Monday, 2 August 1999

Anthony Powell: At Lady Molly's (1957)

Edition: Penguin, 1963
Review number: 302

For the fourth novel in Dance to the Music of Time series, first of the second trilogy, we once again jump ahead a few years, to 1934, with the narrator Nick Jenkins now around thirty. His affair with Jean Templer over, Nick is earning a living writing scripts for cheap British films, made to allow cinemas to fulfil "the Quota". (At this time, British cinemas had to show the same number of minutes of British films to match the crowd-pulling Hollywood features.)

The style of Dance to the Music of Time is for each individual novel to concentrate on a few weeks of Nick's life, with gaps of up to several years in between. These weeks are those in which significant events happen to him and he meets up with the friends he had at school once again. At this particular period, the significant events in Nick's life centre around the parties held by Lady Molly Jeavons, and Nick's relationship with her vast family. Like any reasonably small society, in the circles in which Nick moves everyone is somehow connected to everyone else. This means that as the particular focus of Nick's life changes, we are presented with characters from earlier books in slightly different guises, as seen through their relationships with new groups of people. An example of this in At Lady Molly's is left-wing writer Quiggin.

In this novel, one aspect of the series becomes clearer. Through a friend of Jenkins' parents, interested in psychology, we are given an analysis of one of the recurring characters, Kenneth Widmerpool. This seems to imply similar analyses of the other main characters, and perhaps shows their origins in Powell's mind, with the idea that the novels would show the reactions of these different types to the events of the twentieth century as they affected London society. This would explain the slight feeling of eccentricity when any of Stringham, Templer or Widmerpool are being portrayed. Jenkins, of course, is meant to be the balanced, impartial observer - how everyone narrator thinks of their view of the world around them.

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