episode as an example, “paintings form part of the emotional fabric of the Dance” (“Painting Time” 13). 8 Powell’s prolonged description enables an almost complete visualization of this nonexistent painting and thus a fuller realization of the scenes that take place beneath it. A little later in the Venice episode, Jenkins visits a former employer, Daniel Tokenhouse, now a full-time painter committed to his amateur status and to Socialist Realist aesthetics. The uncertain quality of Tokenhouse’s paintings is suggested, never stated, both through the cursory descriptions and through Jenkins’s own comic difficulties in finding a suitable response—though another character will buy a canvas as “a superb addition to my collection of twentieth century primitives” (154). Again in Tokenhouse’s studio, as beneath the Tiepolo, Kenneth Widmerpool appears, this time in search of a Stalinist contact, as before he was in search of his habitually errant wife. Both his complex and disturbing sexual life and his political maneu- verings take place partly against an appropriate background of art; significantly he is as blind to the second-rate Soviet-style realism as he is to the great erotic art of the Tiepolo. In the opposition between the imagination and the love of power that underlies much of A Dance, his position is never in question. As for literature, the contrast between the good and the second-rate becomes a real, if characteristically subdued, conflict in Temporary Kings. The aging film producer Louis Glober proposes to make one last film and wavers between X.

58

ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews

Trapnel’s unpublished (because destroyed by Pamela Widmerpool) Profiles in

String and St. John Clarke’s Match Me Such Marvel. 9 By this stage in the series, St. John Clarke has become the epitome of the second-rate artist, despite his on-going steady sales and the one-time rumours of a possible Nobel prize, while Trapnel is, according to Jenkins, “a very good writer” (Temporary Kings 27), despite his few publications and early death. While Trapnel’s impassioned discussion of naturalism in Books Do Furnish a Room (228–31) provides an important critical statement about the art of A Dance, Clarke’s work arouses in the young Jenkins “the savagery, which, when one is young seems—perhaps

rightly—the only proper and serious attitude towards anyone

arts in an inept and outworn manner” (The Acceptance World 26-27). As Spurling remarks, “even Widmerpool at his most repulsive comes in for nothing compa- rable to the ruthless and sustained contempt of this purely professional castigation” (Handbook xix). All of these observations bring me at last to my small note to Temporary Kings. During the interval at the performance of Die Entführung, Jenkins’s wife, Isobel, asks Louis Glober about his proposed film based on Clarke’s Match Me Such Marvel: “How will you handle the scene where Phyllida and Prosper get lost in the mist on the glacier at Schwarenbach?” (Temporary Kings 239). The incident she refers to is based on an incident in a little known novel Magnum Bonum (1879) by the minor Victorian novelist Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823–1901), in which two young brothers are benighted in the mist on the glacier at Schwarenbach, a night crucial both to the plot and to the religious life of the elder brother. This is a minor point, but not without interest. Lady Isobel is well-known to resemble Powell’s wife Lady Violet in many ways, including a “knowledge of obscure or forgotten fiction” (Temporary Kings 239). Violet Powell published several studies of minor novelists of the nineteenth and twentieth century, includ- ing E.M. Delafield, Flora Annie Steele, and Somerville and Ross. 10 She was a

practicing the

member of the exclusive Charlotte Yonge Society and published an article on Yonge and Dress in their volume A Chaplet for Charlotte M. Yonge, in which she comments wryly on Yonge’s “low opinion of the standard of grooming prevalent among the daughters of Irish earls”—one of which she was herself (113). Powell is known to have turned to his wife for help over minor points in his fiction and this is evidently one of them. More to the point, this source redoubles the dis- missal of Clarke as the author of “obscure and forgotten fiction” and aligns him with the sentimentality Yonge shows in such episodes, indicating his lack of the Trapnel/Powell brand of naturalism. In the last volume of A Dance to the Music of Time, Nick Jenkins reads Sir John Harington’s translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and continues occa- sionally, throughout the volume, to muse on the swans who rescue the occasional

The Arts in Temporary Kings

59

name from the waters of oblivion to which a personified Time condemns them (33–34). St. John Clarke is briefly rescued from these waters by a “not very exciting” television program on him (40). Other minor artists—significantly, visual artists—are more fortunate. The painter Edgar Deacon is the subject of “a stupendous rescue from the Valley of Lost Things” (229) in the form of a cente- nary exhibition, and Jenkins, who had readily dismissed his old friend as a painter is “more impressed than [he] should have been prepared to admit” (229). At the same time, a collection of marine paintings that Jenkins had seen at least twice with indifference in his youth proves to be worth consideration. Jenkins, like many of us, has no doubt become more tolerant with age. Yet the rescue of these minor artists is, so to speak, trumped by the rescue of a small piece by a major artist, Modigliani. This rescue—the last incident in the novel—is a literal rescue, not merely a rescue from oblivion. The Modigliani drawing, with its “marvellous economy of line” (250) that Charles Stringham, Jenkins’s friend, owned, that Stringham’s niece Pamela inherited and, dying intestate, passed on to her husband, Widmerpool, is rescued from a sort of funeral pyre of his belongings. A Dance to the Music of Time ends with the rescue of something of undoubted value within its own aesthetic universe. 11

Notes

1 A.S. Byatt points out that this scene is “a parody of the scene in Death in Venice where a

sings of the kingdoms of earth and the characters of the novel discourse of

death and the fear of death” (143–144). The reference to Death in Venice and the subsequent punning reference to Burns (“A Mann’s a man for a’ that”) (Temporary Kings 11) are among the very few references that Hilary Spurling omits from her “Book Index” in her Handbook to the Music of Time. 2 I doubt if Birns is right in his suggestion that “there are many more references to the visual arts in the sequence than there is to either music or dance” (69). 3 Examples of the latter include the Tiepolo “Candaules and Gyges,” the Sleaford Veronese, and the excerpts from Byron’s Letters, Pepys’ Diary, and Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. 4 Obvious exceptions are the works of Hugh Moreland, such as “Tone Poem Vieux Port,” or the symphony, the first performance of which is celebrated at Mrs. Foxe’s disastrous party (Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant), as well as Max Pilgrim’s cabaret songs, such as “Tess of Le Touquet.” 5 Hilary Spurling lists twenty-three items under “Popular Songs” in her Handbook to the Music of Time (244–246), and nine items under “Hymns.” 6 As Birns shows, the minor poems quoted in A Question of Upbringing suggest that there is “room for the minor, the quirky, the off-beat, the sidelined and outdated” (90). 7 In a letter Powell wrote of Pamela Widmerpool as “a cold and cosmically fed-up enchantress” (to Frederick Bradnum, 6 September, 1982, quoted by Barber 286). 8 Selig’s description of this episode and the interaction between the characters and the imagined painting is especially interesting (138–140). 9 The conflict is ultimately—and realistically—unresolved as the film is never made.

very old singer

60

ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews

10 Flora Annie Steel:Novelist of India (London: Heinemann, 1981), The Irish Cousins:The Books and Background of Somerville and Ross (London: Heinemann, 1970), The Life of a Provincial Lady: A Study of E.M. Delafield and Her Works (London, Heinemann, 1988). 11 Birns says, “what survives Powell’s ‘short twentieth century’ is art” (255).

Works Cited

Barber, Michael. Anthony Powell: A Life. London: Duckworth, 2004. Print. Birns, Nicholas. Understanding Anthony Powell. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004. Print. Byatt, A.S. “’The Omnipotence of Thought’: Frazer, Freud and Post-Modernist Fiction.” Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings. London: Vintage, 1993. 123–164. Print. Powell, Anthony. The Acceptance World. London: Fontana, 1983. Print. ——. Books Do Furnish a Room. London: Fontana, 1972. Print. ——. Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant. London: Mandarin, 1991. Print. ——. Hearing Secret Harmonies. London: Fontana 1977. Print. ——. Temporary Kings. London: Fontana, 1974. Print. Powell, Violet. “Miss Yonge’s Taste in Dress.” A Chaplet for Charlotte Yonge: Papers by Georgina Battiscombe [and others]; together with genealogical tales & bibliography ; also some little- known pieces by Charlotte Yonge. Ed. Georgina Battiscombe and Marghanita Laski. London:

Cresset Press, 1965. 113–117. Print. Selig, Robert L. Time and Anthony Powell. London: Asociated University Presses, 1991. Print. Spurling, Hilary. Handbook to Anthony Powell’s Music of Time. London: Heinemann, 1977. Print. ——. “Painting Time: Anthony Powell’s Pictorial Imagination.” Seeing Secret Harmonies: Pictures of Anthony Powell. London: TLS / Wallace Collection, 2005. 5–16. Print.

Copyright of ANQ is the property of Taylor & Francis Ltd. and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

Related Interests