‘Temporary Kings’ By Anthony Powell (Book Eleven, Dance To This Music Of Time)

Fourth Movement

I just finished the penultimate volume of the twelve volume Dance to the Music of Time. Recently, I was musing to myself about the sadness of a series’ end, but I don’t feel that way (not yet anyway – but there’s still one more to go) about Dance to the Music of Time. Not because I haven’t enjoyed it, because I have. Immensely. But because it doesn’t feel like it’s ending. The characters are getting older – the narrator, Nicholas Jenkins, talks about the impact of turning fifty – but they aren’t dead (well, some are) and life goes on. And the books are definitely about life going on. There are some themes, yes, and it’s not really a naturalistic novel. And while it begins at the beginning of the end of empire, it’s not really a novel about decline, except insofar as fifty years old represents a sort of decline from forty years old.

There is a sort of ‘set piece’ in Temporary Kings: a literary conference in Venice where several characters converge. The conference has a sort of comic air to it, with Pamela Widmerpool’s tendency to chaos and sexual disorder causing some fuss, but the best parts were when Nicholas spent some time with an old friend of his father’s, living in Venice. A military man, he is the most unlikely figure I’ve encountered to become a leftist, socialist realist painter primarily inspired by abstract art. And he’s definitely of an old generation than Jenkins.

Widmerpool seems finally to have suffered his fall, too. Caught up in some low key espionage-esque scandals, he survives, but not unscathed. I know that he was always a left-leaning fellow – a fellow traveler, really. But it’s hard not to think of him as conservative. He loved power and never really seemed to care about the ‘proletariat.’ He ideals, if he had any, were some kind of vague ‘internationalism’ that I never really understood. But it’s nice to see him taken down a notch, though it seems he’ll never receive a literary punishment for the terrible things he did during the war.

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