Life imitates art

by John Q on October 21, 2007

I thought, at first that he worked far harder than most of the men I knew. Later, I came to doubt this, finding that Quiggin’s work was something to be discussed rather than tackled and that what he really enjoyed was drinking cups of coffee at odd times of day

Anthony Powell, in A Dance to the Music of Time. Any of my co-authors will recognise this much of the picture, at least.



Kieran Healy 10.21.07 at 9:44 pm

Good job your name isn’t “Widmerpool.”


John Quiggin 10.21.07 at 9:58 pm

Indeed, he’s the only character less attractive than Quiggin in the opening volumes, though I think Quiggin tends to come out better in the end.


dave heasman 10.21.07 at 10:39 pm

I particularly liked the way Powell describes Sillery telling Quiggin that he & Mark Members were near neighbours. These books, which I read in the early 80s, have left me lasting memories of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of scenes.


Peter 10.22.07 at 11:25 am

You might be an exception to the rule that people born after about 1960 do not find Powell’s books nearly as interesting as people born before that date. Why would anyone with a finite lifespan read such fusty writing as this? It is hard to believe that Powell was writing at the same time as Jack Kerouac — the two could be from different centuries.


Doug T 10.22.07 at 1:38 pm

The books are enjoyable because they’re extremely funny and packed full of memorable characters. The “portrait of an age” aspect doesn’t appeal to my nostalgia, and as an American a lot of the underlying class issues are also largely lost on me. On the other hand, it adds some historical interest to the novels.


astrongmaybe 10.22.07 at 4:17 pm

@4 It is hard to believe that Powell was writing at the same time as Jack Kerouac—the two could be from different centuries.


Powell – multi-volume realist, droll social observation: nineteenth century boy.
Kerouac – believer in derangement, intoxication, the spiritual importance of long, spontaneous journeys, the quest for the “blue flower”, the soul’s priority over its forms: late-eighteenth century Romantic.


a different mikey 10.22.07 at 7:38 pm

Well, having been born in 1959, I find it impossible to believe one could find Kerouac anywhere near as entertaining and wise as Powell. In the famous words of Capote re: Kerouac; “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

Only through the miracle of the intertubes have I ever met people that had read Powell, its not easy to push a twelve volume novel on your friends. Surely you’ve seen ‘X. Trapnel’ here at CT in comments?


X. Trapnel 10.22.07 at 11:10 pm

Someone called?

I’ll confess: I was born in 1980, and I only picked up the saga because one of the back cover blurbs implied that it could serve as a cultural-snobbery substitute for Proust–and I sure as hell wasn’t going to read Proust. But by the second book I started to really get into them, and by the time my namesake arrived on the stage I was completely hooked.


Doug K 10.25.07 at 3:51 pm

peter@4 – hm. born 1960, in an outpost of empire.
I enjoyed Kerouac but it was in some ways a guilty pleasure, on the lines of ‘classicism is health, romanticism disease’. Powell is lucid and very funny, no ambivalence about reading him.
Seems to me more of an American/British distinction than one of centuries: quadrilles and minuets versus improvisational couple dances.

When I first encountered John’s posts I thought he must be using a nom-de-plume..

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