Thursday, 23 September 1999

Anthony Powell: The Kindly Ones (1962)

Edition: Penguin, 1964
Review number: 333

The sixth volume of Powell's Dance to the Music of Time concludes the second trilogy within the series, Summer. Judging solely from internal evidence, this would be hard to see. The first two books deal with the second half of the thirties, the events in the back ground forming the lead-in to the Second World War. In The Kindly Ones, war breaks out, though remaining comparatively distant from everyday British life for the period sometimes known as 'the Phoney War'. The rest of the background is shared with the other books from the first half of the series. The Kindly Ones doesn't seem to be an ending, more a transition between the peacetime and wartime novels.

The title refers, of course, to the euphemistic term used by the Greeks to refer to the Furies, supernatural beings who avenged crimes against the family. (It was believed unlucky to refer to them more directly.) They most famously appear in the third play of Aeschylus' Oresteia, when their legal case against matricide Orestes is the foundation of the Athenian court, the Areopagus. The name was often used to refer to violent women, and I believe was applied to the suffragettes by their opponents. However, there are no appropriate women in the novel to suggest that this is the reason for the title. I found it difficult to see why Powell chose it at all, unless it has a reference to the outbreak of war. (As well as the Second World War, the novel contains a flashback to Jenkin's childhood, to the day on which Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, precipitating the First World War.)

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