The Military Philosophers

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First edition cover

The Military Philosophers is the ninth of Anthony Powell's twelve-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time. First published in 1968, it covers the latter part of Nicholas Jenkins' service in World War II. It depicts, with ironic detachment, a little-chronicled byway of the war effort, Allied Liaison.

The author draws more directly here than elsewhere upon his own experience, and the novel adopts a tone at times close to that of diary, as it records the improbable events involving the allied military delegations, including the springing of a Polish officer from prison. The vanity and jealousies of the allied military attachés are portrayed with humour in dialogue that rings with conviction.

Characters previously encountered are seen to have aged, some greatly, others, like Mrs Erdleigh, hardly at all. Pamela Flitton emerges as a three-dimensional figure, turbulent and intriguing all who encounter her.

The final scene is at Olympia, a large exhibition hall in west London, where the demobilised Jenkins now a major in the Intelligence Corps, is choosing his new civilian clothing known as a 'demob suit'. In typical Powell fashion, Nicholas again meets Archie Gilbert, a young man-about-town first encountered in volume two.

Plot summary[edit]

In the Spring 1942 Jenkins is working in Whitehall as Pennistone's assistant, looking after the Poles in Allied Liaison under Finn. He attends a Cabinet Office meeting, chaired by Widmerpool, where he finds Sunny Farebrother and a dejected Peter Templer. Jenkins visits the Polish HQ in Bayswater, which turns out to be the Ufford Hotel. His driver on this occasion is Pamela Flitton, Stringham's niece. Pamela brings the news that Stringham was captured at the fall of Singapore.

Jenkins is living in a flat in Chelsea in early 1943 and is promoted in his liaison duties to supervising the Belgians and Czechs.

One night during the Summer 1944 Jenkins, sheltering in the flats from a flying bomb attack, encounters Pamela Flitton with her current lover Odo Stevens. Following prophecies into their futures by Mrs Erdleigh there is a row between Stevens and Pamela.

Promoted to major, Jenkins escorts a party of Allied military attachés on a tour of Normandy and Belgium led by Finn. A meeting in Brussels with Bob Duport brings news of Templer's death in the Balkans.

Summer 1945 sees Widmerpool engaged to Pamela Flitton and Miss Weedon affianced to Sunny Farebrother. Pamela accuses Widmerpool of murdering Templer. The victory thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral is attended by the military attachés, including a Latin-American, Colonel Flores. Nick fails to recognise Flores's wife, who proves to be Jean. Finally Jenkins is demobbed.