In the first scene of the first volume of Anthony Powell’s monumental A Dance to the Music of Time, the narrator watches a party of workmen repairing a street on a winter day. They take turns warming themselves at an open coal fire, clapping their hands and shaking their arms like actors enacting ‘cold.’
This seems to be a good start, but then the brazier makes our narrator think of ancient Greece, which takes him back to his school days at Eton and the boy everybody despised because he wore a slightly different coat once, though nobody could remember how his coat was different. The workmen are never seen again, nor anyone else who doesn’t have at least a modest trust fund and a good-sized rod up his ass.
I got through three volumes of the series, but if you want to save time and see a capsule summary of the thing, you couldn’t do better than look up an old Monty Python skit that captures the spirit, and some of the action. I think it’s called The Upper-Class Twit of the Year Contest.
The writing isn’t too bad, and I might have kept at it if it weren’t for the women. They are uniformly stupid, vain, unappealing, flighty, calculating, and stupid (I know I said that, but it bears repeating). Even the bohemian Gypsy Jones, who has at least a bit of flapper style, turns out to be as stupid as the otherss. The narrator calls her ‘sluttish,’ on account of her shortish skirts, I think, rather than the fact that she lets him screw her.
I was putting up even with this until the guys started theorizing about Woman, her innate capriciousness, the best methods of wrangling her, etc., and especially why there is no treatment of women as they are in English literature. One wise fellow suggests that this is because English novelists of “the first rank” are not physically interested in women. He has apparently not heard of Virginia Woolff.
So I gave up. I’ll have to rely on Monty Python for the rest.
Oh, I almost forgot…I looked up Powell on Wikipedia, and it said that he had been highly praised by A. N. Wilson, Evelyn Waugh, and Kingsley Amis, three of the most impressive coproliths on the English literary landscape.