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Temporary Kings is a novel by Anthony Powell, the penultimate in his twelve-volume masterpiece, A Dance to the Music of Time. It was published in 1973 and remains in print as does the rest of the sequence.
The title is a possible reference to The Golden Bough, which has a section with the same title concerning the practice in the ancient world of appointing kings for a brief period, at the end of which they would be executed. The novel introduces a surreal element, mischievously portraying the literary world as politically corrupt and riven with dark deeds. After the passage of a decade the consequences of unyielding ambition are suggested by the storm brewing around Powell's dark angel, Kenneth Widmerpool. Espionage and even necrophilia are hinted at.
Minor characters from earlier novels reappear and are developed to renew the theme of the Dance. The action is constructed with ingenuity to place Pamela at its centre with a succession of partners in the revels. Atmosphere and sense of place is evoked with painterly skill in the set pieces in Venice and at the concert party.
Around 1958, a decade on from the preceding novel, Books Do Furnish a Room, Jenkins attends an international literary conference in Venice, where the death is announced of French author Ferrand-Sénéschal. Dr Emily Brightman introduces Jenkins to Russell Gwinnett, a prospective biographer of X Trapnel with a faintly alarming manner. Gwinnett naturally wishes to meet Pamela Widmerpool, and he produces a press report linking her with Ferrand-Sénéschal's death.
Next day the conference visits the Bragadin Palace to view a ceiling painted by Tiepolo illustrating the theme of Candaulism running through the novels. Pamela is encountered with American film director Louis Glober gazing at the ceiling. Gwinnett is introduced to Pamela. Widmerpool arrives, and a row between the couple ensues with accusations flying.
On the Sunday Nick visits painter Daniel Tokenhouse and lunches with Ada Leintwardine and Glober. Further viewing of Tokenhouse's paintings is interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Widmerpool on mysterious business. It is evident that Glober has designs upon Pamela.
Nick dines with Gwinnett, who recounts a surprising earlier rendezvous with Pamela. Later at a bar Nick meets Odo Stevens (now married to Rosie Manasch) and Pamela, who foretells trouble for Widmerpool.
Back in England later that year Nick visits Bagshaw who recounts the mystery of Pamela's nakedness in his house while Gwinnett was staying there. Later still Nick dines with Gwinnett, and attends an army reunion where he hears a further account of Stringham's death; Farebrother predicts Widmerpool's imminent arrest for spying.
Moreland conducts at a Mozart concert party given by Odo and Rosie Stevens in Summer 1959. Glober is there with Polly Duport (actress daughter of Bob Duport and Jean), as are Mrs Erdleigh with Jimmy Stripling, Audrey Maclintick and the Widmerpools. There are violent scenes between Glober, Pamela and Widmerpool on leaving the party. Pamela is warned by Mrs Erdleigh that she is near the edge. Moreland collapses after the concert.
Late in 1959 Nick reflects on the subsequent death of Pamela, apparently from an overdose while in bed with Gwinnett, and also visits the dying Moreland in hospital.