Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Powell’

Afternoon Men’ by Anthony Powell – Wayward Young Men and Women


‘Afternoon Men’ by Anthony Powell    (1931) – 221 pages


This is a novel about young men and young women in England in the early 1930s, but it will surely be real to life for many of us today.

These are young men and young women in their early twenties. The young men are volatile and unpredictable. The young women are capricious. Because that’s the way both sexes are at that age, wayward. Everything, including the future, is still up in the air.

There is lots of partying and drinking and camaraderie, a lot of dialogue. The writer Anthony Powell (rhymes with Lowell) captured the dynamics of this situation better than anyone else in his first novel ‘Afternoon Men’ which was published in 1931 when he was 25.

The main young guy to watch for is William Atwater, since he is in every scene and sees and hears all that is happening. Much of what is going on is light and amusing, but sometimes it is deadly serious. All is presented in a brisk fashion.

Atwater works in a museum. He finds his job dull, as most jobs right after college are dull. He spends most of his time away from the job socializing with his friends and drinking. He has a couple of close young woman friends, of which one Susan Nunnery he wants to get even closer despite her resistance. His two best male friends are Raymond Pringle and Hector Barlow, both of whom are toying with careers in creating art.

One of the many things that Anthony Powell captures in this novel is the way these young men and women talk, as there is much dialogue in ‘Afternoon Men’. Here is Atwater talking to Susan Nunnery between fights on a boxing night he has taken her to:

She said: “You’re rather sweet really.”

Aren’t I?”

Yes. But that’s how I feel.”

Anyway, I never see you, so it doesn’t make any difference.”

Well, if it doesn’t make any difference.”


Don’t be like that,” she said.

Why not.”

I don’t like it.”


No,” she said. “I don’t.”

It can’t be helped. I’m like that.”

You’re being such a bore.”

I know.”

She said: “Why not be nice? You’re so nice sometimes.”

I don’t feel nice today.”

Anthony Powell as a writer is not flashy, and the power of his work will only creep up on you. Later, after ‘Afternoon Men’, Powell would write one of the lasting pillars of 20th century literature, the twelve-volume ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’. Each volume of that work is a separate stand-alone novel, although with the same characters. I have only put a couple of dents into that structure having read only 2 or 3 of its novels. However after reading ‘Afternoon Men’, I probably will be putting more dents into it.


Grade:    A




‘What’s Become of Waring’ by Anthony Powell

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


“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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