Sunday, July 31, 2011

413. The Violent Bear it Away – Flannery O’Connor

History: This is a novel published in 1960 by American author Flannery O'Connor. It is the second and final novel that she published. The first chapter of the novel was published as the story "You Can't Be Any Poorer Than Dead," in the journal New World Writing, volume 8 in October 1955.
The title is taken from a verse of the Douay Bible: "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away." Matthew 11:12.
There are various explanations for the use of this passage as a title, the most accepted being that violence constantly attacks God and heaven, and that only those violent with the love of God can bear it away. This is best shown when Tarwater drowns Bishop, he commits a violent act, but the “accidental” baptism is an equally powerful act of violent love for God, bears the previous wrong away.
Another possible meaning is that, specific to O'Connor's theology, both secularism and fundamentalism (that is the Protestant functioning outside of the Roman Catholic Church) are basically heresy, which blinds their adherents to God's pure truth. When God's grace comes into contact with an errant life, a form of violent revelation occurs where falsehood and heresy is burnt off and the individual then sees with startling clarity. Those who undergo this spiritual violence take "the kingdom of God" with them as they go through the world.
Plot: The novel begins when old Mason Tarwater dies. Prior to his death, he had asked his great-nephew, the teen-aged protagonist, Francis Tarwater, to given a proper Christian burial, with a cross marking the grave so that his body would be resurrected on Judgment Day. Young Tarwater starts to dig the grave but suddenly hears a "Voice" in his head telling to him to forget about the old man. Tarwater obeys and gets drunk instead. When he returns from drinking, he sets the house that he and his uncle had lived in on fire, with his great-uncle's body still inside. He leaves for the city and gets a ride from a salesman, who drops him off at his uncle Rayber's door.
Rayber is amazed to see young Tarwater, who he had given up on a long time ago after the young boy had had essentially been "kidnapped" by the boy's great uncle to live in the country and be brought up a Christian. Tarwater is also greeted at the door by Rayber's young son Bishop, who (it is implied) has Down's syndrome. Old Mason Tarwater (the great uncle) had commissioned the young Tarwater to baptize Bishop at some point, in order to save the little boy's soul. Tarwater is immediately put on edge when confronted with Bishop, but decides to stay with Uncle Rayber anyway. He doesn't think of Bishop as a human being and is revolted by him.
The three begin to live together as a family for a while, and Rayber is excited to have his nephew back in order to raise him like a normal, educated boy. But Tarwater resists his uncle's attempts at secular reform very much the same way he resisted his great uncle's attempts at religious reform. Rayber understands what Tarwater is going through. When he (Rayber) was only seven years old, old Mason Tarwater kidnapped him in order to baptize him, but Rayber's father rescued him before the old man could fully corrupt him.
After many attempts by Rayber to "civilize" Tarwater, and many attempts by Tarwater to figure out his true destiny (be it as a prophet, which was his great uncle's wish, or as an enlightened, educated modern man, which is his Uncle Rayber's wish), Rayber devises a plan to take Tarwater back to the country where the damage had been done in hopes that confronting his past will allow him to leave it. Under the guise of taking the two boys out to the country to a lodge to go fishing, Rayber finally confronts Tarwater and tells him that he must change and must leave the crazy, superstitious Christian upbringing that his great uncle corrupted him with. Tarwater, however, is not so easily convinced. While at the lodge, he meets up again with the "Voice" (the devil) who tells Tarwater to forsake his great uncle's command to baptize little Bishop and instead, drown the boy. One evening, Tarwater takes Bishop out on a boat to the middle of the lake, with Rayber's reluctant blessing. Rayber cannot see them on the lake but can still hear the voices faintly. Tarwater ends up drowning Bishop while at the same time baptizing the boy, thereby fulfilling both destinies simultaneously. Rayber realizes what has happened and faints, not out of fear for his son's life, but because he feels nothing at his son's death.
Tarwater runs away into the woods in order to go back his great uncle's house to confront his demons once and for all. He eventually hitches a ride with another man, who entices Tarwater to get drunk. Tarwater takes the man's offer and passes out, eventually waking up naked against a tree, his clothes neatly folded beside him.
Tarwater finally makes his way back to the old farm of his great uncle's, where the house has been burned to the ground. Tarwater had assumed that his great uncle had been burned up with it, but Buford, a black man who lived in the area, had actually rescued old Mason Tarwater's body from the house at the beginning of the novel when Tarwater had gone off to get drunk and given the old man a proper Christian burial, just as the old man had requested that Tarwater do. Tarwater realizes that his great uncle's two main requests (that he be given a proper burial and that the little boy Bishop be baptized) have been realized, which convinces Tarwater that he can no longer run away from his calling to be a prophet. The story ends with Tarwater heading toward the city to "Go warn the children of God of the terrible speed of mercy."
Review: First published in 1960, The Violent Bear It Away is now a landmark in American literature. It is a dark and absorbing example of the Gothic sensibility and bracing satirical voice that are united in Flannery O'Conner's work.
Flannery O'Connor was a devout Catholic, and The Violent Bear it Away reflects her religious beliefs. It is filled with religious imagery and themes, ranging from the power of passion to the dominance of destiny.
The most obvious theme of The Violent Bear it Away is the idea that destiny and religion will dominate over the secular. O'Connor illustrates this well, demonstrating the power of Tarwater's destiny as it dominates every obstacle in its way; the drowning of Bishop is transformed to a baptism, Tarwater's rape turns to revelation, and the secular Rayber fails in every way.
The importance of passion is linked with the power of religion. Tarwater is filled with passion; Rayber suppresses his. Thus, Tarwater succeeds and is redeemed, and Rayber is ultimately destroyed. This is shown when Bishop is killed; when he realizes that he has no love for his son, Rayber collapses.
The idea that everything that destroys also creates is evident as well. Nearly every symbol is gat and character in the book pulls Tarwater away from his destiny but also pushes him back. Rayber nearly succeeds in secularizing Tarwater, but he ultimately brings the boy back to Powderhead. The drowning of Bishop, the ultimate secular act, nearly destroys Tarwater's destiny, but the simultaneous baptism redeems it. Fire both destroys Powderhead and burns Tarwater's eyes clean. Water drowns and baptizes. Everything that destroys, redeems.
The novel's plot is simultaneously bizarre in event and puzzling in intent, and it is heavy with Old Testament imagery. At the opening of the novel, Old Tarwater has died, leaving Francis with the task of burying him. The boy abandons his assignment and flees to the city, searching for an atheistic uncle, George Rayber, who had spurned Old Tarwater's lessons decades earlier. During his life, Old Tarwater had been obsessed with need to baptize Bishop's mentally handicapped son, and Francis wavers between the need to complete his great-uncle's mission and his reluctance to follow in the old man's footsteps.
The bulk of the story, however, concerns the struggle between Francis and his uncle George--between metaphysical belief and secular knowledge. George is a parody of the arrogance of modern thinking; he is wedded to the belief that humans are shaped by their environment and by the atoms of which they are composed. Francis, on the other hand, is a portrait of the mysterious and even violent nature of religious passion.
Scholars and a legion of the author's fans have pointed out (correctly) that O'Connor did not mean Francis's character to be a satirical depiction of religious fanaticism. Yet the many critics and students who have mistaken both Francis and Old Tarwater as caricatures underscore the novel's greatest weakness; the social context has run away from the author. Even in 1960, when the novel was published, the two "hicks" seemed vaguely preposterous and dangerously harebrained to many reviewers (much to O'Connor's chagrin), and today's readers have an even more difficult time seeing these two-would be prophets as anything more than backwoods stereotypes.
Yet this tension between the author's intentions and the reader's reception hardly diminishes the power of O'Connor's vision; if anything, its accidental parody of fundamentalism offsets her deliberate (and undeniably unfair) satire of secularism. As in her other work, O'Connor is exploring the difficulty of seeking (and of finding) spiritual deliverance, especially since the path to salvation often leads the seeker away from the individuality of his or her own identity. The struggle that O'Connor portrays--between religion and secularism--is surely as present and relevant today as it is was fifty years ago.
Opening Line: “Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave, and a negro named Buford Munson who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting, and bury it in a decent and christian way with a sign of it’s savior at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.”
Closing Line: “But he moved steadily on, his face set toward the dark city, where the children of God lay sleeping
Quotes: "The old man's thought did not always move at the same rate of speed through every point in his story."
Rating: Very Good

412. Cocaine Nights – J.G. Ballard

History: This book was first published in 1996.
Plot: Travel writer Charles Prentice arrives at Estrella de Mar, a resort town near Gibraltar populated primarily by British retirees in order to rescue his jailed brother, Frank, who has confessed to setting a fire that killed five people in the villa of the wealthy Hollinger family. Charles knows Frank didn't do it, and so does everyone else, so Frank's motivation is a mystery. Upon arriving and talking with his sibling, he has no interest in trying to escape his plea.
In a matter of days, Charles becomes immersed in the strange world of Estrella de Mar, learning more of her dark secrets, and spending less time worrying about his brother. It involves kinky goings-on in a wealthy British resort community in Gibraltar, where there's not much to do but suntan, get high and play sex games. There are theatre and film clubs, a choral society, cordon bleu classes.... But the longer he stays, the more confused Charles is by the residents' breezy lack of concern about the constant background of vandalism, rape, prostitution, and drug dealing.
Things become clearer as Charles makes the acquaintance of local tennis pro Bobby Crawford, who has some interesting hypotheses about how to maintain the quality of the inner life in the age of affluence. As another of the locals explains, "Leisure societies lie ahead of us, like those you see on this coast. People ... will retire in their late thirties, with fifty years of idleness in front of them.... But how do you energize people, give them some sense of community?" Bobby's succinct answer, provided to Charles in another context: "There's nothing like a violent reflex now and then to tune up the nervous system." Bobby convinces Charles to help him replicate his social experiment in an adjacent retirement community, slowly convincing him that crime and creativity really do go hand in hand.
Constantly being manipulated while he thinks he's finding the truth, Charles soon finds himself out of control and at the nexus of certain disaster, at which point he finally begins to understand just what happened to his brother.
The end reveals that another murder is planned, the psychiatrist, the “savior” of the drug addicted, troubled women. A bomb is set to explode at the party, which will accelerate the town’s growth, just as the Hollister’s fire did the same.
However, when Charles goes to find out more from Bobby, he finds him shot dead at the tennis courts. Charles is caught holding the gun as the police arrive, the premise that he too will have to confess to a crime he did not commit.
Review: Yes, there is plenty of humour in J G Ballard's caustic dig at British ex-pat life on the Costa Del Sol but despite the claims of `dazzling originality' and `exhilarating imagination' it is instead a good but fairly conventional detective novel, very much in the English vein. Charles Prentice arrives in Estrella Del Mar, an outwardly genteel community of retired British professionals, where his brother Frank has confessed to starting a horrific fire which kills the Hollinger family. Frank was the manager of Club Nautico, the nerve pulse of the community, and nobody believes his confession, not even the police. As the Spanish police are ineffectual and disinterested Charles plunges into some clumsy amateur sleuthing to try and save his brother. However, he discovers that behind the façade of respectability the town is a hotbed of decadence and crime peopled by amoral and feckless egoists.
There is a popular tradition in English writing that enjoys depicting tranquil and genteel rural communities as a veneer for all manner of nefarious and murderous activities. An apposite comparison to Cocaine Nights would be ITV's Midsummer Murders series where deranged psychotics hell-bent on revenge lurk behind twitching net curtains or in watercolour classes. In Estrella Del Mar the principal force for good or for evil - depending on your point of view - is the implausible, floppy-haired, tennis playing Bobby Crawford who doubles as a burglar, high-powered drug dealer and pornographer. Charles is fascinated by the man and his motives and gradually becomes sucked into the dark underbelly of Estrella Del Mar and nearby Residencia Costasol forgetting about his brother languishing in jail.
Cocaine Nights is a pretty fast moving book, crisply written and not too deep, but the author does investigate the link between crime and creativity, demonstrates the danger of unbridled hedonism, and cleverly satirises the brain-dead, security-obsessed gated communities that were springing up in the 1990s.
Opening Line: “Crossing frontiers is my profession.”
Closing Line: “Crawford’s mission would endure, and the festivals of the Residencia Costasol would continue to fill the sky with their petals and balloons, as the syndicates of guilt sustained their dream.”
Quotes: “Selfish men make the best lovers. They're prepared to invest in the women's pleasures so that they can collect an even bigger dividend for themselves.”
Rating: Good

411. Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco

History: This book was first published in 1988; the translation into English by William Weaver appeared a year later.
Plot: The plot of Foucault's Pendulum revolves around three friends, Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon, who work for a vanity publisher in Milan. After reading one too many manuscripts about occult conspiracy theories, they decide they can do better, and set out to invent their own conspiracy for fun. They call this satirical intellectual game "The Plan".
As Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon become increasingly obsessed with The Plan, they sometimes forget that it's just a game. Worse still, when adherents of other conspiracy theories learn about The Plan, they take it seriously. Belbo finds himself the target of a very real secret society that believes he possesses the key to the lost treasure of the Knights Templar.
A number of sub-plots are woven into the grand theme of The Plan. Belbo's obsession with the plan is justified by his experiences as a child in Italy during World War II, his unrequited love for the mercurial Lorenza Pellegrini, and his desire to absolve himself from a constant sense of failure. Against the backdrop of the Templar Plan for world domination, the novel brings out the credulity inherent in all people.
The Foucault pendulum at the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris plays a major part in the novel.
The book opens with the narrator, Casaubon (his name refers to classical scholar Isaac Casaubon, and also evokes a scholar character in George Eliot's Middlemarch) hiding in fear after closing time in the Parisian technical museum Musée des Arts et Métiers. He believes that members of a secret society have kidnapped Belbo and are now after him. Most of the novel is then told in flashback as Casaubon waits in the museum.
Casaubon had been a student in 1970s Milan, working on a thesis on the history of the Knights Templar while taking in the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary activities of the students around him. During this period he meets Belbo, who works as an editor in a publishing house. Belbo invites Casaubon to review the manuscript of a supposedly non-fiction book about the Templars. Casaubon also meets Belbo's colleague Diotallevi, a cabalist.
The book, by a Colonel Ardenti, claims a hidden coded manuscript has revealed a secret plan of the medieval Templars to take over the world. This supposed conspiracy is meant as revenge for the deaths of the Templar leaders when their order was disbanded by the King of France. Ardenti postulates that the Templars were the guardians of a secret treasure, perhaps the Holy Grail of legend, which he postulates was a radioactive energy source.
According to Ardenti's theory, after the French monarchy and the Catholic Church disbanded the Templars on the grounds of heresy, some knights escaped and established cells throughout the world. These cells have been meeting at regular intervals in distinct places to pass on information about the Grail. Ultimately, these cells will reunite to rediscover the Grail's location and achieve world domination. According to Ardenti's calculations, the Templars should have taken over the world in 1944; evidently the plan has been interrupted.
Ardenti mysteriously vanishes after meeting with Belbo and Casaubon to discuss his book. A police inspector, De Angelis, interviews both men. He hints that his job as a political department investigator leads him to investigate not only revolutionaries but also people who claim to be linked to the Occult.
Casaubon has a romance with a Brazilian woman named Amparo. He leaves Italy to follow her and spends two years in Brazil. While living there, he learns about South American and Caribbean spiritualism, and meets Agliè, an elderly man who implies that he is the mystical Comte de Saint-Germain. Agliè has a seemingly infinite supply of knowledge about things concerning the Occult. While in Brazil, Casaubon receives a letter from Belbo about attending a meeting of occultists. At the meeting Belbo was reminded of the Colonel's conspiracy theory by the words of a young woman who was apparently in a trance. Casaubon and Amparo also attend an occult event in Brazil, an Umbanda rite. During the ritual Amparo falls into a trance herself, an experience she finds deeply disturbing and embarrassing, as she is Marxist by ideology and as such disbelieves and shuns spiritual and religious experiences. Her relationship with Casaubon falls apart, and he returns to Italy.
On his return to Milan, Casaubon begins working as a freelance researcher. At the library he meets a woman named Lia; the two fall in love and eventually have a child together. Meanwhile, Casaubon is hired by Belbo's boss, Mr. Garamond (his name refers to French publisher Claude Garamond), to research illustrations for a history of metals the company is preparing. Casaubon learns that as well as the respectable Garamond publishing house, Mr. Garamond also owns Manuzio, a vanity publisher that charges incompetent authors large sums of money to print their work (rendered "Manutius" in the English translation, a reference to the 15th century printer Aldus Manutius).
Mr. Garamond soon has the idea to begin two lines of occult books: one intended for serious publication by Garamond; the other, Isis Unveiled (a reference to the theosophical text by Blavatsky), to be published by Manutius in order to attract more vanity authors.
Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon quickly become submerged in occult manuscripts that draw all sorts of flimsy connections between historical events. They nickname the authors the "Diabolicals", and engage Agliè as a specialist reader.
The three editors start to develop their own conspiracy theory, "The Plan", as part satire and part intellectual game. Starting from Ardenti's "secret manuscript", they develop an intricate web of mystical connections. They also make use of Belbo's small personal computer, which he has nicknamed Abulafia. Belbo mainly uses Abulafia for his personal writings (the novel contains many excerpts of these, discovered by Casaubon as he goes through Abulafia's files), but it came equipped with a small program that can rearrange text in random. (Compare with the game of Dissociated Press and Ramon Llull's Ars Magna.) They use this program to create the "connections" which inspire their Plan. They enter randomly selected words from the Diabolicals' manuscripts, logical operators ("What follows is not true", "If", "Then", etc.), truisms (such as "The Templars have something to do with everything") and "neutral data" (such as "Minnie Mouse is Mickey Mouse's fiancée") and use Abulafia to create new text.
Their first attempt ends up recreating (after a liberal interpretation of the results) the Mary Magdalene conspiracy theory central to The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Casaubon jokingly suggests that to create something truly new Belbo must look for occult connections in non-obvious contexts, such as by linking the Kabbalah to a car's spark plugs. (Belbo actually does this, and after some research concludes that the powertrain is a metaphor for the Tree of life.) Pleased with the results of the random text program, the three continue resorting to Abulafia whenever they reach a dead-end with their game.
"The Plan" evolves slowly, but the final version involves the Knights Templar's coming into possession of an ancient secret knowledge of energy flows called telluric currents during the Crusades. The original Knights Templar organization is destroyed after the execution of Jacques de Molay, but the members split into independent cells located in several corners of Europe and the Middle East. As in Ardenti's original theory, each cell is given part of the Templar "Plan" and information about the secret discovery. They are to meet periodically at different locations to share sections of the Plan, gradually reconstructing the original. Then they will reunite and take over the world using the power of the telluric currents. The crucial instruments involved in their plan are a special map and the Foucault pendulum.
While the Plan is far-fetched, the editors become increasingly involved in their game. They even begin to think that there might really be a secret conspiracy after all. Ardenti's disappearance, and his original "coded manuscript", seem to have no other explanation.
However, when Casaubon's girlfriend Lia asks to see the coded manuscript, she comes up with a mundane interpretation. She suggests that the document is simply a delivery list, and encourages Casaubon to abandon the game as she fears it is having a negative effect on him.
When Diotallevi is diagnosed with cancer, he attributes this to his participation in The Plan. He feels that the disease is a divine punishment for involving himself in mysteries he should have left alone and creating a game that mocked something larger than them all. Belbo meanwhile retreats even farther into the Plan to avoid confronting problems in his personal life.
The three had sent Agliè their chronology of secret societies in the Plan, pretending it was not their own work but rather a manuscript they had been presented with. Their list includes historic organizations such as the Templars, Rosicrucians, Paulicians and Synarchists, but they also invent a fictional secret society called the Tres (Templi Resurgentes Equites Synarchici, Latin for the nonsensical "Synarchic Knights of Templar Rebirth"). The Tres is introduced to trick Agliè. Upon reading the list, he claims not to have heard of the Tres before. (The word was first mentioned to Casaubon by the policeman De Angelis. De Angelis had asked Casaubon if he has ever heard of the Tres.)
Belbo goes to Agliè privately and describes The Plan to him as though it were the result of serious research. He also claims to be in possession of the secret Templar map. Agliè becomes frustrated with Belbo's refusal to let him see this (non-existent) map. He frames Belbo as a terrorist suspect in order to force him to come to Paris. Agliè has cast himself as the head of a secret spiritual brotherhood, which includes Mr. Garamond, Colonel Ardenti and many of the Diabolical authors. Belbo tries to get help from De Angelis, but he has just transferred to Sardinia after an attempted car bombing, and refuses to get involved.
Casaubon receives a call for help; he goes to Belbo's apartment, and reads all the documents that Belbo stored in his computer, then decides to follow Belbo to Paris himself. He decides that Agliè and his associates must intend to meet at the museum where Foucault's Pendulum is housed, as Belbo had claimed that the Templar map had to be used in conjunction with the pendulum. Casaubon hides in the museum, where he was when the novel opened.
At the appointed hour, a group of people gather around the pendulum for an arcane ritual. Casaubon sees several ectoplasmic forms appear, one of which claims to be the real Comte de Saint-Germain and discredits Agliè in front of his followers. Belbo is then brought out to be questioned.
Agliè's group are, or have deluded themselves to be, the Tres society in the Plan. Angry that Belbo knows more about The Plan than they do, they try to force him to reveal the secrets he knows, even going so far as to try and coerce him using Lorenza. Refusing to satisfy them or reveal that the Plan was a nonsensical concoction, his refusal incites a riot during which Lorenza is stabbed and Belbo is hanged by wire connected to Foucault's Pendulum. (The act of his hanging actually changes the act of the pendulum, causing it to oscillate from his neck instead of the fixed point above him, ruining any chance of displaying any correct location the Tres meant to find.)
Casaubon escapes the museum through the Paris sewers, eventually fleeing to the countryside villa where Belbo had grown up. It is unclear by this point how reliable a narrator Casaubon has been, and to what extent he has been inventing, or deceived by, conspiracy theories. Casaubon soon learns that Diotallevi succumbed to his cancer at midnight on St. John’s Eve, coincidentally the same time Belbo died. The novel ends with Casaubon meditating on the events of the book, apparently resigned to the (possibly delusional) idea that the Tres will capture him soon. And when they do, he will follow Belbo's lead, refusing to give them any clues, refusing to create a lie. While waiting, holed up in a farmhouse where Belbo lived years before, he finds an old manuscript by Belbo, a sort of diary. He discovers that Belbo had a mystical experience at the age of twelve, in which he perceived ultimate meaning beyond signs and semiotics. He realizes that much of Belbo's behavior and possibly his creation of the Plan and even his death was inspired by Belbo's desire to recapture that lost meaning.
Review: Foucault's Pendulum is divided into ten segments represented by the ten Sefiroth. The novel is full of esoteric references to the Kabbalah, alchemy and conspiracy theory, so many that critic and novelist Anthony Burgess suggested that it needed an index. The title of the book refers to an actual pendulum designed by the French physicist Léon Foucault to demonstrate the rotation of the earth, which has symbolic significance within the novel. Although some believe it refers to the philosopher Michel Foucault noting Eco's friendship with the French philosopher, the author "specifically rejects any intentional reference to Michel Foucault" — and this is regarded as one of his subtle literary jokes.
Foucault's Pendulum has been called "the thinking person's Da Vinci Code".[8] The parchment that sparks the Plan and its multiple possible interpretations, plays a similar role to the parchments in the Rennes-le-Château story propelled to global prominence by Brown's novel and, earlier, in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, from which Brown drew inspiration. Eco's novel, which predated the Brown phenomenon by more than a decade, similarly concerns itself with the Knights Templar, complex conspiracies, secret codes, the Holy Blood conundrum (if mentioned only in passing) and even includes a chase around the monuments of Paris. It does so, however, from a much more critical perspective: it is more a satire on the futility of conspiracy theories and those who believe them, rather than an attempt to proliferate such beliefs.
Asked whether he had read the Brown novel, Eco replied: "I was obliged to read it because everybody was asking me about it. My answer is that Dan Brown is one of the characters in my novel Foucault’s Pendulum, which is about people who start believing in occult stuff."
Eco was himself inspired by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, in particular the latter's renowned short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius".[citation needed] Eco's earlier best-seller The Name of the Rose was similarly indebted to Borges - this time "The Library of Babel" - as Eco tacitly acknowledges by assigning a key role to a blind monk called Jorge de Burgos, named in homage to the blind Argentine.
Foucault's Pendulum also bears a number of similarities to Eco's own experiences and writing. The character of Belbo was brought up in, and refers to many times, the region of Piedmont in Northern Italy. In an article compiled in Faith In Fakes, Eco refers to his own visit to a Candomblé ceremony in Brazil, reminiscent of the episode in the novel, and also describes a French ethnologist, Roger Bastide who bears resemblance to the character of Agliè.
The American newspaper The Boston Globe claimed that "one can trace a lineage from Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminati trilogy[sic] to Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum". The Illuminatus! Trilogy was written thirteen years before Foucault's Pendulum. George Johnson wrote on the similarity of the two books, that "both works were written tongue in cheek, with a high sense of irony.
Opening Line: “That was when I saw the Pendulum.”
Closing Line: “It’s so beautiful.”
Quotes: “When the Light of the Endless was drawn in the form of a straight line in the Void... it was not drawn and extended immediately downwards, indeed it extended slowly — that is to say, at first the Line of Light began to extend and at the very start of its extension in the secret of the Line it was drawn and shaped into a wheel, perfectly circular all around.”
Rating: I couldn’t read it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

410. A Dance to the Music of Time - Anthony Powell

History: A twelve-volume cycle of novels, it is one of the longest works of fiction in literature, it was published between 1951 and 1975 to critical acclaim.
1. A Question of Upbringing – Published in 1951, it begins the story of a trio of boys, Nicholas Jenkins (the narrator), Charles Stringham, and Peter Templer, who are friends at a nameless school (based upon Powell's public school Eton College) and then move on to different paths. An ungainly fourth figure, Kenneth Widmerpool, stands slightly apart from them, poised for greatness - of a sort.
Like much of the sequence it inaugurates, the novel is concerned with the flow and transience of life, and the play of time upon love and friendship. Another major theme introduced in A Question of Upbringing is the consequence of living by the will.
In presenting four very different characters - "the artist, the romantic, the cynic, and the man of will" - the author sets the scene for an extended exploration of what it means to grow and mature. The language of youth, deployed with precision, is used to depict the emergence of the boys into manhood in a period when memories of the Great War overshadow many of their elders.
The title of the book had its origin in an incident in which Powell was a passenger in a car driven by his friend, the Old Etonian screenwriter, Thomas Wilton ("Tommy") Phipps. Phipps and Powell found themselves driving straight towards an oncoming vehicle. Powell later recorded, "Seizing the hand-brake as we sped towards what seemed imminent collision, Phipps muttered to himself, 'This is just going to be a question of upbringing.'
Dance opens with the last year or so of their school days in 1921–22. We are also introduced to their Housemaster Le Bas and Nick's Uncle Giles. Lunching at the invitation of Stringham's mother's, the glamorous Mrs Foxe, Nick meets Cdr. Buster Foxe, "a chic sailor", and Miss 'Tuffy' Weedon. On leaving school Jenkins visits the Templers, setting eyes for the first time on Templer's sullen sister Jean and meeting the older Sunny Farebrother and Jimmy Stripling.
Later Nick is sent off to France to learn the language, staying at La Grenadière, where Widmerpool puts in an appearance, displaying unexpected powers of persuasion.
The final chapter sees Nick at university where he enjoys the delights of afternoon tea with Professor Sillery and meets for the first time Mark Members, JG Quiggin, and Bill Truscott. A car outing with Templer, Bob Duport and Jimmy Brent turns to minor disaster when Templer drives them into a ditch.
2. A Buyer’s Market – The book presents new characters, notably the painter Mr. Deacon and his dubious female acquaintance Gypsy Jones, as well as reappearances by Jenkins' school friends Templer, Stringham and Widmerpool. The action takes place in London high society in the late 1920s, focusing on a handful of close-knit incidents which illustrate the flowing and weaving nature of the passage of time.
The first part is taken up with various debutante balls in the early summer of 1928/9, notably at the Huntercombes', where Barbara Goring (a flame of Nick's) pours sugar over Widmerpool. Leaving the ball, Widmerpool and Jenkins bump into Mr Deacon and Gypsy. Stopping together at a tea stall they encounter Stringham, who takes Nick, Widmerpool, Deacon and Gypsy to a party at Mrs Andriadis's.
During that summer Jenkins spends weekends in the country and lunches at Stourwater, home of magnate Sir Magnus Donners, where he again meets Jean Templer, now married to Bob Duport. Widmerpool, who now works for Donners, appears during a tour of the Stourwater dungeons and later manages to wreck one of his master's ornamental urns with his car.
That autumn Stringham is married to Lady Peggy Stepney; Mr Deacon dies after his birthday party; Jenkins sleeps with Gypsy after Deacon's funeral.
3. The Acceptance World – Nick Jenkins continues the narration of his life and encounters with many friends and acquaintances in London between 1931 and 33.
A theme running through it is the uneven pace at which contemporaries mature, some, like Templer, reaching an early plateau. Jenkins' own development serves as a pacemaker against which the growth of others is measured. This is reflected in a subtle but discernible change in the language employed in dialogue compared to that of the two earlier volumes.
The occult undercurrent running through the entire cycle surfaces with the appearance of Mrs Erdleigh, a figure presented by the author with characteristic ambiguity.
The pretensions of Edwardian novelists, here represented by the ludicrous figure of St John Clarke (mischievously based on John Galsworthy), are guyed in a memorable scene in which the elderly writer is shown lending modish support to a demonstration while pushed in his wheelchair by the Marxist Quiggin.
Jenkins is now seen to move freely and fluidly between the worlds of high society and demi-monde, offering snapshots of both.
In the book, Nick meets Uncle Giles for tea at the Ufford Hotel and is introduced to the clairvoyant Mrs. Erdleigh who proceeds to tell their fortunes.
Jenkins arranges to meet Members at the Ritz, but the appointment is kept by Quiggin who has replaced Members as secretary to novelist St John Clarke; Nick eventually dines with Peter & Mona Templer and Jean Duport and is invited for a weekend at the Templers' in Maidenhead.
This house party sees the start of an affair with Jean. Quiggin is invited for Sunday, but has to leave due to concerns over his master. Mrs. Erdleigh is also there with Jimmy Stripling in tow, and presides over a seance.
Later in spring 1933 Nick spends a day in encounters with Quiggin and Members including a demonstration led by St John Clarke, wheeled in his chair by Quiggin and Mona. There follow various further encounters with Jean and a visit to Foppa's restaurant.
Summer 1933 sees Jenkins, Templer, Stringham and Widmerpool at the Le Bas dinner for Old Boys at the Ritz. Stringham arrives the worse for drink and Widmerpool makes an uninvited, boring and pompous speech, silenced only by Le Bas collapsing with a stroke. Widmerpool and Jenkins take the drunken Stringham home to bed. The book ends with intimations of an end to Nick's affair with Jean.
4. At Lady Molly’s – A first person narrative, it is written in precise yet conversational prose. Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize 1957, At Lady Molly's is set in England of the mid 1930s and is essentially a comedy of manners, but in the background the rise of Hitler and of worldwide Fascism are not ignored. The comedy is character driven and ranges from the situational to the epigrammatic. Many of the scenes are studies in embarrassment with those involving the supremely self-important Widmerpool inducing acute embarrassment in the reader. The driving theme of At Lady Molly's is married life; marriages – as practised or mooted – among the narrator's (Nick Jenkins) acquaintances in bohemian society and the landed classes are pondered. Meanwhile the career moves of various characters are advanced, checked or put on hold.
The novel presents comparisons and relationships between the generations, which are notably burlesqued in the engagement of Widmerpool and the older Mildred – an event that provides much scope for speculation and salacious gossip.
The portrait of the aristocratic Tolland family, sourced in part from Powell's own in-laws, the Pakenhams, is sharply painted in the manner of a conversation piece, capturing not only the personalities but the dynamics between them.
It is 1934 and Nick is working, without great success, as a script writer at a film company. He gets invited by a colleague, Chips Lovell, to a party at the home of Lady Molly Jeavons. There he learns that Widmerpool is to marry the twice widowed, somewhat notorious (somewhat insane according to Nick) Mrs. Mildred Haycock. Nick subsequently has to endure having to lunch with Widmerpool and fending-off questions from Widmerpool's prospective in-laws becomes, for Nick, a motif throughout the novel. Also re-encountered at Lady Molly's gathering is old Alfred Tolland.
A chance meeting by Nick with Quiggin (at a cinema where Man of Aran is showing) leads to a surprising and rather mysterious invitation of a weekend visit to the country. Quiggin and Mona Templer are staying, it transpires, in a cottage loaned to them by Erridge (Lord Warminster, eccentric head of the Tolland family). While there they all visit the Tolland ancestral home, Thrubworth Park, for a frugal but eventful dinner.
Just as the meal is finishing two Tolland sisters, Susan and Isobel, arrive. Some while later Nick meets Lady Molly's husband, Ted Jeavons, in a Soho pub and they visit Umfraville's nightclub. They encounter Widmerpool (suffering another bout with jaundice), Mrs Haycock and Templer.
In Autumn 1934 Jenkins becomes engaged to Isobel. Erridge, wanting to study conditions for himself, goes to China at a time when the Japanese army are undertaking offensive operations. Mona goes with him, ditching Quiggin. Widmerpool's engagement to Mildred Haycock is broken off in farcical and, to most men, crushing circumstances. However, Widmerpool remains undaunted.
5. Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant – Originally published in 1960. Exploration of themes of time and memory are developed here. As with several of the earlier volumes, there is a substantial time-overlap with previous books, the first part returning to the period before the death of Mr. Deacon. However, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant concentrates on a new set of characters, principally the composer Hugh Moreland, (based on Powell's close friend Constant Lambert), his fiancée Matilda, and the critic Maclintick and his wife, Audrey, whose unhappy marriage forms a key part of the narrative.
The book opens with reminiscences of the late-20s/early-30s, concerning Nick's first meetings with Mr Deacon, Maclintick, Gossage, Carolo, Moreland and others, culminating at the point of Nick and Isobel's marriage, of which little is revealed.
1936 sees Nick lunching with various of the Tollands at Lady Warminster's. Erridge leaves for the Spanish Civil War. Nick visits Isobel in hospital where he meets Moreland attending his wife Matilda, who is about to give birth, and also encounters Widmerpool. Moreland and Nick visit the Maclinticks.
In late 1936 Matilda loses her baby. Mrs Foxe gives a party for the first performance of Moreland's new symphony; Moreland has fallen for Priscilla Tolland; the Maclinticks row, and Stringham, now a recovering alcoholic, puts in an unexpected appearance.
In Spring 1937 the death is announced of St John Clarke; Erridge is back from Spain; Maclintick is abandoned by his wife and commits suicide; Priscilla becomes engaged to Chips Lovell.
6. The Kindly Ones – The novel captures the dying fall of the period between the wars, relating the run up to the Second World War to the circumstances prevailing just before the Great War. Hints abound that the vulnerable are to suffer, just as those driven by force of will begin their advance. Widmerpool is portrayed as one such, and a harbinger of war. As ever, Nick is carried upon the tide of events, whilst seeking to do the honourable thing.
The Kindly Ones contains some of the most memorable scenes in the sequence including the appearance of the maid, Billson, naked when guests are being entertained, and the Seven Deadly Sins tableau performed at Stourwater Castle. The anticipated demise of Dr Trelawney is another such. Some notable - and intriguing - characters, like General Conyers and Ted Jeavons, are developed, in contrast to the little we learn of Nick.
This, the last volume before World War II, begins with a flashback to Jenkins' boyhood at the outbreak of the Great War. The day of the Sarajevo assassination sees General and Mrs Conyers lunching with Jenkins' parents, and Uncle Giles arriving unexpectedly for tea. Equally unexpectedly, the Jenkins' cook, Albert, gives notice. This causes the parlourmaid, Billson, who loves Albert but is loved by the soldier servant, Bracey, to appear naked in the drawing room. The occultist, Dr Trelawney, and his disciples are seen out for a run.
In Autumn 1938 Jenkins is staying with the Morelands at their cottage near Stourwater. Templer collects the party for dinner with the tycoon Sir Magnus Donners at Stourwater. After dinner all are photographed by Donners performing tableaux of the Seven Deadly Sins, as portrayed in the castle's tapestries; this triggers a nervous attack on the part of Templer's second wife, Betty. At the end of the evening, Widmerpool appears in army uniform on urgent business.
In Summer 1939 Nick has to clear up Uncle Giles's affairs after his death at a small seaside hotel, the Bellevue. This hotel is run by Albert (the Jenkins' former cook), and here Nick meets Bob Duport who, during an evening's drinking, tells Nick of Jean's series of lovers, a disclosure Nick still finds painful. In a scene suffused with black humor Dr Trelawney, now in the grip of drug addiction, anticipates his eventual expiration at the Bellevue.
Late 1939 finds Jenkins attempting to gain a commission in the Army, eventually effected by Ted Jeavons' brother. Nick re-encounters Moreland, now homeless but taken in by Lady Molly after being deserted by Matilda for Donners.
7. The Valley of Bones – Published in 1964, it is the first of the war trilogy, poignantly capturing the atmosphere of the time whilst offering a subversively comic view of Army life.
The conflict between regular soldiers and the bank managers-cum-officers is caught in some of the funniest scenes in the sequence. Personal traits usually concealed in peacetime emerge, as intransigent characters like Odo Stevens find their true milieu in war.
The privations of the home front are seen to have rearranged the social hierarchy as stately homes are requisioned by the armed forces and individuals like Widmerpool, propelled by force of will, take charge. The Valley of Bones offers an unusual literary perspective that spans civilian and military life, deftly deploying the language and humour of both.
Early in 1940 Jenkins joins his regiment in Wales as a second lieutenant. We are introduced to his commanding officer, the officious Captain Gwatkin, and the alcoholicLieutenant Bithel.
The battalion is moved to Northern Ireland where Gwatkin disastrously muddles instructions during an exercise and there is a snap inspection by General Liddament.
En route to a training course at Aldershot Nick makes friends with David Pennistone. At Aldershot, Jenkins meets Odo Stevens and also Jimmy Brent who gives an account of his affair with Jean. Stevens gives Nick a lift to spend weekend leave at Frederica Budd's house, where his wife Isobel, Robert Tolland and Priscilla are all staying. Robert Tolland's leave is suddenly cancelled. Meanwhile Stevens has made a hit with Priscilla.
On rejoining his regiment at Castlemallock, Nick finds Gwatkin in unrequited passion for a barmaid, and engaged in a running battle with the preposterous Bithel. Jenkins is instructed to report to the DAAG at Divisional HQ, who turns out to be Widmerpool.
8. The Soldiers Art – It was published in1966, and touches on themes of separation and unanticipated loss.
The language, always exact, sometimes sardonic, also takes on the quality of blank verse in dealing with episodes that echo classical mythology. Memorable new characters like Finn are introduced with spare precision, but kept separate from the original participants in the Dance for several of whom this proves to be the last turn upon the floor.
Considerable fun is had with the juxtaposition of disparate characters, shorn of their peacetime identities and struggling to conform to their notion of military stereotype. Their confrontation with regular soldiers is acutely observed, as is the politicking within divisional HQ. The mess dialogue between two senior staff officers presents a classic - and revealing - sketch of military life that has struck chords with admirers of Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy.
At the start of 1941, Jenkins is stationed at divisional HQ and allocated to lowly F Mess with the obnoxious Captain Biggs. During an exercise Jenkins has dinner with General Liddament who recommends him to Finn. Widmerpool is humiliated by Colonel Hogbourne-Johnson, and plots revenge. Stringham turns up as Mess Waiter for F Mess.
On leave in London Nick has an unsuccessful interview with Finn for a liaison posting with the Free French forces. He has a drink with Chips Lovell who desires a reconciliation with Priscilla, despite her affair with Odo Stevens. Moreland, now living with Audrey Maclintick, dines with Nick. Audrey, Priscilla and Stevens arrive to join the party, but Priscilla leaves in distress.
Later that night Jenkins is told that a bomb falling on the Café de Madrid has killed almost everyone, including Chips. Nick sets off to the Jeavons's to inform Priscilla, only to find the house also bombed, Lady Molly and Priscilla being killed.
On return to divisional HQ, Jenkins finds Stringham has been transferred to the mobile laundry. Stringham and Nick try to cover up for Bithel's drunkenness, but their efforts are foiled and Widmerpool has Bithel dismissed from the army.
Farebrother brings news of the disaster awaiting Widmerpool in consequence of the latter's machinations. Jenkins fails to persuade Stringham to leave the mobile laundry before it is posted to the Far East. Captain Biggs hangs himself in the cricket pavilion ("And him so fond of the game."). Jenkins receives orders to report to the War Office.
9. The Military Philosophers - First published in 1968, it covers the latter part of Nicholas Jenkins' service in World War II. It depicts, with ironic detachment, a little-chronicled byway of the war effort, Allied Liaison.
The author draws more directly here than elsewhere upon his own experience, and the novel adopts a tone at times close to that of diary, as it records the improbable events involving the allied military delegations, including the springing of a Polish officer from prison. The vanity and jealousies of the allied military attachés are portrayed with humour in dialogue that rings with conviction.
Characters previously encountered are seen to have aged, some greatly, others, like Mrs Erdleigh, hardly at all. Pamela Flitton emerges as a three-dimensional figure, turbulent and intriguing all who encounter her.
The final scene is at Olympia, a large exhibition hall in west London, where the demobilised Jenkins now a major in the Intelligence Corps, is choosing his new civilian clothing known as a 'demob suit'. In typical Powell fashion, Nicholas again meets Archie Gilbert, a young man-about-town first encountered in volume two.
In the Spring 1942 Jenkins is working in Whitehall as Pennistone's assistant, looking after the Poles in Allied Liaison under Finn. He attends a Cabinet Office meeting, chaired by Widmerpool, where he finds Sunny Farebrother and a dejected Peter Templer. Jenkins visits the Polish HQ in Bayswater, which turns out to be the Ufford Hotel. His driver on this occasion is Pamela Flitton, Stringham's niece. Pamela brings the news that Stringham was captured at the fall of Singapore.
Jenkins is living in a flat in Chelsea in early 1943 and is promoted in his liaison duties to supervising the Belgians and Czechs.
One night during the Summer 1944 Jenkins, sheltering in the flats from a flying bomb attack, encounters Pamela Flitton with her current lover Odo Stevens. Following prophesies into their futures by Mrs Erdleigh there is a row between Stevens and Pamela.
Promoted to major, Jenkins escorts a party of Allied military attachés on a tour of Normandy and Belgium led by Finn. A meeting in Brussels with Bob Duport brings news of Templer's death in the Balkans.
Summer 1945 sees Widmerpool engaged to Pamela Flitton and Miss Weedon affianced to Sunny Farebrother. Pamela accuses Widmerpool of murdering Templer. The victory thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral is attended by the military attachés, including a Latin-American, Colonel Flores. Nick fails to recognise Flores's wife, who proves to be Jean. Finally Jenkins is demobbed.
10. Books Do Furnish a Room – It was first published in 1971 and, like the other volumes, remains in print.
The book conveys the atmosphere of post-war austerity in which the characters attempt to resume life before the intervention of the conflict. For the non-combatants this time-shift proves manageable, but others find themselves irrevocably altered by the experience, and ill at ease in a landscape that has changed both physically and socially.
Pre-war characters reappear, and a younger generation spear-headed by Pamela Flitton take the lead in the narrative. Some of Nick's contemporaries are seen to have become middle-aged and staid, others more radical.
A change in the political tide is conveyed with some satirical fun at the expense of the more doctrinaire figures. The introduction of the bohemian Trapnel moves the centre of gravity towards literature, with a discussion of naturalism in the novel recurring.
Jenkins returns to his old university library during the vacation in the Winter of 1945/6 to undertake research for a book about Robert Burton. He goes to see Sillery, who has a new secretary, Ada Leintwardine. Quiggin is starting a literary magazine called Fission, which is to be funded by Erridge ... except that Erridge dies suddenly.
Erridge's funeral at Thrubworth is disturbed by the late arrival of the Widmerpools, Quiggin, Sir Howard & Lady Craggs (née Gypsy Jones). Pamela Widmerpool causes a disturbance by leaving during the service. Later at Thrubworth Park, Jenkins is invited by Quiggin to join the staff of Fission; Pamela causes further trouble, and on leaving is noisily sick into a large Chinese urn.
At the party to launch Fission, Nick first meets the importunate novelist X Trapnel (based on the real-life Bohemian dandy, Julian MacLaren-Ross); Trapnel eventually takes a fancy to Pamela.
Early the following year there are problems at Fission's publishers, Quiggin & Craggs. Trapnel has become infatuated with Pamela. Jenkins, dining with MP Roddy Cutts (husband of Susan Tolland) at the House of Commons, meets Widmerpool (now also a Member of Parliament). All three go to Widmerpool's flat where it becomes apparent that Pamela has absconded with Trapnel.
Some time later Jenkins visits Trapnel and Pamela at their seedy flat, and while there Widmerpool arrives to confront the adulterers.
Later in the year Pamela leaves Trapnel, and in doing so throws the precious manuscript of his novel into the nearby canal. On a visit to his old school, Jenkins meets Le Bas, and the reunited Widmerpools.
11. Temporary Kings – It was published in 1973 and remains in print as does the rest of the sequence.
The novel introduces a surreal element, mischievously portraying the literary world as politically corrupt and riven with dark deeds. After the passage of a decade the consequences of unyielding ambition are suggested by the storm brewing around Powell's dark angel, Kenneth Widmerpool. Espionage and even necrophilia are hinted at.
Minor characters from earlier novels reappear and are developed to renew the theme of the Dance. The action is constructed with ingenuity to place Pamela at its centre with a succession of partners in the revels. Atmosphere and sense of place is evoked with painterly skill in the set pieces in Venice and at the concert party.
Around 1958, a decade on from the preceding novel, Books Do Furnish a Room, Jenkins attends an international literary conference in Venice, where the death is announced of French author Ferrand-Sénéschal. Dr Emily Brightman introduces Jenkins to Russell Gwinnett, a prospective biographer of X Trapnel with a faintly alarming manner. Gwinnett naturally wishes to meet Pamela Widmerpool, and he produces a press report linking her with Ferrand-Sénéschal's death.
Next day the conference visits the Bragadin Palace to view a ceiling painted by Tiepolo. Here Pamela is encountered with American film director Louis Glober gazing at the ceiling. Gwinnett is introduced to Pamela. Widmerpool arrives, and a row between the couple ensues with accusations flying.
On the Sunday Nick visits painter Daniel Tokenhouse and lunches with Ada Leintwardine and Glober. Further viewing of Tokenhouse's paintings is interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Widmerpool on mysterious business. It is evident that Glober has designs upon Pamela.
Nick dines with Gwinnett, who recounts a surprising earlier rendezvous with Pamela. Later at a bar Nick meets Odo Stevens (now married to Rosie Manasch) and Pamela, who foretells trouble for Widmerpool.
Back in England later that year Nick visits Bagshaw who recounts the mystery of Pamela's nakedness in his house while Gwinnett was staying there. Later still Nick dines with Gwinnett, and attends an army reunion where he hears a further account of Stringham's death; Farebrother predicts Widmerpool's imminent arrest for spying.
Moreland conducts at a Mozart concert party given by Odo and Rosie Stevens in Summer 1959. Glober is there with Polly Duport (actress daughter of Bob Duport and Jean), as are Mrs Erdleigh with Jimmy Stripling, Audrey Maclintick and the Widmerpools. There are violent scenes between Glober, Pamela and Widmerpool on leaving the party. Pamela is warned by Mrs Erdleigh that she is near the edge. Moreland collapses after the concert.
Late in 1959 Nick reflects on the subsequent death of Pamela, apparently from an overdose while in bed with Gwinnett, and also visits the dying Moreland in hospital.
12. Hearing Secret Harmonies - It was published in 1975 twenty-four years since the first book, A Question of Upbringing appeared in 1951.
Completing his meditation upon the themes of time and will, the author recounts the narrative in the voice of a convincingly middle-aged Jenkins. (In the television adaptation of the novels an older actor was chosen to play Nick in the final part.)
Whilst evading the trap of tying up every plot line Powell nonetheless satisfies the reader's pent-up desire to know the fate of the principal surviving characters.
Though well received critically, Hearing Secret Harmonies has sometimes been held by academics to be the weakest of the twelve novels in the cycle. However Powell scholars like Hilary Spurling and his biographers, Michael Barber and Nicholas Birns broadly disagree.
A lyrical quality in the writing, not present in earlier volumes, has been detected, although the development of the character of the cult leader Scorpio Murtlock lends some astringency to the narrative. The sketch of university life in the late 'sixties offers a dryly satirical interlude before Widmerpool loses his final power struggle and expires in bathetic circumstances.
In Spring, almost another decade on, the Jenkinses act as host to a caravan of hippies led by Scorpio Murtlock, allowing them to camp on their land. One of the band is Fiona Cutts (daughter of Roddy Cutts, thus a niece of Isobel's). Murtlock is keenly interested in the nearby Devil's Fingers standing stones.
Widmerpool is appointed Chancellor of a new university, and is promptly daubed with paint by the Quiggin twins (Amanda and Belinda, daughters of JG Quiggin and Ada Leintwardine); Widmerpool is thereby converted to the current counter-culture. Nick visits Matilda Donners, and is shown the photographs of the Seven Deadly Sins tableaux of 30 years before.
The Donners Memorial Prize is established. A year or so later Nick is a member of the committee who award the annual prize to Russell Gwinnett for his biography of X Trapnel. Widmerpool brings the Quiggin twins to the presentation dinner where he makes an impromptu speech, and the twins disrupt proceedings with a stink bomb.
At a Royal Academy dinner Nick gets an account of Dr Trelawney and of Murtlock's boyhood from Canon Fenneau. Widmerpool asks the Canon to put him in touch with Murtlock.
By Spring 1970 there are hints of Widmerpool and Murtlock joining forces. At midsummer conservationists muster at the Devil's Fingers and there are reports of naked dancers there the previous evening. Gwinnett describes Murtlock's attack on Widmerpool during a pagan sex ritual at the Devil's Fingers that night.
Spring 1971 sees a family wedding reception at Stourwater. Fiona Cutts, released from Murtlock's grip, appears newly married to Gwinnett. Widmerpool, leading a run by Murtlock's cult, arrives at the reception and pays embarrassing public penance to the bride's grandfather for a misdemeanour at school. Murtlock appears and ruthlessly extracts Widmerpool and cult members from the proceedings.
The final chapter sees Jenkins in Autumn 1971 lighting a bonfire and reflecting on a recent revival in Mr. Deacon's pictures--Edgar (to his friends) has now been rediscovered as "E. Bosworth Deacon". Nick has recently attended the art gallery which is selling the Deacon paintings and where he met a now invalid Bob Duport, Polly and Signora Flores (Jean). While there he gets an inside account from Henderson (formerly one of Murtlock's followers) of life in the cult. Bithel (also part of the cult) arrives with news of Widmerpool's death on a naked run with Murtlock's followers.

Review: The story is an often comic examination of movements and manners, power and passivity in English political, cultural and military life in the mid 20th century.
The sequence is narrated by Nick Jenkins in the form of his reminiscences. At the beginning of the first volume, Nick falls into a reverie while watching snow descending on a coal brazier. This reminds him of "the ancient world – legionaries (...) mountain altars (...) centaurs (....)". These classical projections introduce the account of his schooldays which opens A Question of Upbringing.
Over the course of the following volumes, he recalls the people he met over the previous half a century. Little is told of Jenkins's personal life beyond his encounters with the great and the bad, with events, such as his wife's miscarriage, only being related in conversation with the principal characters.
Opening Line: “The men at work at the corner of the street had made a kind of camp for themselves, where, marked out by tripods hung with red hurricane lamps, an abyss in the road led down to a network of subterranean drainpipes”.
Closing Line: “Even the formal measure of the seasons seemed suspended in the wintry silence.”
Quotes: “Woman may show some discrimination about whom they sleep with, but they will marry anybody.”
Rating: Excellent

409. Main Street – Sinclair Lewis

History: This book was published in 1920. The story is set in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, a fictionalized version of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, Lewis's hometown. The novel takes place in the 1910s, with references to the start of World War I, the United States' entry into the war, and the years following the end of the war, including the start of Prohibition. Readers' fascination with the portrayal of petty back-stabbers and hypocrites in a small town was probably a factor in the novel's popularity. Though it was not expected to be extremely popular, in the first six months of 1921, Main Street sold 250,000 copies, becoming a major bestseller of its time. When the book was published, it was common to wish to live in purportedly "wholesome" small towns like Gopher Prairie; a notion denounced by Main Street's vicious realism and biting humor.
Some small town residents resented their portrayal and the book was banned in Alexandria, Minnesota.
Main Street was initially awarded the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for literature, but was rejected by the Board of Trustees, who overturned the jury's decision. The prize went, instead, to Edith Wharton for The Age of Innocence. In 1926 Lewis refused the Pulitzer when he was awarded it for Arrowsmith.
In 1930, Lewis was the first American ever awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Because of the popularity acquired by Lewis and his book, high school teams from his hometown of Sauk Centre, Minnesota began to be called the Main Streeters as early as the 1925-26 school year. This name was essentially given to the town by the nearby towns at school events. The Sauk Centre High School still goes by the name in a tribute to Lewis.
Plot: Carol Milford is a liberal, free-spirited young woman, reared in the metropolis of St. Paul. She marries Will Kennicott, a doctor, who is a small-town boy at heart.
When they marry, Will convinces her to live in his home-town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. Carol is appalled at the backwardness of Gopher Prairie. But her disdain for the town's physical ugliness and smug conservatism compels her to reform it.
She speaks with its members about progressive changes, joins women's clubs, distributes literature, and holds parties to liven up Gopher Prairie's inhabitants. Despite her friendly, but ineffective efforts, she is constantly derided by the leading cliques.
She finds comfort and companionship outside her social class. These companions are taken from her one by one.
In her unhappiness, Carol leaves her husband and moves for a time to Washington, D.C., but she eventually returns.
Review: Sinclair Lewis was the great liberal critic of small town, bourgeois Middle America. His novels demonstrated the small-minded conformity of the conservative folk of the MidWest, content to wallow in smug self-righteous ignorance. This at least is the common understanding of Lewis.
And there is the masterful portrayal of a marriage - Carol and Will are not the romantic, happily-married-ever-after couple. They are married. That's it. Sinclair Lewis draws his satirical pen through the flimsy web of their married life, shreds the pretense and give us in the process a love that is at once frustrating yet touching, unfathomable yet realistic and as tiresome as it is uplifting.
While the language, mode of dress, and popular activities may be antiquated now, the interactions and struggles remain as true today as they did in the 1910s. More importantly, through Carol's fight to accept her lot in life, Lewis presents a study of humanity that never ages.
Much of what is fascinating about Main Street is the intimate look at small-town life in the 1910s. The language is quaint and full of forgotten expressions. Societal teas, drama clubs, buggies versus cars, new suits purchased once a year - these are all things which are intriguing from a purely historical perspective. Lewis was writing based on his own personal experiences, which lends credence to his narration and brings history to life. However, a modern-day reader can easily imagine how uncomfortable a reader of Lewis' era would be at reading Main Street, as it is a no-holds-barred satire on the minutiae of daily small-town living.
Speaking of which, many of the difficulties of Main Street and its impact lie in how much life and society has changed in 100 years. Carol's life as a housewife, complete with servant, would be drastically different today, as her freedom to do as she pleases, to work, to form committees, is so much greater than the time period in which the story takes place. The reader has to ignore the differences and get to the heart of Carol's struggles for happiness to be able to detect why Main Street is relevant today. Carol's happiness does not depend on her status as a wife or her inability to make changes in her adopted town, but rather stem from her inability to find inner peace. It isn't until she makes peace with her life and dreams where she finally finds the contentment she so desperately seeks. This need for inner peace is something to which any reader can relate and proves that humans everywhere have been searching for their own inner peace for ages.
Opening Line: On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky.
Closing Line: “Say, did you notice whether the girl put that screwdriver back?"
Quotes: "She was not a respectable married woman but fully a human being."
Rating: Okay.