I am attending a management course at a former country house (now conference center) in the U.K. this week. The breakfast room was formerly the home’s library, a typical grand library room with stately built-in wood shelves running from wainscotting to twenty-foot ceiling. Most of the books are gone, but there were several hundred still left–left or brought in bulk by some decorator. Dining alone on the first day, I went over, browsed through a few, and pulled down one titled, The Pomp of Power.
Leafing through it, I saw that it was some kind of memoir of politics, diplomacy, and intrigues during the First World War and the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles. It was written in clear, graceful first-person prose — quite readable, in fact — that led me to check the title page for the author. There was none. There was none on the spine, either.
My reaction was to go back to reading, but this time with a considerable skepticism. When somebody close to the inner circles of power writes an anonymous memoir, it’s hard not to think there is at least a 50-50 chance that anonymity is a reflection of cowardice more than discretion. Still, it was an interesting enough read, assuming you’re vaguely familiar with at least a few of the personalities involved (Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Douglas Haig).
I didn’t have the interest to smuggle it back to the room, though. But I have located a long review of the book from the New York Times in 1922. (I notice that the Times appears recently to have put a good chunk of its archives, going back to the turn of the 20th century online. Bravo!). The review ends with the following comment:
Let us hope that The Pomp of Power will be the last of the anonymous books. It would have added greatly to the force of this one if the writer were courageous enough to sign it; but, after all, most of us who believe in reconstruction will not regret this lack of force in a book which, with all its power of style and keen insight, tends toward the fostering of distrust and hopelessness.
Unfortunately for the reviewer, distrust and hopelessness did win out over belief in reconstruction.