The end of the end comes with an odd move by Powell to use a long quote and an outro that has a dream like quality to it.
In some respects there is a feeling of anti-climax but the more you think about it there is an increasing sense of the right side having won. What I mean by that is that with the announcement of Widmerpool’s tragic death the last survivor of the original passages of the first book is Jenkins.
He actually reminds you of the start with a reference to the smell of the workmen in their hut using a brazier to keep warm as he stirs up his bonfire. Of those characters, Stringham and Templer died in the war and Widmerpool has now bitten the dust. He does so in a way that is so tragic. Bullied and victimised in his own home by the young cult leader Widmerpool tries one last time to assert himself and as they run through the woods, naked, he goes to the front “I’m the leader” he shouts before his old and infirm body hits the floor.
These books are about power, with Widmerpool’s quest for it the most obvious, but there are numerous characters in search of money and influence. Jenkins drifts in and out of these worlds. He is in a position to do so because he went to Eton and Oxford and so knows a great deal of the figures that come across his path at functions and in numerous settings.
But this is also about a lost age. Although Britain is still a country riddled by class prejudice and contacts and connections are vital to making your way through to the top the landed gentry described here have largely gone. The age of the debutantes slipped into history and the second world war saw off a number of the generation that would have carried the torch forward.
In that sense as the reader turns the last page and leaves an image of an elderly Jenkins burning a bonfire in his garden in autumn it is a world that you leave behind with that last lines. A world of intelligence, appreciation for beauty, art and culture, but also a world that had the ugliness of the hunt and quest for money and power.
A review will follow soon…