By Neil McEwan (auth.)
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Hardy's hammer-blows of fate represent a far extreme, however, from the delicacy and tact ofPowell's contriving. He is delicate and elusive, too, in his treatment of modern history. The city, never named in the text, nicknamed by the tide, belongs to a new republic created in the aftermath of the 26 Anthony Powell Russian Revolution, as was Estonia, which Powell had visited briefty during a longer stay in Finland, a country that also contributed background to Venusberg. Although his aim here, as in all his work, is to entertain, Powell takes ca re to be accurate in recording the prejudices and social divisions of these Baltic societies: Russians are socially ostracised by patriots, including the highly civilised Professor Mavrin.
Business or the arts seems the choice for most of Jenkins's school and 46 Anthony Powell university acquaintances, some, like the Sillery protege Truscott, equally promising in both. Although publishing might be thought to connect the two realms, City characters do not take the book trade very seriously. Jenkins meets Mark Members and J. G. Quiggin at Sillery's tea-parties in A Question of Upbringing and has dealings with both throughout the sequences. His account of the literary world in the first five volumes concentrates on the story ofMembers, Quiggin and St John Clarke.
He sees, for example, that gender is of litde significance compared to the operations of the will, so that Sillery batding against Miss Weedon seems to be female, while she grows more masculine in asserting herself. This adaptability has little to do with sexual orientation, we gather from the older Jenkins, or with Proust's idea that a woman's nature may exist in a man's body. Sex is transcended by the urge for power, a weird phenomenon, the source ofincongruities that the narrator remembers as comical rather than sinister: Sillery is like Tiresias, 'predominandy male' only in outward appearance; he is like a wizard or shaman 'equipped to resist either man or woman from abisexual vantage' (4); when Mrs Foxe and Buster arrive, he and Tuffy 'abjure' their 'hermaphroditic' powers, needed for single combat.
Anthony Powell by Neil McEwan (auth.)