The Omnipresent recalled: on the precipice

Jenkins encounters Widmerpool “more or less entangled” with Murtlock’s cult. “The spectacle of him wearing a blue robe was nevertheless a startling one. … The image immediately brought to mind was one not thought of for years; the picture, reproduced in colour, that used to hang in the flat Widmerpool shared with his mother in his early London days. It had been called The Omnipresent. Three blue robed figures respectively knelt, stood with bowed head, gazed heavenward with extended hands, all poised on the brink of a precipice. “ [HSH 197/213]

“It was a long time ago. I may have remembered it incorrectly. Nevertheless, it was these figures Widmerpool conjured up, as he advanced towards me.”

The Omnipresent Baron Arild Rosencrantz print, 25 x 18 in offer on Denver Craig's list, January, 2017

The Omnipresent
Baron Arild Rosencrantz
print, 25 x 18 in
offered on Denver Craig’s list, January, 2017

Of course, Jenkins describes the picture correctly, even though he had but glanced at the reproduction in the late 1920s. (Baron Arild Rosenkrantz had exhibited the original at the Royal Academy in 1907.  The coloring of the reproduction that we show above suggests that it may have been from a run of half-tone prints made in 1932.)

The key words here are  ‘conjured’ and ‘precipice.’ ‘Conjured’ because Murtlock’s cult is the culmination of magical, religious, and spiritual themes that haunt Dance from early in AW, first when Mrs. Erdleigh tells fortunes for Nick and his Uncle Giles, and subsequently in Dr. Trewalney’s and Mrs Erdleigh’s recurrent appearances. Powell recounts this spiritualism with barely suppressed amusement and shows that during the decades of the Dance, many cultured Britons dabbled in esotoric philosophies like Theosophy. For example, General Conyers, well connected to the Establishment, had interests ranging from psychoanalysis to the occult ideas of Dr. Trewalney. Rosenkrantz was a devotee of Rudolf Steiner, who developed Anthrosophy as an alternative to Theosophy.

The only previous mention of this picture is at the end of BM, when Nick glances it briefly in Widmerpool’s flat. Now, in retrospect, that glance could be read as foreshadowing the importance of the occult in the novel, just as the ‘precipice’ now foreshadows Widmerpool’s dramatic final scenes.

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