‘What’s Become of Waring’ by Anthony Powell

‘What’s Become of Waring’ by Anthony Powell   (1939)  –  236 pages   Grade: B+

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“People think that because a novel’s invented, it isn’t true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that.” – Anthony Powell

So far I’ve read three of the twelve novels that make up ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ as well as the separate novels ‘O How the Wheel Becomes It’ and now ‘What’s Become of Waring’ by Anthony Powell.  What spurred my interest in ‘What’s Become of Waring’ was an old fascinating review at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings which described in detail Powell’s sly technique of allowing the reader to figure out what’s coming even before the narrator figures it out.

Anthony Powell was a writer of subtle and dry wit whose sense of humor wasn’t always readily apparent.  When I was younger, I preferred writers like Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis whose humor was broader and more obvious, but now I find myself returning to Powell on occasion.

“It is not what happens to people that is significant, but what they think happens to them.” – Anthony Powell  

 Here is the plot of ‘What’s Become of Waring’.  The publishing house of Judkins & Judkins has recently found out that one of its best selling travel writers, T. T. Waring, has died.  Waring “was the almost perfect exemplar of a form of wooly writing that appeals to uncritical palates”, but of whom no one with literary taste “could stomach those tinny echoes of a biblical style, much diluted with popular journalism.”  Since “there is no way of proving that writing is good or bad”, Waring’s reputation as a remarkable traveler was secure.

In order to cash in on Waring’s celebrity immediately after he died, the publishers hire our narrator to research his life and write a biography.   Soon our narrator, as well as we readers, discovers that travel writer T. T. Waring is a fraud.

Anthony Powell had written four novels before this one so he was quire familiar with the publishing business, and his ironic insights into the business are quite acute.

‘What’s Become of Waring’ is a novel of its time, written just before the outbreak of World War II.  Somehow names like Eustace and Beryl seem out of date.  Several of the scenes take place at séances which were meetings of friends who try to communicate with dead people.  These séances were a quite popular entertainment in England during the 1930s.

Perhaps someday I will again pick up ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’.  For now, this early Anthony Powell novel will sustain me.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kaggsysbookishramblings on January 15, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    I enjoyed “Waring” very much – in fact, I really must pick up some of Powell’s other non-Dance titles! 🙂

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    • Hi Kaggsy,
      The novels in ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ are quite stand alone. I’ve been reading them totally out of order. Somewhere I read that ‘Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant’ was really good, so I read that one first even though it was number 7 in the ‘Dance’ sequence. I believe I’ve also read numbers 4 and 5.

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      • Posted by kaggsysbookishramblings on January 15, 2015 at 7:43 PM

        They are, I believe, though I did enjoy reading them in order. But I have a couple of his other non-Dance titles somewhere in the stacks – I’m sure I’ll get to them eventually! 🙂

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  2. I’d never heard of Anthony Powell before blogging in the English speaking world. His books are available in French but never made it to paperbacks.
    Is he very popular?

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    • Hi Emma,
      No, Anthony Powell is not very popular, more of what I’d call a refined taste. Even I who have read a fair amount of Powell still approach his novels with caution.

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  3. I’ve blogged all twelve of Dance at mine, without spoilers (which by the time you get to the later volumes takes some doing). They may seem stand alone, but it’s very much a cycle meant to be read in order. There’s a lot that emerges then in terms of the development and interactions of the characters.

    Powell’s non-Dance stuff I haven’t tried yet (probably as having read Dance I was a bit Powelled out for a while), but I may give this one a go. It does sound very him.

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    • Hi Max,
      So you’ve read all 12 novels of ‘The Dance of the Music of Time – That’s quite an accomplishment! I’m sure there are advantages to be gained by reading them in order, but my experience has been that the individual novels stand alone quite well also. I don’t think the two ideas are entirely contradictory.
      At this point I’m noy willing to commit to one writer for 12 novels. Perhaps the thing to do is divide them up in threes at a time. I realize that ‘Dance’ is considered a monumental achievement, but I have other fish to fry right now.

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