Powell was as surprised as anyone, writes Hilary Spurling in Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time, her masterly new biography of the author, “when Widmerpool showed signs of taking on a momentum of his own . . . acquiring in the end, like Shakespeare’s Falstaff or Dickens’s Mr Micawber, an identity beyond his fictional origins, becoming even for people who had never read the Dance the essence of a harsh, officious and manipulative greed for power.” Spurling quotes a review by David Piper of Temporary Kings, the penultimate book in the Dance: “In him [Widmerpool] Powell has isolated — and named for ever — a recurring elemental irritant of human intercourse. Everyone has their Widmerpool . . . Who is your Widmerpool? — awesomely, whose Widmerpool are you?”
The very first assignment I got from The Inquirer was to review Hearing Secret Harmonies, the concluding volume of Dance. Unfortunately, I hadn't read the previous 11 volumes. But I conscientiously set about doing so. It is very much worth the time.