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.”