DANCING WITH CYRIL AND PETER

Being

A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (2)




Nancy: "That didn't take long, did it?"

Evelyn: "What didn't?"

"Tony's second Dance.
A Buyer's Market."

"How did you get on?"

"Loved it. Wonderful extended scenes. The night of the dinner dance followed by the bohemian party seems to go on forever, though in a good way."

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"The volume, if I remember rightly, surely belongs to Mr Deacon, the mediocre painter of exclusively male figures."

"I suppose it does. I marvelled at the long opening scene dedicated to the narrator's meetings with Mr Deacon - through his parents, as a child - culminating with a dismal painting hanging obscurely in the grand house where Jenkins as an adult has been invited to dine and dance."

"The book takes place in 1928 or 1929, I believe. Jenkins is working in the publishing world - books about art. Just as Tony was working for Duckworth's and published my book on Rossetti. Indeed, early on, Mr Deacon's painting style, such as it is, is described in relation to the pre-Raphaelites."

"Essentially, the book is a series of social events, all involving the narrator, most involving Widmerpool. Towards the end I realised that Widmerpool must surely be an
alter ego of Jenkins. They both fancy themselves in love with Barbara Goring, but both receive their sexual initiation from Gypsy Jones."

"I remember. It all leads to that fabulous scene where Jenkins goes to dinner with Widmerpool and his mother. Only there is a fourth person present, and she humiliates both Jenkins and Widmerpool by telling them - following on from some farcical dinner-table dialogue that could be straight out of
Scoop - that Barbara Goring has announced her engagement to a man they both know and disdain."

"It's a bit from the evening
soirée just before that which I want to read to you. But first a drink?"

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"Will champagne do?"

"When will champagne not do? Cheers, Evelyn. Now listen to this, while bearing in mind Boots…"

"I'm always bearing Cyril in mind."

"I was rather impressed to hear that in the unfamiliar form of "J. G. Quiggin" this former acquaintance was already known as a writer; and admired if only by Gypsy Jones. My first sight of him at the party suggested that he remained remarkably unchanged. He was still wearing his shabby black suit, the frayed trousers of which were maintained insecurely by a heavy leather belt with a brass buckle. His hair had grown a shade sparser round the sides of his dome-like forehead and he retained that look of an undomesticated animal of doubtful temper. At the same time there was also his doggy, rather pathetic look about the eyes that reminded me of Widmerpool, and which is a not uncommon feature of those who have decided to live by the force of will. When we talked I found that he had abandoned much of the conscious acerbity of manner that had been so much a part of social equipment at the university. It was not that he was milder - on the contrary, he seemed more anxious than ever to approach on his own terms every matter that arose - but he appeared to have come much nearer to the perfection of method in his particular method of attacking life, so that for others there was not, as in former days, the same field of conversational pitfalls to be negotiated. No doubt this greater smoothness of intercourse was also to be explained by the fact that we had both "grown up" in the year or two that had passed. He asked some searching questions, comparable to Widmerpool's, regarding my firm's publications, almost immediately suggesting that he should write a preface for a book to be included in one or other of some series mentioned to him."

"You think Quiggin is Connolly? Though Tony is careful not to describe Boots as short, fat and straight out of an Irish bog, which would have made identification a lot more straightforward."

"Although the name 'Quiggin' suggests 'Quennell', that is undoubtedly a red herring. Quennell is about to be introduced in the next sentence under the name of Mark Members. In fact, I am going to use the names Quennell and Connolly for the rest of my reading, as that will best test my theory."

"Yes, do that."

"'It was at that stage we were joined by Quennell, rather to my surprise, because, as undergraduates, Quennell and Connolly had habitually spoken of each other in a far from friendly manner. Now a change of relationship seemed to have taken place, or, it would perhaps be more accurate to say, appeared to be desired by each of them; for there was no doubt that they were prepared, at least momentarily, to be on the best of terms. The three of us talked together, at first perhaps with a certain lack of ease, and then with greater warmth than I remembered in the past."

"So you're saying that's Connolly, Quennell and Powell talking together at a London party in 1928 or 1929. And yet I concluded when reviewing a volume of the Dance - in the
Spectator, I think - that in each of Tony's pre-war novels, I could detect the originals of characters in the books. Yet I couldn't identify any originals in the superb post-war novel sequence."

"You were wrong, Evelyn. It's as plain as the nose on your face."

"Well, we shall see. Carry on."

"In contrast with Connolly, Peter Quennell had altered considerably since his undergraduate period, when he had been known for the relative flamboyance of his dress. Him too I remembered chiefly from my first year at the university, though this was not because he left prematurely, but rather on account of his passing into a world of local hostesses of more or less academical complexion, which I did not myself frequent. Possibly those ladies, most of them hard-headed enough in their own way, had been to some extent responsible for the almost revolutionary changes that had taken place in his appearance; for, Quennell had worked hard on his exterior, in much the same manner as Connolly had effected the interior modifications to which I have already referred."

"Ah, this is interesting Nancy. But Connolly and Quennell were at Oxford an awful long time ago. To be honest, I can't remember if what Tony wrote in 1952 reflects their undergraduate relationship of 1925. That's good about 'those ladies' though. It was through fraternising with women that Quennell got sent down… Please continue this fascinating exercise."

"'
There had once, for example, been at least suggestion of side-whiskers, now wholly disappeared. The Byronic collar and loosely tied tie discarded, Quennell looked almost as neat about the neck as Archie Gilbert. His hair no longer hung in an uneven fringe, but was brushed severely away from his forehead at an acute angle. In fact he looked rather a distinguished young man, evidently belonging to the world of letters, though essentially to the end of that world least well disposed to Bohemiasm in its grosser forms. Speaking of reviews written by Quennell, Short used to say: "Peter handles his material with remarkable facility," and, not without envy, I had to agree with that judgement; for this matter of writing was beginning to occupy an increasing amount of attention in my own mind. I had even toyed with the idea of attempting myself to begin work on a novel."

"Well, well, well: Powell, Connolly and Quennell talking away inside Tony's Dance. An interesting conceit. Indeed, I am coming round to accepting your premise, Nancy."

"Quennell gave his rather high laugh again. He seemed to have grown taller since coming to London. His slim waist and forceful, interrogative manner rather suggested one of those strong-willed, elegant young salesman, who lead the customer from the shop only after the intention to buy a few handkerchiefs has been transmuted into a reckless squandering on shirts, socks and ties, of patterns to be found later fundamentally unsympathetic."

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"Remind me what is happening here."

"The Quennell character has been offered the job of becoming secretary to a famous writer called St. John Clarke. Quennell's story goes on:

"At first I could not make up my mind whether to take it," he admitted. "Now I am glad I decided in favour. St. J. Is rather a great man, in his way."

"Of course, one could not call him a very great novelist", said Connolly, slowly, as if deliberating the question within himself. "But he is a personality, certainly, and some of his critical writing might be labelled as well - shall we say 'not bad'?"

"They have a certain distinction of thought, of course, in their rather old-fashioned manner."

"Quennell seemed relieved to concede this. He clearly felt that Connolly, catching him in a weak position, had let him off lightly. St. John Clarke was the novelist of who Lady Anne Stepney had spoken with approval. I had read some of his books towards the end of my time at school with great enjoyment; now I felt myself rather superior to his windy, descriptive passages, two-dimensional characterisation, and, so I had come to think, the emptiness of the writing's inner content. I was surprised to find someone I regarded as so impregnable in the intellectual field as I supposed Quennell to be, saddled with a figure who could only be looked upon by those with literary pretensions of any but the crudest kind as an Old Man of the Sea; although, in one sense, the metaphor should have perhaps been reversed, as it was Quennell who had, as it were, climbed upon the shoulders of St. John Clarke."


"Any idea of what Tony's metaphorical intent was there?"

"Oh, it's the use of the word 'saddle', I think. One has to be paying pretty close attention to spot it."

"Carry on."

"I can now see his defence of St. John Clarke as an interesting example of the power of the will, for his disinclination for St. John Clarke's works must have been at least equal to my own: possibly far in excess. As Quennell had made up his mind to accept what was probably a reasonable salary - though St. John Clarke was rather well known for being 'difficult' about money - his attitude was undoubtedly a sagacious one; indeed a great deal more discerning than my own, based on decidedly romantic premises. The force of this justification certainly removed any question of Connolly, as I had at first supposed he might, opening up some sort of critical attack on Quennell, based on the charge that St. John Clarke was a 'bad' writer.' On the contrary, Connolly now seemed almost envious that he had not secured the job for himself."

"Tony is being modest here. One must recall that this was Tony in his mid-forties, considering himself and his fellow literary men while in their mid-twenties. There is no question that Boots and Quennell were quick off the mark, showing early signs of brilliance coupled with social maturity. However, I imagine that Tony will goes on to characterise Connolly and Quennell as clever, selfish materialists. Which they certainly proved to be. But you were about to read something concerning Boots's attitude to the St. John Clarke appointment."

""Of Course, if I had job like that, I should probably say something one day that wouldn't go down," he commented, rather bitterly. "I've never had the opportunity to learn the way successful people like to be treated."

""St. John knows your work," said Quennell, with quiet emphasis. "I brought it to his attention."

"He watched Connolly closely after saying this. Once more I wondered whether there was any truth in Sillery's story, never verified in detail, to the effect that the two of them lived almost next door in the same Midlands town."

"Ha! On several occasions Boots and Quennell lived in the same house in London. This Midlands business is again to throw the reader - and the libel lawyer - off the scent"

"In spite of Connolly's uncouth, drab appearance, and the new spruceness of Quennell, there could be no doubt that they had something in common. As Connolly's face relaxed at these complimentary words, I could almost have believed they were cousins. Connolly did not comment on the subject of this awareness of his own status as a writer now attributed to St. John Clarke, but, in friendly exchange, he began to question Quennell about his books, in process of being written or already in the press: projected works that appeared to be several in number - at least three, possibly four - consisting of poems, a novel, a critical study, together with something else, more obscure in form, the precise nature of which I have forgotten, as it never appeared.

""And you, Cyril?" Asked Quennell, evidently not wishing to appear grudging.

""I am trying to remain one of the distinguished few who have not written a novel," said Connolly, lightly. "The Vox Populi may be doing a fragment of autobiography of mine in the spring. Otherwise I just keep a few notes - odds and ends I judge of interest. I suppose they will find there way into print in due course. Everything does these days."

""No streams of consciousness, I hope," said Quennell, with a touch of malignity. "But the Vox Populi isn't much of
a publishing house, is it? Will they pay a decent advance?"

""I get so sick of all the 'fine' typography you see about," said Connolly, dismissing the matter of money. "I've told Craggs to send it out to a jobbing printer, just as he would one of his pamphlets - print it on lavatory paper, if he likes. At least Craggs has the right political ideas."

"Ah yes, flagging up Cyril's left-wing credentials. Bogus as they proved to be."

""I question if there is much of the commodity you mention to be found on the premises of the Vox Populi," said Quennell, giving his thin, grating laugh. "But no doubt that format would ensure a certain sale. Don't forget to send me a copy, so that I can try and say something about it somewhere."

"One feels Tony's contempt for their naked self-interest at this point. The mutual back scratching. But one also feels that Tony is pushing his analysis as far as he can. It is not easy to be precise as this about your fellow man."

"In leaving behind the kind of shell common to all undergraduates, indeed to most young men, they had, in one sense, taken more definite shape by each establishing conspicuously his own individual identity, thereby automatically drawing farther apart from each other. Regarded from another angle, however, Connolly and Quennell had come, so it appeared, closer together by their concentration, in spite of differences of approach, upon the same, or at least very similar, aims. They could be thought of, perhaps, as representatives, if not of different cultures, at least of opposed traditions; Connolly, a kind of abiding prototype of discontent against life, possessing at the same time certain characteristics peculiar to the period: Quennell, no less dissatisfied than Connolly, but of more academic derivation, perhaps even sharing some of Mr. Deacon's intellectual origins."

"Powell at his best there. The meticulous dissection of appearance and attitude lays those two naked before the reader."

"Although he had already benefited from the tenets of what was possibly a dying doctrine, Quennell was sharp enough to be speedily jettisoning appurtenances, already deteriorated, of an outmoded aestheticism. Connolly, with his old clothes and astringent manner, showed a similar sense of what the immediate future intimated. This was to be
a race, neck-and-neck. Though whether the competitors themselves were already aware of the invisible ligament binding them together in apparently eternal contrast and comparison, I do not know. Certainly the attitude that was to exist mutually between them - perhaps best described as 'love-hate' - must have taken root long before anything of the sort was noticed by me. At the university their eclectic personalities had possessed, I had thought, a curious magnetism, unconnected with their potential talents. Now I was almost startled by the ease with which both of them appeared able to write books in almost any quantity; for Connolly's relative abnegation in that field was clearly the result of personal choice, rather than lack of subject matter, or weakness in powers expression."

"Excellent again. Tony has taken us as far as he can in his analysis of these two literary figures. Both extremely capable, extremely ambitious young men, but essentially empty. Plus, I can't listen to the name 'St. John Clarke' without thinking of myself, as my full name is Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh. Tony may or may not have known that. In any case, I am clearly not the successful author of a previous generation who wrote windily, that a young literary man might usefully attach themselves to. Somebody like C.P. Snow or J.B. Priestley, I suspect. But I did get off the mark quick enough with my books, and Quennell did adjust to this by taking those books seriously after badly misjudging the situation right at the start of my career. He wrote carefully considered and positive reviews from then on. Boots did the same. Although both Connolly and Quennell were jealous of my achievement, they both had to acknowledge my progress as a significant man of letters."

"Was Tony jealous of you as well?"

"I'm not sure that Tony was that ambitious at the beginning. He was more concerned with his love life, as one can judge by
A Buyer's Market. Besides, he simply wasn't in the same class as Connolly or Quennell as a writer, or a talker, in his twenties. But Tony kept his head down and his antennae out, and of course by the time he sat down to write his Dance to the Music of Time, he was a formidable proposition."

"The tortoise and the hare?"

"The tortoise, the hare and the pig, to acknowledge the elephant in the room: Cyril's appearance. I think it's in the first volume of his memoirs that Tony tells us that, at Eton, Hubert Duggan - the original for Charles Stringham - referred to Cyril as 'the tug' who looks as if he's been kicked in the face by a mule."

"How cruel."

"An unusual face and an unusual body. I would draw attention to the latter, not just because of the cartoon that Tony hung on the wall of his house in Somerset, but because of an observation made by Violet, following a visit that Cyril paid to the Chantry. According to Tony's wife, Cyril created a record at the Powell home by consuming six sausages as part of his breakfast."

"Did you never run him close?"

"After a modest breakfast, inclusive of two sausages, I would digest my meal while admiring the pictures that hung on the walls."


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"Let me top you up."

"No cocktail sausage to go with the fizz?"

"Alas, a sausageless
soirée. We must make the most of it. I too have been reading Tony's work. Though for the moment I have laid to one side his Dance, with one volume to go, in order to try and achieve an overview on his output. After writing the twelve novels that make up the Dance, from 1951 to 1975, he wrote four volumes of memoirs, published from 1976 to 1982."

"I have read those. Lots of analysis of his fellow travellers as he looks back in time, trying to go through things chronologically. Eton, Oxford, London…Schoolboy, undergraduate, publisher, writer…He is consistently admiring when it comes to you, I may say."

"But he didn't stop there. Three volumes of
Journals covering the years 1982-1986, 1987-1989 and 1990-1992 were all published in the 1990s, when Tony was still alive. I'm flattered to suggest that the keeping of these diaries was in part inspired by my own Diaries coming out in 1976. Tony goes so far as to suggest I may be remembered primarily for them."

"That can be taken two ways."

"You mean it's a back-handed insulting of my novels? Not so, actually. For instance, in September 1986, Tony tells us he re-read
Decline and Fall, not having done so for some time. 'There is notable originality in its first fifty pages… All his future preoccupations, including RC leanings, are to be found in this first novel, as well as his extreme ability to handle prose…Finally, one agrees with Connolly that Decline and Fall is remarkable for the manner in which narrative is sustained at all costs… A fairy story, yet full of food for thought about its author. Paul Pennyfeather, for example, abandoned by his wife, takes it all in the most philosophical manner imaginable, far from what happened in real life.' "

"Could you hand me the book?"

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"I warn you that Tony has a clear-eyed view of human nature. In the end, no-one gets off lightly, not even me. Take the topic of intelligence. Tony admires Cyril as an intelligence, but suggests I was 'gifted' rather than especially intelligent. While his old friend, Henry Yorke, is described as really not very intelligent at all, or at all well read. Both of which Cyril was."

"Good for Boots. Tony seems in the end to have been a fan. But then what is intelligence? When he talks of you being gifted, is that not a reference to a kind of intelligence?"

"I am just illustrating the point that Tony could be a harsh critic. He is particularly acerbic about Graham Greene. But then that could be because by the time of writing, Graham was the only other survivor of our generation. Tony and Graham vied to be known as Britain's greatest living novelist."

"Remember how I wrote to you after a meal we'd shared with the Powells in 1962? There were a lot of things I wanted to talk about at the dinner table, but couldn't because Violet was there. I asked you if you thought Tony
suffered. And you replied that you felt that Tony suffered frightfully from all human contact. And that Violet was no more painful to him than anyone else."

"I'm afraid that includes you as well. Would you like to know how you are referred to in Tony's journal?"

"If you thing I'm strong enough."

"Tony describes his first meeting with you, at a deb dinner given in 1927, in Radnor Place. You were sitting beside Tony, and you opened the conversation with the words "Don't you
adore mushrooms?" He reports that you could be funny in conversation, but were never at all at ease, aways desperately self-conscious, a condition that continued throughout your life."

"Boo-hoo. Pot calling the kettle black!"

"Tony also has an anecdote from 1929 that involves us both."

"Do tell."

"Give me the book… In 1982, someone sent Tony a letter that I had sent to my notorious chum of those years, Bobby Roberts. It dates from when I was staying at the Abingdon Arms in Beckley and you had taken the spare room at the Canonbury Square flat to keep She-Evelyn company while I worked on
Vile Bodies. Anyway, listen to this: 'My Dear Bobby, Nancy Mitford tells me you were grossly rude to her the other evening when you were drunk…"

"Oh, this is going to be good!"

"…Naturally she is disgusted and so is Evelyn who was chaperoning her and who made the initial mistake of introducing you to her…"

"Poor Bobby. I wonder what he did that broke the rules. I have no idea now."

"… I need hardly say it will be impossible for us or any of Nancy's friends to welcome you in the future unless you write apologising to her and to Evelyn. In any case surely it is time you began to behave like a gentleman when you are drunk particularly since so large a proportion of your waking hours seem to be spent in that state…."

"Sorry Evelyn, I seem to have spat champagne onto your carpet. I just couldn't help myself. Imagining Bobby trying to behave like a gentlemen when he was drunk!"

"…Yours, Evelyn Waugh."

"Such a pompous little letter. Quite sweet though. And now that we have swopped notes re our Anthony Powell reading I must return to my room and to volume three of the Dance, which I believe is called
The Acceptance World."

"Don't go, Nancy. I was just about to open another bottle. I find this fizz has an adorable mushroomy after-taste, don't you?"

"I've got the munchies and am heading for the kitchen. I wonder what Castle Howard's record for the number of sausages consumed after sunset is?"

"I imagine Cyril has set that record and broken it in these last few weeks."

"It is an odd time this, isn't it. First, the Brideshead Festival called off, then put back on again. Dick Young behaving like an idiot, and now the rumour that someone else is running wild at night. Possibly Henry. Possibly Robert."

"Good fun though."

"Certainly."

"By the way, I've just written to Tony. Do you want to know what I've said."

"Yes, please."

"My Dear Tony, Nancy Mitford tells me you were grossly rude to her the other evening when you were drunk. Naturally she is disgusted and so are Cyril and Peter who were chaperoning her and who made the initial mistake of introducing you to her. I need hardly say it will be impossible for us or any of Nancy's friends to welcome you in the future unless you write apologising to her and to Cyril and Peter. In any case surely it is time you began to behave like a gentleman when you are drunk particularly since so large a proportion of your waking hours seem to be spent in that state. Yours, Evelyn Waugh."


"You should say how it is particularly hard for Peter to see a man as drunk as Tony is in the habit of being, as he is a stranger to alcohol and its intoxicating properties."

"Or would it be funnier to give Boots that unlikely status?"

"You decide."






Note
The above essay uses several quotes from
A Buyer's Market. I hope that the Estate of Anthony Powell will show forbearance and allow them to stand, perhaps on the grounds that the essay illustrates one way in which the author weaved real people into his exquisite fiction.