The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hearing Secret Harmonies

I spent a part of the day at the Anthony Powell Birthday Luncheon hosted at the Grolier Club by the Anthony Powell Society. This was, I was told, the 13th year the Society has given such a luncheon, and, as someone pointed out, it was Friday the 13th in the year 2013.

Now, as I was a first-timer to this event, I kept my mouth firmly closed, but I was tempted to wonder what Mrs. Erdleigh, the rather charming, but somewhat dubious psychic, fortune teller, and seer who ends up with narrator Nick Jenkins's Uncle Giles (also sometimes rather charming, but somewhat dubious) would have made of that.

Discretion prevailed, however, and I contented myself with enjoying an excellent lunch, and, far more, the company of my fellow Powell enthusiasts.

In discussing the character of Isabel Jenkins (née Tolland) with one of the other attendees, I was struck by a thought that true Powellians may find heretical: For all his sending up of John Galsworthy, Powell seems to me to have borrowed a literary stratagem from him. In the Preface to the Forsyte Saga, Galsworthy writes that "[t]he figure of Irene, never, as the reader may possibly have observed, present, except through the senses of other characters, is a concretion of disturbing Beauty impinging on a possessive world." We get an "inside look" at almost every other character in the Saga--I'm leaving out the "extras"--but not of Irene.

So too Isabel.

She is elusive because she is closed off from us; our first-person narrator manages to let us know the internal workings of so many of the characters of the Dance, but not of the one he knows best. Not for Galsworthy's rather programmatic reasons, of making Irene a totemic figure, but nonetheless, both narratives have, as one of their pivots, a woman who keeps her own counsel, and cannot be known to the reader.

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