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Anthony Powell: What’s Become of Waring

What’s become of Waring
Since he gave us all the slip

is a poem by Robert Browning which gives us the title to this novel, which is also about a man who disappears. T T Waring is a travel writer. His publishers have never met him, though they depend heavily on him for their income. The unnamed narrator is a reader with the firm of Judkins and Judkins, Waring’s publishers, who is working on his own book, on Stendhal. Judkins and Judkins are two brothers, Hugh and Bernard, who are always squabbling. Hugh takes the narrator to a séance where there seems to be some indication that Waring has died and this is confirmed by press reports. Judkins and Judkins decide that a biography of the great man is needed and Captain Hudson is recruited for this purpose. He needs the money to marry Beryl Pimley. Beryl’s brother Alec has disappeared but Hudson, while tracking down Waring (who is, of course, still very much alive), also finds Alec Pimley who may well be Waring. Whoever Waring is, it seems clear that he has plagiarised much of what he has written from obscure works. He also seems to have more than one alias and to have faked his death to escape creditors and marry a rich American widow. Further family secrets are gradually revealed as Hudson and the narrator pursue the matter. It is all told with much humour and wit, with many huge coincidences and chance meetings. As his last novel before he started the The Dance to the Music of Time series, it is an interesting glimpse into some of the themes of that series.

Publishing history

First published by Cassell in 1939