Saturday, December 11, 2010

Species of spaces

Jenny has a thoughtful, well-argued, and zestily written post about attempting—and failing—to get into the spirit of Anthony Powell (thanks to U. Chicago Press's free e-book offer)...and yet I couldn't disagree more!

I had just (like 15 minutes before) been reading a chunk of the first volume, A Question of Upbringing, on my little ipod* before seeing Jenny's post, and was feeling very lucky to be re-entering Powell's universe. (Can't quite recall when I finished the twelfth and last volume, but it has been well over a decade since I read Question.) The passage she quotes with irritation brought me great pleasure, as did many others; in fact, pre-reading-Jenny's-post, I was trying to figure out how to copy and paste the following little bit to blog. It's Nick Jenkins, talking to his house master Le Bas; Jenkins and his roommate Stringham have just received a surprise visit from Jenkins's black-sheep relative Uncle Giles, traces of whose smoking can still be detected.

'I am afraid my uncle came to see me, sir. He lit a cigarette without thinking.'
'Where is your uncle?'
'I have just been getting Cattle to let him out of the house.'
'How did he get in?'
'I think he came in at the front door, sir. I am not sure.'
I watched Stringham, from where he stood behind Le Bas, make a movement as of one climbing a rope, following these gestures with motions of his elbows to represent the beating of wings, both dumb-shows no doubt intended to demonstrate alternative methods of ingress possible employed by Uncle Giles.


Powell's pre-war, pre-Dance novels are decidedly comic novels (Afternoon Men is my favorite, but all are pretty good); Dance isn't, but it's full of passages like this—I can't get enough! I love in particular the way it's choreographed, the way we get (almost by surprise) a very particular sense of space: We're focused on the dialogue between Nick and an irate Le Bas, while in another part of the room, visible only to Nick (and us), Stringham is goofing around. (The "Dance," appropriately, is full of such choreographies, particularly in the numerous party scenes.)

I also like how it's not 100% clear to us what Stringham is trying to get across—the humor reaches full impact with the narrator's explanation, which is itself hilarious in its ornateness: "dumb-shows intended to demonstrate alternative methods of ingress."

*This is a story in itself...

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Blogger Jenny Davidson said...

The Powellverse! My feeling is not as simple as irritation, I am intrigued, but in an itchy rather than a soothing way...

9:50 AM  

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