The 4th part of this epic finds us with the world that surrounds Nick (who still reminds me of Fitzgerald’s Nick in that he lets everything happen to him – including his own engagement) and all of its tangled webs. Characters surface at Lady Molly’s and elsewhere and more connections are formed. Since Nick is approaching 30, marriage is on his mind. There is a world outside of Nick’s social circle, though it seems to matter little to those in it. Hitler, Freud and Jung are rising in prominence. There are issues between Japan and China. War seems inevitable, and with it, a loss of innocence. As one of Powell’s great characters says, “We’ve lost all our bloody illusions” (178-179).
If there is a focus in this section, though, it is on marriage. One character comments, “Women may show some discrimination about whom they sleep with, but they’ll marry anybody” (188). (The engagement this alludes to is broken before this section is over.) In passing, Nicholas mentions his own engagement and says, “Marriage, as I have said, is a form of action, of violence almost: an assertion of the will. Its orbit is not to be charted with precision, if misrepresentation and contrivance are to be avoided. Its facts can perhaps only be known by implication. It is a state from which all objectivity has been removed” (203). We’ll see if his own engagement lasts.