In the 12 July 2018 issue of the New York Review of Books, Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, reviews Hilary Spurling’s biography of Anthony Powell. This is not scheduled to be published in the USA until the Fall, but Hastings seems more determined to settle old scores with Powell than to review the book. He was editor of the Telegraph in the 1980s when Powell was still the chief book reviewer after over 30 years. Powell resigned after Auberon Waugh in 1990 wrote a strongly negative review in the Sunday Telegraph of a collection of Powell’s Telegraph articles. (See previous post.) Hastings hasn’t forgotten that Powell made no secret of the fact that he thought Hastings bore responsibility for the publication of Auberon’s review and, more importantly, had taken the Telegraph downmarket under his stewardship.
The review opens with this:
Some decades ago, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell were widely regarded as Britain’s foremost novelists of the modern era. Today, Waugh reigns triumphant in the literary pantheon, one of the few twentieth-century British writers enthusiastically devoured by the young. Meanwhile Powell, if not forgotten, is scarcely read by people under sixty. His reputation, chiefly based upon his twelve-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time, published between 1951 and 1975, has slumped.
Hastings continues in the same vein, including several other references to his judgement that Waugh’s work is now universally deemed superior to that of Powell. He seems to suggest that Powell was engaged in some sort of underhand plot to secure the “top” position for himself but makes no comment on Spurling’s extensive argument that Powell in the late 1960s and 1970s was a lone voice from his generation speaking out in defence of Waugh’s stature as a writer. This was during a period that much of Waugh’s work had fallen out of print. Hastings also bears a grudge against Spurling for having undertaken to have the Telegraph commission a bust of Powell to display in their offices in recognition for his years of service and in atonement for Auberon’s review. Although he concludes in the end that Powell’s major work is still worth reading and that Spurling’s biography is well written, by that time he has already vented his spleen over three pages of invective.