Nicholas Shakespeare

A huff to the music of time

I’m central to the author’s story – but you’ll only find my name in the index

You’re in the index, but not in the book. This ghostly sensation has been my experience since 1990 after commissioning Auberon Waugh to review Anthony Powell’s Miscellaneous Verdicts.

Waugh’s verdict appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 20 May that year. Next morning, Powell resigned in a celebrated huff from the sister paper, of which I happened to be literary editor.

When, seven years later, Powell published his Journals, I wanted to know how he dealt with this incident which had caused acute distress. The index directed me to page 40, yet my name wasn’t there. Nor any entry for 20 May 1990; nor one for Auberon Waugh, as promised, on page 49. The absence hinted that lawyers may have been at work.

Then, in 2007, I had to issue a legal threat myself after receiving a proof of V.S. Naipaul’s A Writer’s People. In his posthumous assassination of Powell, his friend of 40 years, who died in 2000, Naipaul wrongly claimed I’d been sacked as literary editor because of Waugh’s review. Actually, I’d stayed on another 15 months, before leaving to pursue a career as a novelist. Naipaul’s remaining proofs were consequently pulped. When his book was published, my name had been erased — again — from the text.

In the hope of learning what Hilary Spurling had to say in her authorised biography, I read ‘Shakespeare, Nick, 423’ in the index and flicked to the page. Once more, though flagged, my name’s not there.

So what on earth happened in May 1990 to cause these vanishings?

*****

Anthony Powell divides opinion more than any of his contemporaries. It’s become routine to perceive him as a form of literary Patum Peperium: you relish him or you don’t. He himself divided the world into ‘fans’ (the word appears on virtually every page of his Journals) and ‘shits’.

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