September 23, 2004

Literary Dinner Companions

Enoch Soames, Esq., asks the following question:

If you had to choose...With whom would you dine at the Cafe Royal: Brenda Last, or, Pamela Widmerpool? And depending on you choice, would things progress after your meal?

Well, I can only half answer the question, but it's a definite half-answer. A Handful of Dust is a great favorite of mine in large part because of the feelings of anger and horror that it always evokes. To me, Brenda Last is one of the most appalling characters in literature. Waugh penned some other stinkers to be sure, but at least someone like Virginia Troy, for example, for all her self-centered shallowness, has some shreds of humanity about her. Brenda, on the other hand, is rotten right through and what she does to poor old Tony in the end fills one with dread and loathing. Now, of course, Mr. Soames isn't looking to the long term, but rather to a single no-strings-attached evening. Even here, though, I can't get enthusiastic (as I might very well with Virginia). Brenda's so completely self-absorbed that I would think dinner and, er, anything else with her would be pretty trying - tedious if not downright boring.

On the other hand, I've never read Anthony Powell so I wouldn't know Pamela Widmerpool if I tripped over her. Which leads me to a question - If I were to dip into Powell's works, where would I best start? Any suggestions would be most helpful.

UPDATE: Another reason to love the Blogsphere can be found in the comments to this post. Thanks very much for the recommendations, folks! To all Robbo The Llama Butcher family members who always complain that they never know what to give me: Here is an ideal Christmas present.

Posted by Robert at September 23, 2004 08:34 AM | TrackBack

Actually Lady Widmerpool makes Brenda look like a Stepford wife...Read AP's Dance to the Music of Time (which is where you will find Lady W)...It is one long novel origionally published as twelve seperate novels between 1951-1974. It is now published in a four volume set by the U of Chicago Press. If you enjoy EW you will enjoy AP...Also Stephen Baldwin over at Stephenesque is an AP expert...

Posted by: Enoch Soames at September 23, 2004 10:00 AM

There isn't much more to say that Mr. Soames hasn't already said. If you want to read Powell, you must read Dance... The UChicago Press edition is quite attractive.

It is difficult to compare Waugh with Powell, for me, since the nature of the work is quite different. But those who have the temperment for EW often also enjoy AP, especially given your Tory leanings. Waugh's work is shorter and punchier, while Powell's is subtler and, well, spread over twelve novels.

Posted by: Misspent at September 23, 2004 10:19 AM

I agree, it's all about what kind of evening you're looking for after dinner. Having said that, according to the Bob Duport character in Dance (and he should know), Pamela "isn't much of a grind", and she later turns out ot be frigid.So, for me, having read both books, it's "Good evening, Brenda, may I take your coat."

Posted by: stephenesque at September 23, 2004 11:56 AM
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