Monday, 23 May 2016

The Great and the Good

What a blunder I have made - deciding to read Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour Trilogy and Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time cycle simultaneously

Both deal with much the same class of people and both describe events in a similar era. Had I read one and then, several years later, embarked upon the other, I might never have realised that one of them is merely good, while the other is a great work of art, written by someone who was exceptionally perceptive about humanity.

I wonder if anyone else thinks the same and, if so, whether they agree about which is the great work and which the merely good. Mind you, the one that is not great is, to quote, possibly, (there is some argument about whether he actually said it about himself), Somerset Maugham, "in the top rank of the second-rate".


  1. I read the Sword of Honour trilogy last year and loved it. I'd always assumed that Waugh's later works weren't as good his early ones. How wrong I was.

    I'm afraid I gave up on Mr Powell, as I found the prose style rather overwritten - the sense of an author trying too hard made it hard for me to lose myself in the narrative. Should I have persisted?

    1. Powell is like a warm bath, I suppose. I haven't had a bath for years, but baths can be quite comforting, I'm told. But Guy Crouchback, just to name one of the many brilliant aspects of that trilogy, is such a superb creation, Waugh's insights are so marvellous, the economy of his writing, all these just leave Powell far behind. His is an entertainment, (if it entertains you), but I don't think it resonates beyond that. I will finish. I feel I should although I'm not sure I can explain why.

    2. Thank you very much indeed for alerting me to that wonderful Paul Johnson essay on the Sword of Honour trilogy. It is really good and also reminded me that one of the things I was surprised to find was that Waugh is much more interested in women than Powell. His narrator falls in love, has children and a married life but almost every detail of that not unimportant side of his existence happens completely off stage.

  2. Thank you, Dave. Much appreciated.