Monday, June 07, 2010

Eleventh-century Scots and . . . Anthony Powell?

I wouldn't be a good Anthony Powell obsessive if I didn't follow up Saturday's post on Dorothy Dunnett with a note highlighting the following unexpectedly Powellian passage that I noticed late in her King Hereafter:
The year changed, and then began to unroll, like a wheel in turbulent country; like an unreeling ribbon of Groa's weaving that once, long ago, he had spoiled with his blood. A spinning ribbon in which, peg by peg, the device switched without warning, producing a new assortment of patterns, a new set of boundaries, a new line of direction, a mischievous disorder of design that tested his strength to the limit through the most powerful tenet by which he lived: Adapt and survive.
The language isn't exactly Powellian, but the sentiment definitely is, reminding me of one of the most perceptive and memorable passages in A Buyer's Market, the second volume of A Dance to the Music of Time:
Certain stages of life might be compared with the game of Russian billiards, played (as I used to play with Jean, when the time came), on those small green table, within the secret recesses of which, at the termination of a given passage of time--a quarter of an hour, I think--the hidden gate goes down; after the descent of which, the coloured balls return no longer to the slot to be replayed; and all scoring is doubled. This is perhaps an image of how we live. For reasons not always at the time explicable, there are specific occasions when events begin suddenly to take on a significance previously unsuspected; so that, before we really know where we are, life seems to have begun in earnest at last, and we ourselves, scarcely aware that any change has taken place, are careering uncontrollably down the slippery avenues of eternity.
So true, so familiar. "Life has begun in earnest," and "scarcely aware that any change has taken place," we are off on what will turn out to be--if for no other reason than that by the time we realize what's going on we will have come such a long way on it--our true course. On that subject, and the way it ramifies throughout our lives, Powell has no equal.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this - I can see that your knowledge of Powell is way above mine - but for what it is worth i have always felt that Powell deals well with the movement and pace of life in his work - so this is a very interesting quotation.

    Thanks indeed for sharing