Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quotable: Anthony Powell

In my non-fiction reading I've been moving through the darker periods of history: Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel (about live in the trenches of the Great War) and Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands (about the mass killing campaigns of Hitler and Stalin and the area between Russia and Germany where they both performed their greatest crimes). However, my fiction reading has consisted of the delightfully elliptical prose of English novelist Anthony Powell as I work my way through A Dance to the Music of Time for the second time round. Two recent bits that particularly caught my eye, the first for sheer enjoyment of the author's voice:
If so tortuous a comparison of mediocre talent ever be resolved, St John Clarke was probably to be judged a 'better' writer than Isbister was a painter. However, when St John Clarke died in the early spring, he was less well served than his contemporary in respect of obituaries. Only a few years before, Isbister had managed to capture, perhaps helped finally to expend, what was left of an older, more sententious tradition of newspaper panegyric. There were more reasons for this than the inevitably changing taste in mediocrity. The world was moving into a harassed era.
The other section that struck me was perhaps in part because it reminded me of the Orwell that I'd been reading recently. Here the narrator is talking to an acquaintance (a committed communist writer) about the narrator's brother-in-law (Alfred Lord Warminster also known by his secondary title: Erridge) who is just coming back from fighting with the Republicans in Spain:
'Alfred is too simple a man to embroil himself in practical affairs like fighting an ideological war,' said Quiggin severely. 'A typical aristocratic idealist, I'm afraid. Perhaps it is just as well his health has broken down. He has never been strong, of course. He is the first to admit it. In fact he is too fond of talking about his health. As I have said before, Alf is rather like Prince Myshkin in The Idiot.'

I was surprised at Quiggin's attitude towards Erridge's illness. I tried to work out who Quiggin himself would be in Dostoevsky's novel if Erridge was Prince Myshkin and Mona -- presumably -- Nastasya Filippovna. It was all too complicated. I could not remember the story with sufficient clarity. Quiggin spoke again.

'I have been hearing something of Alf's difficulties from one of our own agents just back from Barcelona,' he said. 'Alf seems to have shown a good deal of political obtuseness -- perhaps I should say childlike innocence. He appears to have treated POUM, FAI, CNT and UGT, as if they were all the same left-wing extension of the Labour Party. I was not surprised to hear that he was going to be arrested at the time he decided to leave Spain. If you can't tell the difference between a Trotskyite-Communist, an Anarcho-Syndicalist, and a properly paid-up Party Member, you had better keep away from the barricades.'

'You had indeed.'

'It is not fair on the workers.'
There is is. Any of you thinking of approaching the barricades have been warned.

[Both of those selections are from Casanova's Chinese Restaurant, the second of the three novels in A Dance to the Music of Time: Second Movement.]

1 comment:

mrsdarwin said...

"If you can't tell the difference between a Trotskyite-Communist, an Anarcho-Syndicalist, and a properly paid-up Party Member, you had better keep away from the barricades."

This line keeps popping into my head today and making me laugh.