Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Anthony Powell's notebook

I drew on Anthony Powell's A Writer's Notebook for Monday's post, and today I can't help but go back to it. As my love of writer's letters attests, I'm a sucker for extra-canonical work, the fragments and effluvia of a writing life. Powell's notebook is easily my favorite.

No small part of that, of course, is because Powell is my favorite writer, and the notebooks are full of thoughts about characters and situations that would find their way into A Dance to the Music of Time. But I suspect they'd be fun for anyone who enjoys dry English wit, aphorisms, and disconnected lines of dialogue and character description that suggest a whole world.

Herewith, some examples!
A man sits wrapped in gloom after conversation with a bore.

"As to baths, I shouldn't think he overdid it."

Women have a way of saying "Oh yes," when a man's name is mentioned, indicating that they have slept with him.

Although unintellectual people should not be allowed to be rackety, rackety types have a link with people of the intellect.

I am an only child, accordingly there has always seemed to me something rather sinister about large families.

Different Opinions (Book title).

A man in the Secret Service, who is writing a novel in the style of James Joyce, which is stolen by foreign agents.

"She kept a tame rat." "How typical."

Man Traps for Womanizers (title for a book of short stories).

A woman who memorises phrases from reviews, and brings them out in conversation.

"Like good morals, one likes some people to have them, even though one may not want them oneself."

"His mentor proved a devotee of Bacchus."
I could go on all day. My only complaint about the book is that it is so brief, only 169 small-trim pages, which seems a pittance if, as the flap copy indicates, the notebook was kept up for sixty years. There's none of the abundance of Fitzgerald's notebooks here, sadly. What we do have, however, is a pleasure, and I'm grateful for it. And gratitude, writes Powell, "has some claims to be regarded as the rarest of human virtues."

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