An exceedingly well-informed report,' said the General. 'You have given yourself the trouble to go into matters thoroughly, I see. That is one of the secrets of success in life.
For some reason, the sight of snow descending on fire always makes me think of the ancient world – legionaries in sheepskin warming themselves at a brazier: mountain altars where offerings glow between wintry pillars; centaurs with torches cantering beside a frozen sea – scattered, unco-ordinated shapes from a fabulous past, infinitely removed from life; and yet bringing with them memories of things real and imagined. These classical projections, and something in the physical attitudes of the men themselves as they turned from the fire, suddenly suggested Poussin’s scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward, tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays. The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outwards like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure: stepping slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognisable shape: or breaking into seeminly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance.
Feeling unable to maintain this detachment of attitude towards human- and, in especial, matrimonial- affairs, I asked whether it was not true that she had married Bob Duport. She nodded; not exactly conveying, it seemed to me, that by some happy chance their union had introduced her to an unexpected terrestrial paradise.
One passes through the world knowing few, if any, of the important things about even the people with whom one has been from time to time in the closest intimacy.
In any case the friendships of later life, in contrast wih those negotiated before thirty, are apt to be burdened with reservations, constraints, inhibitions.
Barnby always dismissed the idea of intelligence in a woman as no more than a characteristic to be endured.
Daydreams of wealth or women must have given Carolo that faraway look which never left him; sad and silent, he contemplated huge bank balances and voluptuous revels.
In the break-up of a marriage the world inclines to take the side of the partner with most vitality, rather than the one apparently least to blame.
That was a good straightforward point of view, no pretence that games were anything but an outlet for power and aggression; no stuff about their being enjoyable as such. You played a game to demonstrate that you did it better than someone else. If it came to that, I thought how few people do anything for its own sake, from making love to practising the arts.
Slowly, but very deliberately, the brooding edifice of seduction, creaking and incongruous, came into being, a vast Heath Robinson mechanism, dually controlled by them and lumbering gloomily down vistas of triteness. With a sort of heavy-fisted dexterity the mutually adapted emotions of each of them became synchronised, until the unavoidable anti-climax was at hand. Later they dined at a restaurant quite near the flat.
Speaking about time’s relentless passage, Powell’s narrator compares certain stages of experience to the game of Russian Billiards as once he used to play it with a long vanished girlfriend. A game in which, he says, “...at the termination of a given passage of time...the hidden gate goes down...and all scoring is doubled. This is perhaps an image of how we live. For reasons not always at the time explicable, there are specific occasions when events begin suddenly to take on a significance previously unsuspected; so that before we really know where we are, life seems to have begun in earnest at last, and we ourselves, scarcely aware that any change has taken place, are careering uncontrollably down the slippery avenues of eternity.
I was impressed for the ten thousandth time by the fact that literature illuminates life only for those to whom books are a necessity. Books are unconvertible assets, to be passed on only to those who possess them already.
In fact, she [Pamela Flitton] seemed to prefer 'older men' on the whole, possibly because of their potentiality for deeper suffering. Young men might superficially transcend their seniors in this respect, but they probably showed less endurance in sustaining that state, while, once pinioned, the middle-aged could be made to writhe almost indefinitely.
Trapnel wanted, among other things, to be a writer, a dandy, a lover, a comrade, an eccentric, a sage, a virtuoso, a good chap, a man of honour, a hard case, a spendthrift, an opportunist, a raisonneur; to be very rich, to be very poor, to possess a thousand mistresses, to win the heart of one love to whom he was ever faithful, to be on the best of terms with all men, to avenge savagely the lightest affront, to live to a hundred full of years and honour, to die young and unknown but recognized the following day as the most neglected genius of the age. Each of these ambitions had something to recommend it from one angle or another, with the possible exception of being poor - the only aim Trapnel achieved with unqualified mastery - and even being poor, as Trapnel himself asserted, gave the right to speak categorically when poverty was discussed by people like Evadne Clapham.
There is always a real and an imaginary person you are in love with; sometimes you love one best, sometimes the other.
Bring a torch, if you've got one. It's as dark as hell and stinks of something far worse than cheese.
It was [Hugh's] omnipresent fear that some woman might be foisted on him who would turn out to be an adventuress and would blackmail him. This preoccupation made it almost impossible for him to engage a secretary.
He [Widmerpool] moistened his lips, though scarcely perceptibly. I thought his mixture of secretiveness and curiosity quite intolerable.
When people really hate one another, the tension within them can sometimes make itself felt throughout a room, like atmospheric waves, first hot, then cold, wafted backwards and forwards as if in an invisible process of air conditioning, creating a pervasive physical disturbance.
For some reason Canon Fenneau made me feel a little uneasy. His voice might be soft, it was also coercive. He had small eyes, a large loose mouth, the lips thick, a somewhat receding chin. The eyes were the main feature. They were unusual eyes, not only almost unnaturally small, but vague, moist, dreamy, the eyes of a medium. His cherubic side, increased by a long slightly uptilted nose, was a little too good to be true, with eyes like that. In the manner in which he gave you all his attention there was a taste for mastery.
In the seven years or so that had passed since I had last seen him, Sir Magnus Donners had grown not so much older in appearance, as less like a human being.
The potential biographies of those who die young possess the mystic dignity of a headless statue, the poetry of enigmatic passages in an unfinished or mutilated manuscript, unburdened with contrived or banal endings.
Esteem for the army - never in this country regarded, in the continental manner, as a popular expression of the national will - implies a kind of innocence.
Later in life, I learnt that many things one may require have to be weighed against one's dignity, which can be an insuperable barrier against advancement in almost any direction. However, in those days, choice between dignity and unsatisfied curiosity was less clear to me as a cruel decision that had to be made.
Anyway, what can one do here? I am seriously thinking of running away and joining the Foreign Legion or the North-West Mounted Police—whichever work the shorter hours.