Lisa's Reviews > A Dance to the Music of Time: 2nd Movement

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
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Mar 30, 2012

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bookshelves: britain, c20th, 1001-books-read
Read from January 22 to March 30, 2012

** spoiler alert ** I enjoyed this, but wasn't utterly captivated as I was with the First Movement. And I found it harder to keep track of what was going on. So apologies for all the spoilers, but I need to note plot points here as a reference for the next two volumes. (And I wish I'd done it with Volume 1).

The burlesque tone of Book 4 is signalled by the title, At Lady Molly's, since the name Molly is more often associated with servants than with the aristocracy. It is 1934 and the Great Depression is in full swing, but there is little commentary about this (except perhaps obliquely in that Nick's work as a scriptwriter meets with little success). Widmerpool turns up again, this time with plans to marry twice-widowed and slightly barmy Mildred Haycock, whose parents are much puzzled by this upstart and they badger Nick about his antecedents throughout the novel.

Coincidental meetings abound. Nick bumps into Quiggin and they set off together for a weekend visit to the country where Quiggin and Mona Templer are staying in a cottage. This visit facilitates a meeting with the eccentric Lord Warminster, otherwise known as Erridge, because he owns the cottage. Their excursion to the Tolland estate, Thrubworth Park, leads to Nick meeting up with Isobel, his future wife. Then there is a subsequent visit to Umfraville's nightclub with Lady Molly's husband Ted Jeavons - and who should be there but lo! the ubiquitous Widmerpool, together with Mrs Haycock and Templer. Somehow I knew that the Widmerpool engagement would fall through because he is clearly destined for greater things.

Book 5 (Casanova's Chinese Restaurant) begins with some recapitulations from the 1920s so that characters can be introduced or revisited, the most memorable of whom are Mr Deacon, the composer Moreland and the McLinticks whose disastrous marriage is dissected in gloomy detail. Nick, on the other hand, marries Isobel but there is very little about this, Isobel making only occasional appearances to visit other more significant characters such as Matilda Moreland when she goes into hospital to have a baby, an episode that also allows for an encounter with Widmerpool who is having treatment for unmentionable ailments that he is only too happy to talk about. (Ugh!) Nick's new in-laws the Tollands deplore (in the usual laid-back way) Erridge's escapade in the Spanish Civil War. And Stringham, more than a little pickled, turns up at a party given by Mrs Foxe (to celebrate Moreland's new symphony) but he is quickly whisked away by the indefatigable Miss Weeden. (Of whom, more in the next book).

By Book 6 (The Kindly Ones) patterns begin to emerge as the story moves to the period between the wars, together with a somewhat disorientating flashback to just before WW1.

Nick's marriage thus far has defied the trend towards divorce and remarriage. It's interesting that the commentary is so sanguine about this, I expect that most readers would have formed the impression that flimsy marriages are a comparatively recent phenomenon. Divorce was always affordable for the upper classes long before ordinary people could access it, but I had thought that divorced women were social pariahs. Certainly not so in this book!

The decline of the aristocratic classes seems to gather pace in this volume. Miss Weeden makes a startling marriage usurping affronted offspring, and Widmerpool becomes a military man of note. Even allowing for his self-aggrandising claims to have access to major military secrets, he has clearly grasped the opportunities offered by war - not just social opportunities afforded by rank but also investment opportunities. Nick, on the other hand is still floundering around going nowhere much, and only succeeds in getting a commission by chance. As estates are requisitioned for military purposes and the prospect of having to take in evacuees is only forestalled by discreet corruption of the process, the writing seems to be on the wall for the leisured classes.

It is a scene at Stourwater which sets the tone of The Kindly Ones (an ironic title, since it alludes to the vengeful Greek furies). In the year before the war, Nick visits the Morelands in the country and along with Templer they go to dinner at Sir Magnus Donners' stately home. As an amusement they decide to perform a series of tableaux, dressing up as The Seven Deadly Sins so that Sir Magnus can photograph them with his new camera. It is Lust, of course, that causes the trouble, and Templer's second wife, Betty, whose mental health is noticeably fragile from the outset, has a nervous breakdown.

Just before the war Uncle Giles dies and there is another burlesque, this time at one of those Fawlty Towers type seaside hotels, run by Albert (who used to be cook for the Jenkins' family).
Dr Trelawney gets stuck in the bathroom only to be released by Nick’s incantation of the pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo that Trelawney preaches. This calms Trelawney down so that he ‘masters his asthma’, tries the key again and lo! the door opens. Dupont turns up again, sleazy as ever, but when Nick’s curiosity gets the better of him he soon comes to regret Dupont’s confidences about his ex-wife Jean and (unknown to Dupont) Nick's former lover. Like many a man tolerant of male philandering (including his own) Nick isn’t as sanguine about women using men for their own purposes.

On to The Third Movement!
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Reading Progress

03/05/2012 page 23
03/21/2012 page 181
24.0% "I'm reading about 30 pages of this a day but not updated the pages because the book renumbers itself each time you move onto the next section. I'm more than 2/3 done."
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