Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Those of you who keep up with Twitter (Who can keep up with Twitter? I mean, I love it, and even find it borderline essential for discovering interesting books, but it doth flow past me like the vasty deep unleashed; I'm lucky to snag a few beautifully polished pieces of driftwood as they idle in eddies.) may have caught an announcement recently that, while minor in the scheme of things, was major for me: I've written a foreword to the new edition of Anthony Powell's Venusberg that my employer, the University of Chicago Press, will publish in October.

This is exciting for me for a couple of reasons. First is probably the most obvious: after years of reading, and thinking about, and writing about Powell--probably 40,000 words or more in this space alone--it's a pleasure to get to have some of those words appear in conjunction with Powell's own. The second reason is that in recent years Venusberg, with its Lubitsch-style whirl of counts and ne'erdowells, has risen substantially in my estimation. It now vies with Afternoon Men to be my favorite of Powell's non-Dance novels. (As Powell himself put it in his memoirs, the reviews were "well-disposed," with the "habitual undercurrent of disapproval from those who disliked books being 'modern.'" Several critics, Powell, noted, "commented that the stiff hurdle of a second novel had been satisfactorily cleared." Which is a very Powell way to put it.)

I'll leave more detailed commentary on the book to the foreword itself. Instead, I'll point you to two earlier times when I wrote about it, because both posts include bits from or about the book that I think you'll find entertaining. The first quotes an extended discussion between Venusberg's protagonist, Lushington, and the not wholly self-effacing butler he's saddled with in his new journalistic posting, Pope. It belongs in the upper ranks of butler comedy. The second goes into the publishing history of the book a bit, via a collection of letters between Powell and the New York bookstore owner who decided to bring the book out in the States in 1952. That post is worth reading, I promise, for the quote from a letter from a disgruntled reader.

Up next: the cover, which should be available soon, and is lovely. Stay tuned!


  1. Bill from PA5:50 PM

    Congratulations, I look forward to reading the foreword. My copy of Venusberg is that Vanderbilt edition with Agents and Patients. I never knew the history of it, so thanks for the link to that post. The conjunction there of the names of Anthony Powell and Elizabeth Bowen reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Powell’s memoirs:

    Elizabeth Bowen rarely wore spectacles and perhaps did not see very clearly without them, the possible explanation of her next remark. ‘Some people complain of cockroaches in the basements of these Regent Park houses,’ she said. ‘Your parents do, but they say their cook doesn’t mind a bit. She just stamps on them. I never seem to see any here.’ In one of the Dr Fu Manchu stories (I quote from memory) the sinister Chinese doctor, by the use of hypnotism, causes the wallpaper of a room to appear to be writhing with huge beetles. That was just how Elizabeth Bowen’s kitchen floor looked at that moment.

  2. I remember that passage--it's so distinct and horrifying!

    And thanks for the congratulations. I know that in one sense the foreword is a small thing, but in another, it feels like a chance to repay Powell for all that his books have given me: a chance to publicly make a case to readers for why this book is good and valuable. It was fun to write.