HEARING SECRET HARMONIES



Evelyn wonders where this day will take him. He intends to read
Hearing Secret Harmonies, the 12th and final book in Tony's Dance, and knows he has been building up to this reading all his life. All his resurrected life, that's to say.

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Cover of Heinemann edition of Hearing Secret Harmonies, 1973

Heinemann published the novel in 1975, so it was largely written in 1974, when Tony was in his 69th year. As in the 11th book in the series, the action has moved on several years, on this occasion from the late fifties to the mid-sixties. Time having speeded up considerably from that experienced in the first ten volumes.

By the way, this is what Tony looked like in 1963, when he was 58. Wearing well, Evelyn has to admit.

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Anthony Powell; Riccardo Aragno by Lewis Morley, bromide print, 1963.

And here he is in 1969, age 64. Still going strong; still pacing himself; still combing his hair but not trimming his eyebrows.

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Anthony Powell;by Gofrey Argent, bromide print, 22 January 1969.

With an evergreen Tony breathing down his neck, as it were, Evelyn is going to be even more organised than last time about this day's reading. He is going to write down his comments about each part of the novel as he goes along.


Part One. Pages 1 to 29. (29 pages.)

The book begins in Nick Jenkins's own backyard. Effectively, The Chantry, the house in Somerset that Tony bought in 1952, Evelyn becoming a distant neighbour when he moved to Somerset in 1958. Nick and Isobel allow a caravan to park on their land overnight. Hilary Spurling's biography of Tony informs us that the episode is based on an actual event that took place 'eight years earlier' (which Evelyn takes to mean 8 years before the writing of the novel, hence in 1965). On that occasion the Glenconners' daughter, Catherine Tennant, arrived with two friends in a horse-drawn caravan and asked for permission to camp in the paddock.

In
Harmonies, the caravan consists of four young people, members of a cult, two men and two women, led by Scorpio Murtlock. Nick seems intimidated by this strong-willed, charismatic individual, being more competitive in conversation than he is elsewhere in the Dance. Or is this - like the Shakespeare references that punctuate the text - a function of the author's age, either deliberately or not? It did not seem to be an old man that was writing Temporary Kings. It may be an old man who is responsible for Hearing Secret Harmonies. Time will tell.

Before moving on, Evelyn brings to mind his last published fiction.
Basil Seal Rides Again or The Rake's Regress, a story which was published as a book in itself in 1963. That too presents an age versus youth scenario, only in this case Evelyn's old protagonist pulls through. A vaguely amusing, well-enough written piece of wishful thinking, muses Evelyn, though sadly not sustained for long enough.


Part Two. Pages 30-83.(53 pages.)

Tony starts this section obscurely, talking about the Moon, both in early Italian literature (Orlando Furioso) and the contemporary Apollo mission. Reference to the moon landings suggests he's writing about 1968. Nick watches a TV report that shows Widmerpool, newly appointed chancellor of a red-brick university, getting paint thrown over him by two female students, daughters of Quiggin (based, Evelyn recalls, on Cyril Connolly). However, the main thrust of this section is a discussion of a literary prize that Nick is on the committee of. It's got to be awarded to a biography, and there doesn't seem to be a suitable recipient that year, That is, until one of the committee members comes up with a manuscript he's been given. It's
Death's-Head Swordsman, The Life and Work of X.Trapnel, written by Russell Gwinnett. The only problem is that Widmerpool acts as one of the trustees of the fund from which the Magnus Donners Memorial Prize derives. The aforementioned committee member, Delavaquerie, volunteers to go and ask Widmerpool whether he would mind the prize going to a book written by a man who had an affair with his wife who also had an affair with the subject of the biography.

Evelyn reminds himself that The Brideshead Prize was presented by Cyril Connolly to
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron, apparently. Why did no-one come and asked Evelyn if that would be all right with him? Robert was not a proper writer, as well as being a disgrace to humanity. That had long been Evelyn's considered opinion.

A word here about Widmerpool. Evelyn knows now, from his extensive Castle Howard reading, that Widmerpool was based primarily on a Major Capel-Dunn, who Tony served under in the army for nine weeks of 1942. Tony had only admitted to this identification when it was presented to him as a fact in 1991. Widmerpool had been experienced in 1942, written about from 1950 to 1975, but only traced back to his originator in 1991.

It seems that Capel-Dunn had been unforgettable in his combination of mediocrity and ambition. Tony and his friend, Alic Dru (Evelyn's own brother-in-law) would refer to him as the Papal Bun, in part because of his body shape. Dru had also told Tony tales of Capel-Dunn as he'd known him at Cambridge, where he had been an object of ridicule among his fellow undergraduates. They worried about him securing employment after going down, this being in days when everyone from Oxbridge slotted into one job or another, comfortably enough.

One sees how Tony was able to cast the real man as Widmerpool in
The Military Philosophers, but Widmerpool goes from schoolboy, to undergraduate, before turning up in his real-life role. Similarly, after the war, Widmerpool becomes a Labour MP, then is made a life peer, before turning up again as the chancellor of a university in Hearing Secret Harmonies. Tony used much imagination to bring all these changes about, in a way that came over as believable. That Tony was able to transfer him from situation to situation, shows how strong an impression this Capel-Dunn made on him in those few short weeks of sharing life in one particular place. Perhaps Brian Howard had been the same sort of inspiration in Evelyn's work. Though not to the same degree.

Part Three. Pages 84-140. (56 pages.)
Lord Widmerpool 'does not give a fart what has been said about him in Professor Gwinnett's book', either by name or anonymously. That is the news that Delavacquerie brings back to the committee. His only condition is that he be invited to the dinner at which the Prize is presented, bringing with him the Quiggin twins. On the night of the ceremony, Quiggin (Connolly, remember) is very disappointed that his own firm wasn't able to publish the Trapnel biography. '
It makes him full of Angst, worries, regrets of all sorts.' Meanwhile, Russell Gwinnett is seen to be greatly aged since Nick met him in Venice.

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Cover of Fontana edition of Hearing Secret Harmonies, 1977.

It's implied that having had sex with the still warm corpse of Pamela Widmerpool may have had something to do with Gwinnett's ageing. Widmerpool also is greatly changed, not least in his outlook on life. To everyone's surprise, he makes a speech, criticising the organisation behind the Magnus Donners Prize, while slating bourgeois values in general.

Evelyn decides that an extract from Widmerpool's speech should be underlined in his copy of the novel. As an indication of how far he'd come since his boring speech in
A Buyer's Market:

"Some of you - not, I hope, the younger section of my audience - may be surprised at my drawing attention to my own case in playing a part - that of the so-called betrayed husband - once looked upon as discreditable and derisory. I go further than merely proclaiming that fact to you all. I take pride in ridiculing what is - or rather was - absurdly called honour, respectability, law, order, obedience, custom, rule, hierarchy, precept, regulation, all that is insidiously imposed by the morally, ideologically, and spiritually naked, and politically bankrupt, on those who have oppressed and do oppress. I am grateful to the author of this book - the title of which for the moment escapes me - for bringing home to so large an audience the irrelevance of such concepts in this day and age, by giving me the opportunity to express at a gathering like ours, the wrongness of the way we live, the wrongness of marriage, the wrongness of money, the wrongness of education, the wrongness of government, the wrongness of the manner we treat kids like these."

At the climax of his speech, a smoke bomb and a stink bomb are set off by the Quiggin twins, whether or not at Widmerpool's say-so is unclear. The dinner ends in chaos, rather as the old school reunion dinner did in book two of the
Dance. That time Widmerpool's speech had been pro-capitalist, conventional and boring. Oh, how the wheel turns! The connection between Widmerpool and Apthorpe comes to Evelyn's mind again. Widmerpool gloriosus.

And how about the link with Ambrose Silk? Now may be time for something from Ambrose in
Put Out More Flags:

'Ambrose lived in and for conversation; he rejoiced in the whole intricate art of it - the timing and striking the proper juxtaposition of narrative and comment, the bursts of spontaneous parody, the allusion one would recognise and one would not, the changes of alliance, the betrayals, the diplomatic revolutions, the waxing and waning of dictatorships that could happen in an hour’s session about a table. But could it happen? Was that, too, most exquisite and exacting of the arts, part of the buried world of Diaghilev?'

Evelyn is relieved to find his own piece of writing bears comparison with Tony's.


Part Four. Pages 117-140. (23 pages.)

Oddly enough, from a structural point of view, this part is concerned with another dinner, later the same spring. This time Nick is invited to a banquet at the Royal Academy. He is seated beside a Canon Fenneau who knew Scorpio Murtlock as a child. An intelligent and seductive boy, apparently, with a strong will. Nick listens and learns. To his surprise, at the end of the meal, Widmerpool approaches and speaks to this Canon, seeking a meeting with Scorpio.


Part Five. Pages 141-186 (45 pages.)

The action moves back to Nick's home. The expansion of a local quarry threatens a prehistoric barrow that is well-known locally. Nick brought it to the attention of Murtlock and his caravan in part one of the novel, two years earlier. Nick and Isobel are in the vicinity of the barrow in order to hear the views of various interested parties, when Nick comes across a bizarre-looking stranger. It turns out to be the prize-winning author, Professor Gwinnett, who hasn't eaten for 36 hours, and who spent the previous midnight watching Murtlock, Widmerpool (referred to respectively as 'Scorp' and 'Ken') and two young women, perform a stag dance. During this dance, performed naked, each of the participants had sex with all the others, at least those that could manage it. The event ended in a clash between Widmerpool and Murtlock that left the former badly cut and having to be carried back to base. Widmerpool
furibundus.

Evelyn reminds himself that by this time Widmerpool has resigned from his chancellorship of the university and has donated money and his mother's former house to Scorpio Murtlock's cult. A battle for leadership has taken place and it would seem that Murtlock has come out on top.


Part Six. Pages 187-242 (56 pages)

Spring the following year. A wedding takes place. Evelyn underlines the following passage concerning Nick Jenkins and Isobel.
'We joined the queue, a long one, formed by guests waiting to meet bride and bridegroom. There must have been a hundred or more guests at least. We took a place far back in the line, working our way up slowly, as Roddy, relic of his parliamentary days, liked to talk for a minute or two to everyone he knew personally.'

Evelyn only understands why he has underlined that passage when he gets to the end of the section. What happens is this. Having been unsettled by a conversation with Pamela's mother, Nick goes into the house for a look round its corridors and galleries. Eventually emerging from the house at another side, he observes a group of people in robes running very slowly, led by Widmerpool (now in his late sixties). Fiona, sister of the groom, one of the women who took part in the stag-dance, but who has since left the cult, calls them over. Widmerpool is in a bemused state, subservient to Scorpio Murtlock, even in his absence. Fiona tries to insist on them joining the wedding party, and that's what happens. Widmerpool realises that the grandfather of the bride is someone who he once got into serious trouble at school, and he decides he must make amends for the error of his old ways. In other words, Widmerpool - looking ill, desperate, worn out - prostrates himself in front of this banker.

Things go from bad to worse for Widmerpool, when another of the cult, Barnabas Henderson, announces that he wants to leave too. Widmerpool feebly forbids it. At this point, Scorpio Murtock turns up. He asks Widmerpool what he thinks is doing at the wedding.
'Widmerpool made great effort to utter. He had gone an awful colour, almost mauve.' Murtlock humiliates him. Until, Widmerpool says: 'Scorp, I'm leaving too. I can't stand it any longer. You and the others need not be disturbed. I'll find somewhere else to live. I won't need much of the money.' But Widmerpool has to climb down when Murtlock points out that he has neglected one of his specific duties of that afternoon, to look after the other ex-soldier (both Nick and Widmerpool had served with him in the war) that has a drink problem and who was now drunk courtesy of the easy availability of booze at the wedding. 'A minute or two later, Widmerpool, once more at the head of the pack, was leading the run home; a trot even slower than that employed when we first sighted them.'

Evelyn has nearly got through
Hearing Secret Harmonies. But he feels he has to break off from it in order to consult another volume, which was published three years after Harmonies, in 1978. There is a double page he needs to consult closely.

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Cover of Heinemann edition of Messengers of Day, 1973

'In November, 1965, at a country wedding, we found ourselves in the queue to greet bride and bridegroom with Waugh, his wife, one of their daughters.'

The wedding took place on the 20th of November of that year, for some reason Evelyn can remember the precise date. John Jolliffe, grandson of Evelyn's friend, Katherine Asquith, was marrying Victoria Eden, a very well connected young lady. Evelyn's daughter Margaret had accompanied Evelyn and his wife.

'Waugh did not look at all well. For some time he had been too fat to be in good health; now he seemed at the same time portly, yet wasted.'

Evelyn wonders whether he looked better or worse than Widmerpool on the day. He does not have a picture of himself at that particular wedding, but a picture of himself on the occasion of the marriage of his oldest son, Auberon, in 1961, does exist. Let's face it, it's a shocking image. He was only 58, the same age as Tony in that previous photo. Evelyn could still feel Laura's misery.

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Anyway, back to 1965, Tony's observations at the Jolliffe wedding.

'He walked in a very shaky manner. One could never be sure such staggerings were not the pretence of being an old man that he had begun in middle-age, together with the ear-trumpet, but if the ear-trumpet itself remained always something of a game, the deafness and unsteadiness on his feet were now genuine enough.'

''"Do you think there's any whisky?'" he asked at once.

"'I'd forgotten you drank whisky."

'That was true enough. A great consumer of wine, especially port, Waugh's favourite spirit had always seemed gin, drunk with Italian vermouth, or orange; though no doubt a whisky-and-soda last thing.

"'One must at an affair like this. I'll have look round the house."

'He broke off from the queue; reappearing a minute or two later, before we had anything like reached the newly married couple.

'"I'd very much like your opinion on two decanters I've found. I'm not sure either is whisky. My sense of smell isn't what it used to be."

'He led me through the back parts of the house into a kind of scullery. On a tray, with a bottle of barley water, stood two all but empty decanters. Whatever they contained could have dated back some days, if not weeks. It was evident they had been put out of the way for the party that was taking place. I diagnosed port residues in each case.

Waugh sighed. '"Just what I thought myself."

'We returned to the queue. The main part of the reception was taking place in a marquee, to reach which a ramp had been placed, leading down to the tent from the higher level of the lawn. The slope, though perceptible, was not a specially steep one.

Now Evelyn would come back to that precise point in
Messengers of Day very soon. First, he had to explore his own memories of the day. He hadn't been able to hear anything that had been said to him. Certainly, he couldn't remember anything that had been said. But he did recall some of his own words, utterly uninspired by whisky as they clearly were.

"I am not fit for human company nowadays, deaf and toothless, so I don’t suppose we shall meet again in this world. The changes in the Church are very painful to me. Pray God I shall never apostatize but I cling to the Faith despairingly."

"Alas I am no longer sortable."

"My 63rd year was one of almost unrelieved misery and sloth. I hope my 64th year will be better.'

Evelyn realises now that this was an odd thing for a man who had just celebrated his 62nd birthday to say. Perhaps that was why it had stuck in his mind. Dear, oh dear.

"The truth is that I suffer from premature senile decay. I am simply not sortable and my palette is debauched with gin, paraldehyde and cigars."

"The last 12 months have been awful - dentists and funerals, sloth and melancholy."

"I have false teeth which deprive me of the pleasures of the table. Indeed I live on gin and cigars, I only go out to funerals which seem to come two a month."

"Vomiting is a great exhilaration. One feels so ghastly before and so rejuvenated immediately after."
Evelyn remembers that it was Ann Fleming he said that to. He can still see her disapproving face.

"Kidneys and lungs cause trouble; deafness increases at an alarming rate. Why does everyone hate the deaf and love the blind?"


Evelyn tries to calculate whether he would have made a better or worse impression on wedding guests than Widmerpool had done in
Hearing Secret Harmonies. Worse, probably. Though he hadn't got down on his hands and knees and asked forgiveness of anyone. Though if Dudley Carew had been there that day, he would have been tempted. The poor man had been his best friend during Lancing schooldays, but Evelyn had thoughtlessly insulted him in 1965's A Little Learning.

Evelyn sits there, at the back of his suite of rooms at Castle Howard, slowly shaking his head. After a minute, he pulls himself together. Back to
Messengers of Day and Tony's version of events:

'We happened to leave the party at the same moment as the Waughs. Laura Waugh went first, Waugh following, holding his daughter's arm for support. Suddenly, from sheer physical weakness, he could not manage the ascent. His daughter had to call for her mother to return and help. Together they got him up the ramp. This was the first time I grasped quite how bad was his state of health by that stage.'

Obviously, Widmerpool was in much better shape. And him the older man too. For although Tony was at pains to emphasise how slowly Widmerpool set off trotting back to the house that had at one time been his mother's, a trot's a trot.

There is one more paragraph in the section of
Messengers of Day that concerns him. Evelyn makes himself bear it in mind:

'At the top of the slope the three of them paused. Waugh smiled as we passed, making a faint gesture of his hand to say goodbye. That was the last time I saw him. He died about five months later.'

Evelyn presumes that Nick will not encounter Widmerpool again. Not alive, that's to say.


Part Seven. Pages 243-272. 29 pages.

Nick Jenkins receives an invite to an exhibition of paintings by Bosworth Deacon at the new Barnabas Henderson Gallery in Berkeley Square. Nick can't make the opening but he does get to London to see the show. The gallery is run by the young man who successfully left the cult at the wedding of a few months before. While Deacon was a major character in
A Buyer's Market, the second volume in the Dance. However, his pictures were totally out of fashion then, cropping up in junk shops and on obscure walls in private houses. Evelyn is familiar with this aspect of the Twentieth Century. After all, did he not build up a collection of Victoriana when the stuff was so outré it was being given away. By the sixties, prices had been creeping up again.

When the show closes, Nick talks to Barnabas about the cult, and is told a few things about midnight runs, but he has no news as such. However, the introduction of Bithel, the ex-soldier who served with Nick and Widmerpool, changes all that.
"Lord Widmerpool's… dead." He is asked to describe what happened. On the night scheduled for a naked run, 'Ken' could hardly get up from the floor. When he did get to his feet, he was all shaky. It was 'Scorp' who insisted that the run go ahead. Ken seemed to recover when they got going, and even insisted that they run faster. Scorp tried to hold him back, to maximise the 'harmony', but Ken kept going. "I'm leading, I'm leading," he shouted. He ran on into the mist. When the rest of them came round a corner, he was lying on the ground. Collapsed, and, it was soon established, dead.

The reason that Bithel had come into London that day was to get drunk, and to deliver to Barnabas's new gallery the Modigliani drawing that had once been Pamela's, saved from the bonfire that had been made of Widmerpool's worldly possessions.

Evelyn leans back in his seat. He has read to the end of Tony's
Dance to the Music of Time. Absolutely typical that Widmerpool had died off-stage, with Nick having to piece things together with the help of a first-hand observer.

Evelyn tries to stick with the essence of the Dance, while letting his imagination roam…Cut to Tony laughing as young Evelyn was let down a rope from a room in Balliol College during Oxford days… Tony still laughing as Evelyn read aloud extracts from the manuscript of
Decline and Fall in his parents' house in Hampstead… Tony talking to John Heygate about the disintegration of Evelyn's first marriage… Tony reading Evelyn's war trilogy, with its many parallels to his own… Tony realising that he'd moved into a house in the countryside not unlike Evelyn's and within visiting distance of it… Tony watching as old Evelyn could barely put one foot in front of the other in his premature dotage…

What had that been but Evelyn's waltz to the music of time. Tony had seen it all. And he had understood it to be his own invitation to the dance. The best one he was ever likely to get. How could nine weeks with Major Capel-Dunn compare with a whole life rubbing shoulders with the Papal Bun of Papal Buns?

Evelyn is not sure how he feels. The gin isn't quite hitting the spot. So he fetches the beautiful edition that Penguin (yes, Penguin) had made of
Brideshead Revisited. A 2008 edition which he'd come across on the table in his conservatory on the day he arrived at Castle Howard, where it now lay in its box.

The book and box had been designed by someone called Bill Amberg. Probably a Yank. But it had soft leather covers, so it looked and felt like an old bible, and it had a rich smell of leather that was a joy for Evelyn's resurrected sense of smell. Every night over the last month - or however long it had been - he'd enjoyed the ritual (open the box, sniff the book, open the book, read; close the book, sniff the book, close the box, relax) that he was about to enjoy now. Bridehead Festival, indeed.

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Slipping off the paper band was like removing the band from a high class cigar.

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And there was the same sensation of looking forward to a good sniff of one of Havana's finest. 'Tobacco', what a beautiful word that was, though Evelyn has become aware that it hadn't survived the move into the 21st Century. Unlike 'Brideshead', he is pleased to say.

But what's this? What had happened to his beautiful, leather book? His
magnum opus as he had always referred to it.

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Evelyn knows himself to be alone in the castle, so who could have played such a trick?

He sits there. A smile comes to his face. He realises that, from a certain perspective, the cover shows two adults throwing a ball between them, while a fiery individual tries to grab the ball for himself. He realises he does not mind in the least that his own masterpiece has been replaced by Tony's. Indeed, he is hearing secret harmonies. In particular, the final verse of 'Ten Little Oxford Men':

'One little Oxford man, reading just for fun. He read right up himself, and then there were none.'

Queer thing is, the fizzy sound of champagne is suddenly in the air. Funny thing is, if Evelyn gets his richly tweeded backside outside his own room and into the Great Hall, he may enjoy a flute or more in the company of others.

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Evelyn is so out of here. He is just going to grab his jacket and he will be so out of here and into the grinning flute-faces of Graham and Tony. Those trough-nosed pigs. Those first-world dinosaurs. Those dearly loved drinking buddies. He couldn't wait to ask them what their favourite word was: Brideshead or Widmerpool?

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And maybe Cyril would be present too. There are some farts that Evelyn wants help in the formal classification thereof. And Cyril, it is generally accepted, has the finest nose, as well as ear - indeed, mind - of his generation.

Evelyn has a new word, a new drug, a new fart; a thrilling concept, a fabulous conceit, a secret harmony he wants to try out on all his Oxford pals, plus Nancy: "Waughmerpool."

Running through the mists at Lancing… Trying, failing; trying harder, and failing harder with women… Travelling not just to tame Venice but up the African/Amazon jungles and across a Spitzbergen glacier… Barging his way into a fight with the Nazis that even his own men weren't too happy about… Dressing up in tweed suits just to see how ridiculous the human form could look… Dropping dead six months before his 63rd birthday…

And the effect on onlookers? The amazement of po-faced Anthony Powell, from first glimpse to last sighting.

What a dance! Give it a name, then. A Waughltz to the Music of Tony.