Behind a wall of worship

Journals 1987-1989 by Anthony Powell, Heinemann, pounds 20

Twenty pounds, one feels, is a lot of money for a valetudinarian novelist telling one what he had to eat, which of his friends has died or come for lunch, and for using the expression "one feels" like royalty. But then Anthony Powell, he feels, is royalty. The book-jacket carries pinches of incense, promising "hours of impure pleasure", "infinitely re-readable", "enfolds with relaxed raffishness, full of good stories". Like this?

Monday 19 June: "In the afternoon V (Violet) and I watched on (Live) TV installation of King Juan Carlos of Spain as Knight of Garter in St George's Chapel Windsor. The weather was stewingly hot, perhaps accounting for Juan Carlos looking rather grumpy. I should have been sorry to have had to mill about in Garter robes on such a day, but Frank (Longford) who was present, nearly my twin, as spry as could be."

That entry is perfectly representative of the broad futility of too much of the journals. Yes it is nice that Powell (in his early eighties when this was written) has a pleasant life in his home in Frome, got an honour, and sees his friends. But we are asked to put up with the inconsequential working on the interminable.

There is minor chit-chat with the great; "Antonia asked if she and Harold Pinter could lunch here today after the wedding of Matthew Carr (son of Raymond Carr, Hispanicist don) and Lady Anne Somerset, the Beauforts' daughter. She said lunch here was one of her baits for Harold to come. I asked if Harold would wear a tailcoat."

There are the books read or being reviewed, problems with a dental plate, fine points of genealogy - would that barony have descended in the female line? - 16 pages of "congrats on CH", the companionship of honour which he distinguishes lovingly from vulgar knighthoods. "Ted Heath put forward a knighthood about a dozen years ago. I was always brought up to think a knight (especially being a knight's lady) rather an awful thing to be, even in the services only survived by reason of duty done." There would be "the problem of getting V called 'Lady Violet' rather than 'Lady Powell' without unduly complicating the issue for unsophisticated people."

One reads this irony-free twittering in awe and realises that we are in the presence of Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall, who found such solace in the Baronetage. It is Sir Walter with well-reasoned judgments on literature, but implacably Sir Walter.

All diaries are made up of small things - Thomas Turner buying supplies for his Sussex shop, Parson Woodforde wolfing cold fowl or Pepys scoring with the ladies of Westminster Hall. Clearly Powell who, very reasonably, tells us that he could not now write a novel, intends these to join the established diaries.

Perhaps they will, and they may do a fearful injury to his reputation. What shine out here are a steadily nourished self-esteem, a comic pride of acquaintance and antecedent and a taking seriously of things not worth taking seriously: "Journalist Marcus Scriven... rang, asking if I had been a member of The Grid, (a rather stuffy undergraduate club at Oxford). I have an idea I once put up, but matters never proceeded further, as the club was full of the least amusing Etonians, Wykehamists etc."

But little things in diaries can be endearing, as Powell truly is when he grieves for Trelawney his old cat and reproaches himself for letting others take Trelawney "to the vet to make an end of things". Trelawney has a moment of being cherished in death like "le petit Peloton", the little dog of Joachim du Bellay. But when a replacement is bought and as endearingly cherished, Powell spoils everything. The family providing the cat are called (amusingly I suppose) ''Snook''. So the kitten is to be called ''Snook''. The ear of the creative writer is closed to the odious condescension of this little act. Were he less full of himself, Powell would notice other people. But the book is as full of the esteem of other important or gently-bred people as the court circular ("which I have taken to scanning since my appearance there for my CH audience") is full of morning coats.

It is depressing. Of course there is intelligence and buzz here. The comments on an impressive reading - "with some skipping" he reads Richardson's Clarissa - are insightful. But he closes himself off behind a wall of worship tessellated from compliments, and by a worked-upon grandeur of manner which leaves him writing the way Brian Sewell talks.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee