I've just re-read Simon Raven's last novel, entitled The Troubadour (1992), which ended the sequence of seven novels grouped under the general title The First Born in Egypt, generally considered lesser work but connected to and sometimes as vital as his justly praised and unjustly neglected Alms for Oblivion sequence.
There's a lovely little moment after the death of Captain Detterling, the caddish and yet somehow impressive cricketer, soldier and pretender to the marquisate, rejoicing in the absurd title Captain the Most Honourable Marquess Canteloupe of the Aestuary of the Severn, when one of his fellow former members of the regiment tells his wife that he has decided not to attend Canteloupe's funeral:
"But surely he counted as a friend? The girls wrote to me that you seemed very pleased to see him at that cricket match at the school the other day."It's a good joke, and a nice bit of metafiction, making Simon Raven a character in a Simon Raven novel. (It's also as close as Detterling gets to an epitaph, although his death scene is rather mythic in nature.) But my own borrowings in Phineas at Bay go well beyond the world of Trollope--there are real historical personages hob-nobbing with their own fictional analogues, or the characters they created, in the case of Bernard Shaw. There are characters from good novels now obscure and from literary curiosae (which may have more meaning than they seem to at present). And there are several doffings of the hat to Raven, and through the actors who enacted his adaptation, to Doctor Who. A plethora of references flew through my mind and into the book as I wrote--and I left most of them in place. And most of them unflagged. (Though I did do an essay on sources.)
"So I was. I like being reminded of the past. And Canteloupe never fails to arouse in me a kind of pleasurable astonishment, that creatures such as him are still permitted to exist. But I am not and never have been his intimate, and truth to tell I have always disapproved of him. What was it that Trollope said of the old Duke of Omnium--the one played by Ronald Culver in that admirable dramatization by Simon Raven? 'No man should dare to live idly as His Grace had lived--something like that. Whether as Detterling or as Canteloupe, this man has lived idly. I doubt if he ever performed a single useful act.
It's been suggested to me that an annotated Phineas at Bay might be desirable--to explain some of the topical references I didn't address in the essay, and to reveal the "Easter Eggs" as I called my little tributes. But I don't know. I'm rather pleased at how many have gone uncommented on--that suggests that they didn't feel out of place, or squeezed in.
Still, since I'm working on a follow up, the question seems relevant--to annotate or not to annotate?