A Dance Miscellany


Who counts

            In Hilary Spurling's Handbook, Invitation to the Dance (which indexes over 300 characters), 35 characters have a full page entry, another 18 have 2 pages, 4 others have 3 pages, and two (Nick and Widmerpool) have 4 or more.

            Even the characters with the longest entries are not the focus of enough attention to deserve to be called main characters, Widmerpool perhaps excepted.


 The details:

 1 page: Bagshaw, Barnby, Bithel, Norman Chandler, Gen. Conyers, Craggs, Roddy Cutts, Duport, Amy Foxe, Buster Foxe, Glober, Barbara Goring, Isbister, Ted Jeavons, Nick's father, LeBas, Ada, Chips, Maclintick, Audrey, Mona, Murtlock, Pennistone, Stripling, Tokenhouse, Prince Theodoric, Isobel, Dr. Trelawney, Eleanor Walpole-Wilson, Sir Gavin W-W, Katherine Warminster, Tuffy Weeden, Baby Wentworth, Mrs. Widmerpool

 2 pages: St. John Clarke, Deacon, Sir Magnus Donners, Myra Erdleigh, Erridge, Sunny Farebrother, Gwatkin, Gwinnett, Lady Molly, Uncle Giles, Members, Sillery, Odo Stevens, Jean Templer, Peter Templer, X. Trapnel, Dicky Umfraville, Matilda

 3 pages: Pamela, Moreland, Quiggin, Stringham

 4+ pages: Nick, Widmerpool


Cycling through Dance

            The events of Dance are recalled by the narrator over a period of 1-2 weeks in 1971, the stimulus being the news of Widmerpool's death. The last chapter of HSH brings the narrative back to the time of the opening pages. In effect, the reader is invited to turn back to the first page of the first novel and read the whole sequence again.

            The last novel ends in late autumn; the first begins in winter so that turning back to the beginning simply continues the cycle of the seasons.

            The series begins and ends with scenes of Widmerpool running. Other features that the opening and closing scenes of the novel have in common: the smell from the workman's fire-bucket is transmuted to the smell of a bonfire; the centaur's conch becomes the quarry's hooter.


 Symmetry within the 4 three-novel groups

            The first 'trilogy' begins with life at school; and ends with a school reunion dinner: LeBas, Templer, Stringham, Widmerpool, Nick all together again.

           The second 'trilogy' begins with Nick's first visit to Lady Molly's; and ends with another visit (at which Nick meets Jeavons brother who fixes him up in the Army). Widmerpool is present at both these visits.  The 'trilogy' also begins with Nick recalling visits as child with Gen. Conyers; it ends with another visit to the General (at which the General announces his forth-coming marriage to Tuffy).

           The third 'trilogy' begins when Nick joins the Welch Regiment; the regiment reappears again near the end of the 'trilogy'.

           The fourth 'trilogy' begins with Nick's description of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy; it ends with a dramatic quote from Burton.


 Miscellaneous unifying features of the 3-novel sequences

            Each of the novels in the second 'trilogy' begins with a flashback. This device is employed in these three novels only.

            Each of the novels in the third 'trilogy' describes army life at a different level.

            Each of the novels in the fourth 'trilogy' features a work of art as a 'character', that is, the chosen work resonates and/or comments on the events of the novel (Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, Tiepolo's "Candaules and Gyges", Ariosto's Orlando Furioso). This intense focus on a single art work is used in these three novels only.


 Symmetry in groups of six novels

            The sixth novel, KO, contains a recapitulation of elements from the previous 5 novels.

            The 12'th novel similarly recapitulates much of the action of earlier novels, often in the form of 'rescues' from the 'valley of lost objects'.

            Nick's life, because of the war, begins all over in the seventh novel (also in the 10'th).


 Symmetry and other unifying features of individual novels

QU/ At the beginning, LeBas dominates Nick's life; he then visits Nick in his Oxford rooms near the end. Also, the novel begins and ends with Uncle Giles. At the beginning of the novel, Uncle Giles is a somewhat unwelcome visitor at school; at the end Nick is grateful that his Uncle is there in London to be visited. The time span of this novel is exactly the period of Nick's close friendship with Stringham.

BM/ Mr. Deacon is introduced at the beginning; his funeral comes at the end; thus the time span is exactly that of Nick's later close acquaintance with Deacon. Nick and Widmerpool pursue Barbara at the beginning; together they learn of her engagement at the end; in the middle they pursue Gypsy—each in his own way. Although formal social occasions are a feature of every novel in the series, this one is particularly rich in them, almost containing an 'inventory' of such events. They include: a formal dinner, debutante ball, large evening party, house party in the country, luncheon at a country estate, birthday party, a funeral, and a small dinner party.

AW/ Nick begins his affair with Jean at the beginning; at the end she announces that Bob wants to get back together with her. Thus the time span of this novel is exactly that of this affair. At the beginning Nick seeks a preface for a book about Isbister; at the end the book is published without the preface.

LM/ Begins when Nick drops in at Lady Molly's to find that Widmerpool's engagement to Mildred Blaides is being celebrated; ends when Widmerpool drops in at Lady Molly's to find that Nick's engagement to Isobel Tolland is being celebrated. Begins with reminiscences of General Conyers; ends with the General's report on the end of Widmerpool's engagement. The time span of this novel is exactly that of Widmerpool's engagement to Mildred Haycock. This novel contains a virtual 'inventory' of upper class characters: the 10 Tolland siblings are introduced, plus Gen. Conyers, several members of the Ardglass family, Mildred Blaides, and also, more indirectly, the Sleafords.

CCR/ Begins with reminiscence of Moreland and Maclintick, ends with grim visit with Moreland to Maclintick's and the latter's subsequent suicide. This novel is about marriage and contains a small 'inventory' of marriages. The focus is on the Moreland/Matilda and Maclintick relationships, but many others are introduced and commented upon, e.g., Nick/Isobel, George/Veronica, Roddy/Susan, Stringham/Peggy. In addition, a few irregular relationships that are like marriage appear, e.g. Amy Foxe/Norman Chandler, Stringham/Tuffy Weeden, and Eleanor/Norah. (The latter two were introduced in LM but are commented on in CCR as well.) This novel (ignoring the first chapter which is a flashback) spans the time from the beginning to Priscilla's job with a fund promoting opera (where she meets Moreland) to her marriage, on the rebound, to Chips Lovell. Thus the time span of the novel is roughly that of the 'romance' between Priscilla and Moreland.

KO/ Begins with Nick's father and Gen. Conyers (among others), ends with Nick seeking help from both getting into the Army. All of the characters assembled at Stonehurst before W.W.I appear again in the novel and some of the later events echo the events at Stonehurst in 1914. Widmerpool appears suddenly at Stourwater as a harbinger of war, just as Billson suddenly appeared in the drawing room at Stonehurst. Dr. Trelawney prophecies both wars.

VB/ At the beginning, Nick meets Gwatkin and Bithel, the latter gets drunk; at the end, Bithel is drunk again, at Castelmallock. The time span of this novel is exactly the period of Nick's appointment commanding a Company.

SA/ This is the only novel with three chapters: Divisional staff in Ireland---London---Ireland again. The time span of this novel is the period of Nick's appointment as a staff officer at the Divisional level.

BDFR/ Starts with Sillery; ends with LeBas, reversing the pattern of QU. This novel contains an 'inventory' of literary types, including authors, journalists, editors and reviewers. The time span is exactly the life of the magazine Fission.

TK/ The novel begins and ends with deaths (Trapnel, Ferrand-Seneschal, Pamela). It also begins and ends with extended passages describing events not witnessed by Nick. There are, in fact, three major passages of this type: Trapnel's apotheosis (witnessed by Malcolm Crowding and others), Pamela's invasion of Bagshaw's home (witnessed by Bagshaw and his father), and the confrontation of Glober by Pamela after the opera (witnessed by Hugh Moreland and Odo Stevens). This extended narrative device is used only in this one volume.

HSH/ Begins and ends in the narrator's own garden (hunting crawfish with Murtlock's crew, burning brush). Unlike all the other novels, many scenes take place outdoors. Contains many re-enactment's of events from earlier novels: the thrown banana incident, the uninvited speech incident, seven deadly sins tableaux pix, visit to Stourwater, occultists. Contains many rescues of objects from previous novels: Deacon's art and Duport's seascapes are rescued by Henderson; Isbister and St. John Clarke are resurrected on TV; Amanda and Belinda's radicalism recapitulates Quiggin's; Murtlock resurrects Trelawneyism; Bithel rescues Stringham's Modigliani.



            These are passages where a character is mentioned before being properly introduced, or an event is presaged:


QU/ Stringham says of Widmerpool "That boy will be the death of me".

QU/ Canon Fenneau, not a real character until HSH, is the boy Paul at Sillery's.

QU/ Sunny Farebrother drops out of Nick's life not to reappear until VB (although mentioned in most of the intervening novels).

BM/ Nick mentions Jean "when the time came" (referring to the next novel).

BM/ Erridge attends the Huntercombe's Ball, does not appear as a real character until LM.

AW/ Alfred Tolland mentions ten nieces and nephews (then all are introduced in LM).

KO/ Ted Jeavons says "Before we are all blown up" (They are all blown up, Ted excepted, in SA).


A Question of Timing


time spanned


inter-novel gap


Dec 1921 to Oct 1924

34 months

44 months


June 1928 to Oct 1928

4 months

37 months


Nov 1931 to July 1933

10 months

23 months


Jan 1934 to Oct 1934

10 months

23 months


Sept 1936 to March 1937

7 months

19 months


Oct 1938 to Oct 1939

12 months

5 months


Feb 1940 to June 1940

4 months

7 months


Jan 1941 to June 1941

5 months

9 months


March 1942 to August 1945

23 months

4 months


Dec 1945 to Nov 1947

23 months

128 months


July 1958 to Nov 1959

16 months

101 months


April 1968 to Oct 1971

54 months



(This is based on the chronology in Hilary Spurling's Handbook, ignoring flashbacks, and assuming that BM begins in 1928, Powell's own preference.)


Nick humbled?

            These are passages where a character criticizes the narrator, taking him down a peg or two—or at least trying. Naturally the character who most often attempts this is Widmerpool.


QU/ In France, Widmerpool asks Nick if he is 'afraid of home truths' and proceeds to scold him for his intolerant attitude towards the Scandinavians and their quarrel.

         Widmerpool is also shocked by Nick's casual attitude towards a choice of career.

         Towards the end of the book, LeBas reminds Nick that 'it takes all sorts to make a world'.

BM/ Gypsy Jones (at Deacon�s birthday party) asks Nick 'Why are you so stuck up?' going on to suggest change is needed.

AW/ While telling Nick�s fortune, Myra Erdleigh takes him to task for not accepting his fellow human beings as they are. (Similar to Widmerpool's and Gypsy's criticisms.)

LM/ General Conyers classifies Nick as an intuitive introvert, according to Jung's theory of personality, and cautions him about over compensating.

KO/ Widmerpool dresses Nick down for not having the foresight to join the Territorials.

VB/ Kedward lists some of Nick's inadequacies as a Platoon leader and Widmerpool remarks that Nick must not have found himself 'specially cut out to be a regimental officer.'

SA/ Gen. Liddament is astonished and disapproving of Nick's dislike of Trollope.

         Stringham gently puts Nick down for supposed superficiality by saying, "My dear, Nick, you know everybody. Not a social item escapes you."

         Widmerpool is clear about Nick's inadequacies: "Let me point out there is nothing startlingly brilliant in your own work—your industry and capabilities—to make me press for a good appointment for you. In addition to what can only be regarded as mediocre qualities as a staff officer, it was you, and no other, who saw fit to involve me in  the whole Bithel-Stringham hash. That might well have turned out very awkwardly for me. No, Nicholas, if you examine you conscience, you will find you have very little grumble at."

MP/ Widmerpool dismisses Nick: "Do go away, Nicholas. I have some highly secret matters to deal with on the next agenda. I can't begin on them with people like you hanging about the room."


Some Dance Trivia

            The occult as a theme appears regularly: approximately every three novels. More precisely, the occult is a theme in AW, KO, MP, TK and HSH. (Myra Erdleigh's unexpected appearance in TK disturbs the perfection of this pattern.)

            Sudden appearances of naked women: Jean, Billson, Pamela, and Gypsy (well, almost naked).

            Scenes with cars: In QU, there is the taxi ride to Madame Leroy's and Templer's Vauxhall ends up in a ditch; Widmerpool backs over an urn at Stourwater in BM; Templer's car takes Nick, Jean, and Mona home in AW where they are visited by Mrs. Erdleigh in Stripling's car; Chips' car takes Nick to Lady Molly's in LM; Lady Frederica's car takes Nick to Eleanor's in LM; Gen. Conyers' car makes it up the hill to Stonehurst in KO and in the same novel Templer's car takes Nick to Stourwater; Stevens' car takes Nick on leave in VB; Pamela; Finn; and Flores all drive official vehicles in MP plus Nick and the attaches ride military vehicles in France; several cars are used to ferry people to and from Erridge's funeral in BDFR; there is much talk and one rally of vintage cars in TK; finally, the narrator himself drives to the outdoor event at which a neighboring quarry tries to justify its expansion, Guinett has also driven there, although for a different event, and subsequently has lost his car.

            Sacrificial urns: The bucket of coke upon which a worker throws the remains of two kippers in QU, the po that Stripling tries to plant on Sunny Farebrother (QU), the urn that Widmerpool backs into (BM), Myra Erdleigh's air-raid helmet (MP), the Chinese vase  (BDFR) and church font (BM) into which Pamela throws up.