The Acceptance World
We come to the third volume in Anthony Powell’s series – the last of the ‘Spring’ books. (If you’d like to catch up with volumes one and two, click accordingly.)
The Acceptance World begins with Nick Jenkins meeting his Uncle Giles at a hotel for tea. There he is introduced to Mrs Erdleigh who tells their fortunes, saying to Nick that she’ll meet him again in a year – strange company for his Uncle Giles!
At work, Jenkins is publishing a book on a noted painter of political portraits and businessmen and has approached St.John Clarke (apparently based upon John Galsworthy) to write the introduction. One of his old college contemporaries had been Clarke’s secretary, but Jenkins finds he has been replaced by on Quiggin – who has, it appears, steered Clarke in a different political direction. Jenkins discusses Clarke’s situation being under the thumb of his new secretary with his friend Barnby:
‘I don’t think St.John Clark is interested in either sex,’ said Barnby. ‘He fell in love with himself at first sight and it is a passion to which he has always remained faithful.’
Some time later, Jenkins meets his old school-friend Peter Templer again and is invited to join them for a weekend.
That we had ceased to meet fairly regularly was due no doubt to some extent to Templer’s chronic inability – as our housemaster Le Bas would have said – to ‘keep up’ a friendship. He moved entirely within the orbit of events of the moment, looking neither forward nor backward. If we happened to run across each other, we arranged to do something together; not otherwise.
The particular excitement of this reuniting for Jenkins is that he finds out that Jean, Peter’s sister, appears to be separated from her husband DuPort. Jenkins had had a youthful passion for Jean, and this is reignited and they rekindle their affair. In between all this there is a lot of complicated discussion about who’s seeing whom, who’s divorced whom and such shenanigans!
Jenkins is reunited with his old schoolfriends at his old housemaster’s dinner for old boys at the Ritz. Stringham is drunk and Widmerpool makes a very long and involved and very boring speech – during which Le Bas has a stroke! I shouldn’t cheer at other people’s misfortunes, but it was a great penultimate scene to bring Widmerpool back into play. He had been mentioned earlier, but hadn’t appeared until then. It is Widmerpool who is moving from industry into the city and joining the ‘Acceptance World’. I can hear you asking what that is – here is how Templer describes it to Nick:
‘If you have goods you want to sell to a firm in Bolivia, you probably do not touch your money in the ordinary way until the stuff arrives there. Certain houses, therefore, are prepared to ‘accept’ the debt. They will advance you the money on the strength of your reputation. It is all right when the going is good, but sooner or later you are tempted to plunge. Then there is an alteration in the value of the Bolivian exchange, or a revolution, or perhaps the firm just goes bust – and you find yourself stung. That is, if you guess wrong.’
Any clearer? I assume they refer to the futures and/or bond markets…
There are other forms of acceptance at work in this novel too. Nick, who does have to work for a living, is becoming accepted in all the walks of society in which he moves. He seems more mature than most of his friends, and while not immune to love affairs, is not the type to swap partners that way most of the others seem to do with monotonous regularity. For his capricious upper class friends, marriage and divorce don’t seem to mean a lot. Nick, as Widmerpool has too, has resisted marriage – how long can they last as bachelors? What will happen to Peter and Jean?
Widmerpool’s appearance aside, volume three was a lot more serious than the first two, and I missed the comedy he brings with him. I know I have a Widmerpool-fest to come in the next novel – the first of the ‘Summer’ books. I’m looking forward to April’s Powell episode. (7.5/10)
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Source: Own Copy.
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The Acceptance World: Vol 3 (Dance to the Music of Time 03) by Anthony Powell (1955), approx 224 pages.