With the eleventh volume in Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time we are really drawing close to the end of the dance, and for me there was a real feeling of the world moving on. Everyone is naturally considerably older than when we first met them, and there is also a lot of time spent looking back, remembering those already passed on, past glories and past scandals too. Looking back over this novel, I am amazed by how much Powell packed into it, so many old friends and new mysteries to be grappled with.
As Temporary Kings opens we find Nick Jenkins in Venice for a literary conference, it is about ten years since the events which concluded the previous novel’ Books do Furnish a Room’, Nick now in his early fifties. Here we are introduced to Dr Emily Brightman, one of Nick’s contacts at the conference, along with American Russell Gwinnett who is working on a biography of X Trapnel whose story was told so memorably in ‘Books do Furnish a Room’. Here Powell reveals what happened to poor X Trapnel in the ten years since the end of the previous novel, Trapnel remains one of the most memorable of Powell’s characters for me. Gwinnett is eager to meet with those who knew Trappy, and is particularly curious about the infamous (by now almost legendary) (Lady) Pamela Widmerpool, who handily, along with her husband, (now Lord Widmerpool) is also in Venice. Here we are in familiar Powell territory with people from the past turning up at the most unlikely times, often years after they were last encountered, and nobody ever seems surprised to run into old friends this way.
“In the course of a dozen years or more of the Widmerpools’ married life many stories had gone round, the least of them lurid enough to imply the union could barely persist a week longer, yet it had persisted. They remained together; anyway to the extent of living under the same roof. That phrase did not, in fact, define the situation realistically.”
Pamela is seen in the company of American film maker Louis Glober who has serious designs on Pamela himself. Widmerpool and Pamela are fairly unaccountably still together, although no one seems to quite understand why this is. Reference is made once more to Pamela’s apparent complex sexual problems, which we are meant to believe make her act the way she does. By now Pamela is in her late thirties, still a strikingly beautiful woman, as talked about as ever, her behaviour, if anything is worse. Pamela’s name is linked with that of a French writer whose death in somewhat odd circumstances has recently been reported in the press. Relations between the Widmerpools is obviously still dreadful, with Pamela making veiled reference to an unpleasant incident which is only fully revealed toward the end of the novel, the two rowing publically during a visit to the Bragadin Palace. Also in Venice at this time, is Ada Leintwardine (now married to Quiggin) with whom Nick visits Tokenhouse (an employer from Nick’s past), and Odo Stevens now married to Rosie Manasch.
Back in London, we meet Bagshaw again who opens his house to Gwinnett while he is working on his book. Here there is a quite peculiar incident with Pamela Widmerpool appearing naked in Bagshaw’s hall seen by a couple of members of the household, and apparently causing Gwinnett to leave hurriedly. Nick starts to hear rumours about Widmerpool’s involvement with a man called Belkin (whom Widmerpool seemed to have been looking for in Venice), and Sunny Farebrother predicts that Widmerpool may soon be arrested for spying. What Widmerpool has been up to is not entirely clear, and never completely cleared up either, as so often with Powell things remain just a little out of reach and veiled in mystery. A Mozart party is given by the Steven’s and Nick’s old friend Moreland conducts, Glober arrives with Polly Dupont (daughter of Jean and Bob Dupont) now an aspiring actress. Bizarrely old Mrs Erdleigh is also in attendance, issuing dire warnings for Pamela. There is an altercation between Glober and the Widmerpools as the party comes to an end.
There is an ending of a more permanent kind for two of Jenkin’s immediate circle, reminding us should we need it, that things are wandering toward their conclusion. I am now very much looking forward to the last novel in this sequence, just a few more weeks and I will have completed the entire sequence.