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A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music…

A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) (original 1951; edition 2005)

by Anthony Powell

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6641714,446 (3.66)1 / 99
Title:A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01)
Authors:Anthony Powell
Info:Arrow (2005), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Owned - Kindle Copy, Read, Your library
Tags:1001 Books, A Dance to the Music of Time

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A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell (1951)


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English (16)  Dutch (1)  All languages (17)
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This is the opening volume in Anthony Powell's celebrated twelve novel, largely autobiographical sequence "A Dance to the Music of Time", recounted by Nicholas Jenkins, a barely disguised cipher for Powell himself.

Let me first declare an interest. I have read this sequence many times before, and have been writing (for what seems like several years) a detailed analysis of it and other "romans fleuves" (including Proust's "A la recherche du temps perdu", C. P. Snow's "Strangers and Brothers" and Simon Raven's "Alms for Oblivion"), so I am rather biased.

The first thing to say is that this is not a novel in which much actually happens, though the portrayals of characters and the observations of their interactions are acute and highly entertaining. "A Question of Upbringing" introduces us to Jenkins himself (though one of the most striking aspects of the whole sequence is how relatively little we ever seem to learn about Jenkins/Powell) along with several characters who will feature throughout the rest of the canon.

It opens in the early 1920s with Jenkins attending a school (clearly Eton, though never formally identified as such) where his closest confreres are Charles Stringham and Peter Templer, with whom Jenkins strikes up close bonds. Stringham, who comes from a wealthy but broken home, leaves the school early on in the book, going off to East Africa to spend some time with his estranged father. Jenkins and Templer remain at the school a bit longer until Templer also departs. Other notable characters to whom we are introduced in this section include Le Bas, a querulous yet also long-suffering schoolmaster with aesthetic aspirations, and Widmerpool, a slightly older pupil than Jenkins and his friends, who is notable principally for his lack of conformity.

As the story moves on we join Jenkins on a visit to Templer's home where he is introduced to Jean, Templer's sister, with whom he promptly falls in (unrequited) love and Sunny Farebrother, a seemingly down-at-heel ex-soldier who is trying to carve out a career in The City. After leaving Templer's home Jenkins spends a few weeks in France, ostensibly to learn the language, and re-encounters Widmerpool with whom he develops a stronger acquaintance than had been possible at school. Finally he moves on to Oxford where he studies history. Here we meet Sillery, a politically active don, Mark Members, a self-appointed aesthete, and Quiggin, a "professional" northerner with highy radical views. Stringham reappears, back from his Kenyan sojourn.

The summary above completely fails to do justice to the beauty of the writing (the first four pages are among the most marvellous excerpts of prose I have encountered), the acute observation of the interaction of people of different classes, and the muted humour. This novel also sets the slightly melancholic tone that underpins much of the sequence, though Powell never allows this to become oppressive. A beautiful opening to an engrossing sequence. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Sep 26, 2015 |
הסיפור הרגיל, פבליק סקול, אוקספורד, מסיבות סוף שבו​ע, שותים, מדברים. מזכיר קצת את בריידסהד אבל בקצב א​יטי יותר. אבל יש זמן, זה רק כרך ראשון משנים עשרה. ​ ( )
  amoskovacs | Aug 10, 2014 |
Sillery showed interest in this remark, in spite of his evident dissatisfaction at the manner in which Miss Weedon treated him. He seemed unable to decide upon her precise status in the household: which was, indeed, one not easy to assess. It was equally hard to guess what she knew, or thought, of Sillery; whether she appreciated the extent of his experience in such situations as that which had arisen in regard to Stringham. Sitting opposite him, she seemed to have become firmer and more masculine; while Sillery himself, more than ever, took the shape of a wizard or shaman, equipped to resist either man or woman from a bisexual vantage.

I am starting a year-long re-read of A Dance to the Music of Time, having originally read them in the late 1990s, shortly after the BBC series aired. A Question of Upbringing is one of the books I remember best, as it covers the narrator's time at public school (unnamed, but obviously Eton) and University. Later in the series the books merged together in my memory, and I couldn't tell you which events happens in each book. The first time I read this book, I don' think I noticed the resemblance to Brideshead Revisited, probably because events are spread out over more than one book. but Stringham's story is story is very similar to Sebastian Flyte's, and characters talk about his mother's estate much in the same ways as people talked about Brideshead. There is a similar car crash while the characters are at university. and although Jean is Templer's sister and not Stringham's, Nicholas's relationship with her over the years reminds me of Charles Ryder's with Julia Flyte.

It's a good start to the series, telling an interesting story while it introduces many of the characters who will drift in and out of the narrator's life over the years. I just wish Nicholas Jenkins wasn't such a colourless presence in the books. The way he tells us about the lives of his friends and acquaintances but leaves us guessing about important events in his own life becomes ever more irritating over the course of the series. ( )
1 vote isabelx | May 12, 2014 |
And so we’re up and running with volume 1 of the 12-volume novel A Dance to the Music of Time. Once I discovered Powell’s prose to be very accessible, in a style similar to Evelyn Waugh, the idea of working my way through 12 volumes lost its capacity to make me run and hide. In fact, I very much enjoyed not only the style but also the era that we find ourselves in as the epic novel opens.

It’s just after World War I and Jenkins, the protagonist, is at boarding school in England with various other individuals who will play greater and lesser roles over the next 3000+ pages. The relationships between Jenkins and each of the boys he describes are here given their foundation. In particular those of Widmerpool and Stringham are described in most detail.

There’s very little plot here, and that’s just fine. This is still very early in the novel and it’s more about the relationships than any
adventure they go on. But there is one episode where those relationships, and their implications for the future, seem to be defined most clearly, namely the framing of the housemaster. From this we learn that Stringham is a potential cad, Widmerpool has more depth to him than we might think and Jenkins a fairly spineless individual who, unless Powell had chosen him for the role of narrator, would probably be instantly forgettable.

After finishing school, the boys go their separate ways with Jenkins ending up in France to learn the language. There, Widmerpool puts in the first of what I feel will be many Cheshire-cat-like appearances. Each of these only serves to make Jenkins more confused in his attempts to box him neatly into contemporary social life. The novel closes with the influence of university.

It’s a little short to call it a coming-of-age volume. There’s precious little time for reflection in just over 200 pages but Jenkins does his best. As a fairly lonely individual, he does spend much of his free time trying to understand those around him. By the time we hit the back cover, we’ve been introduced the characters that the novel will, presumably, be peopled with and the seeds have been sown for them to grow into young adulthood and stumble on into middle-age. So far, so good. ( )
  arukiyomi | Feb 22, 2014 |
Powell's prose is, of course, a marvel, but what most surprised me on re-reading the first volume to DMT is how much of it I remember. I'm usually not very good at retaining the details of books for much more than a month or two, unless I've been writing about them; with QU, I remember pretty much everything, so adept is Powell at creating memorable and charming characters with just a few sentences. Nothing much 'happens' here, of course, which is hardly surprising, since not much happens in the first 8.25% of most novels, but Powell does lay substantial groundwork aside from the basics of his characters (particularly Widmerpool).

First, the 'musical' structure of the book gets off to a nice start. Although this should technically just be the first statement of the theme, QU has a mini-sonata form of its own, beginning with Widmerpool and Jenkins, ending with a second-hand report of Widmerpool and more Jenkins, with some variations in between. The obvious touchstones (positive or negative) are cheekily dealt with, too: the notably Forsytian Jenkins is connected to an actual line of Galsworthy, and there's a blatantly Proustian feel to chapter three (first love and its after-images, French country-house stylings).

I can also suggest that prospective readers of DMT read Carpenter's 'The Brideshead Generation,' which sets you up nicely for the school and university scenes here. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Powell, Anthonyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Laine, JarkkoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leistra, AukeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The men at work at the corner of the street had made a kind of a camp for themselves, where, marked out by tripods hung with red hurricane-lamps, an abyss in the road led down to a network of subterranean drainpipes.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The "Dance to the Music of Time (Seasons)" are omnibus editions
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Who is Widmerpool? This question is to dog Nicholas Jenkins from the time he watched his awkward schoolmate on a solitary crosscountry run. Unexceptional, unsmart, even unpopular, Widmerpool drops in and out of Jenkins life as he moves from school to university and London society. It is the 1920s, and Englands gilded youth has begun its dance to the music of time.… (more)

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