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A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement, Spring (1962)

by Anthony Powell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: A Dance to the Music of Time (Omnibus 1-3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,626297,976 (3.95)424
A QUESTION OF UPBRINGING A BUYER'S MARKET THE ACCEPTANCE WORLD Anthony Powell's brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations. These first three novels in the sequence follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles which stand between them and the 'Acceptance World'.… (more)
  1. 10
    Invitation to the Dance by Hilary Spurling (davidcla)
    davidcla: Guide to characters, literary and place references, allusions to painting, chronology of narrated events. Entertaining to dip into at random, sometimes helpful when reading chronologically but one must keep an eye out for spoilers.
  2. 00
    Any Human Heart by William Boyd (KayCliff)

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» See also 424 mentions

English (27)  Dutch (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Who knew that youth was so couth? ( )
  farrhon | Jan 25, 2021 |
The next book on my 1951 reading list was [A question of Upbringing]; this is the first part of Anthony Powell's 12 volume series A Dance to the Music of Time. It was much better value to buy the first three volumes in one book rather than just the first volume and as they were there in front of me I read all three volumes: I am just grateful that I did not buy all 12. Powells immense saga follows the lives of a number of individuals who meet as students at their Public School in the early 1920's. We follow the story in the first person through the eyes and many thoughts of Nick Jenkins, who like most of his school friends comes from a well-to-do family and these three books take us up to 1933. Anthony Powell was educated at Eton and Balliol college Oxford and his series of novels has the feel of an autobiography, certainly the milieu of Public school and debutante balls and then sliding into well paid positions of employment either in the city or through contacts made at University has a ring of authenticity. The social milieu could be described as upper middle class with plenty of Lords and Ladies hovering around the upper echelons.

Readers seem to have a love-hate relationship with this series of books and I can understand just why that is. Powell writes, as one might not be too surprised from his background, with a plum in his mouth and sometimes that plum becomes so large that the reader losses much of what is said. His long sentences with their many sub-clauses can become indistinct at best and completely obfuscate any meaning at worst. I lost count of the number of times I got to the end of one of these epics with only a vague impression of what I had just read. This style of writing is particularly evident in the second volume, and although it does occurs in volume three; The Acceptance World this book is a little more focused. One might give credit to Powell for imitating the confused thoughts of a 20 year old just making his way in the world, but I think this would be generous. Much Of volume 2 is focused on two events a debutants ball and a rather more bohemian party that some stragglers get to afterwards. Our protagonist Nick while spending much time describing the details of the guests dress and manners, their opulent surroundings and some of the events he witnesses, seems at a loss to understand their behaviour and even incidents in which he becomes involved remain a bit of a mystery.

Powell looks at everything through his protagonist Nick from an establishment point of view. This is a novel that reinforces the rigid class system that existed for wealthy people in the 1920's-30's and one could argue that Powell has his finger on the pulse of this era, however I sense an admiration of the social milieu in which he places his characters, it is though he is saying how wonderful it all was. One of the characters Widmerpool (we hardly ever learn their Christian names) who is less wealthy than most and realises he must work twice as hard as his contemporaries to get on says "brains and hard work are of very little avail unless you know the right people". This proves to be over optimistic because it is not the connections you might be able to forge, but the connections that your father or grandfather were able to make. It was all down to the position of your family in society. Widmerpool like other characters who were not from the right families are figures of fun in Powells hands, all the jokes are on them because they do not know how to behave correctly. It is all very well to have an accurate description of the young wealthy class in the period in which they lived, but not perhaps at the expense of all else. Reading the novels made me feel that they were outdated, but then thinking about the public school boys that currently run the British government in 2021; perhaps nothing much has changed.

Powells characterisations of his female characters are depressingly familiar; judged on their attractiveness to the male gaze and their propensity to conform to their partners wishes. Independently minded women are seen as either a threat or something to be managed and forever remain a mystery to their male counterparts. Nick himself who is very much a cypher in that he is a witness to events that happen around him, rather than instigating any of them, becomes in the third volume active in pursuing a love affair, but he is like a blind man stumbling towards an urge that needs satisfying.

There is much in these novels that were not to my taste, but they can have a dream like quality enhanced by Powells writing style. Characters did not elicit my care or sympathy for their predicaments, but I did enjoy the slow pace of the events and the insight of a world that I know existed and perhaps still exists. I will not be tempted to read any more of the books in this series; three were enough and I rate them as follows:
A Question of Upbringing - 3 stars
A Buyers Market - 2.5 stars
The Acceptance World - 4 stars. ( )
5 vote baswood | Jan 20, 2021 |
"This is perhaps an image of how we live."

The first three novels in this 12-volume series: A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer's Market and The Acceptance World, tracing the lives of the young male protagonists from their final year in school in the early 1920s to their years after university, discovering love, career, hope, loss, jealousy, society, and art.

Consistently enjoyable in its recreation of a world that for Powell was already his long-lost youth, and for my generation seems impossibly distant.

These first three volumes are the least exciting in the series, for my money, although the moments of high comedy often shine. But they gain much from the resonances they will leave for the remainder of the series. Perhaps now that I'm so abysmally old (gosh, nearing my mid-30s), I understand all the more how crucial, how seminal, how heartbreakingly eternal are the loves and joys of our youth. ( )
  therebelprince | Nov 15, 2020 |
A Question of Upbringing:
Nick, the passive one
untroubled by ambition
that's Widmerpool's thing.

A Buyer's Market:
Horizons expand
different social circles
same taste in women.

The Acceptance World:
Marriages in flux
fashionable politics
Jean eclipses all. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
I’ve been somewhere tonight that Ant has never been and frankly, I’m thinking maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s better to discuss how posh people lay the cutlery for dinner parties than life at the bottom. And I have only myself to blame. [Much, much later: the rest of this entry has been cut on the grounds that it is crap, even by the standards set here]

And, as usual, I hope it is understood that a review of A Dance to the Music of Time can be about absolutely anything.


Really, this is no more than an apology. Throats cut, Lebanese men with big knives, Penelope what's her name. I realise this review is in danger of becoming interesting. Might I calm things down with the information that it is 44C here where I live just now. Too hot to cut throats, wave knives about, or care what nationality your neighbour is. Too hot to sleep. Too hot to do anything but be exceedingly dull on goodreads. You are welcome to vote for me if you sincerely think I've been boring enough.


Oh dear, I can't resist.

So, one of the things that happens in A Dance to the Music of Time is that the narrator mentions a lot of completely obscure books, whether or not they were so at the time of reading, I don't know. Like, what is the point of my telling you here that I'm reading An Iron Rose? Then moving on to explain that I am doing so in my LBD at The European while eating Turkish eggs and drinking tea.

I confess I think I was especially irked because I tried to catch him out with his dates, so I'd look up all these books to see if any of them had come out at a time that contradicted the story line, and they don't. Yes, we seem to have established that I'm that petty-minded.

Later on in the day I went to see Broken Embraces, so I know now what Penelope what's her name looks like. I guess you need to be a boy to get the full rise from that. The movie could have done with a good looking man, but considering it was Spanish...

So, my LBD, had a full day of it, posh restaurants, a film, and then tea at the Windsor while we discussed how great Australia is and what the fuck do those Indians know anyway? No offense, any Indians reading this but India is a country where the value of human life is virtually nil. People are killed every day for pure fancy. They are killed because they are women, because they are poor, because they are from the wrong part of town and yet apparently Australia is this incredibly racist place because an Indian was murdered here the other day without being robbed. Like Australians aren't killed for kicks? I think they are. I used to collect statistics on women killed in India by their husbands and mother-in-laws. It is generally done by dousing the wife in petrol and then setting them alight. Some of these poor women don't actually die. Shaking my head. Get your own house in order, please, India.

Meanwhile, I gather that England has been so cursed by the need to be politically correct that my sister-in-law tells me this story. They are sitting in a London restaurant with their daughter and son-in-law. The people at the next table see Sarah say 'I'll fucking kill you, you fucking Jew. If you don't stay away I'll fucking kill you.' Sarah is brandishing a knife while saying this. Now, the reason is that she is telling the never ending saga of the Lebananese restaurant owner next to their apartments. He most certainly isn't particularly anti-Jewish, he has threatened them all with knives and other tasty Lebanese treats, some involving stuffing - the Lebanese do like to stuff things. Martha and John completely freaked out. Evidently this was enough to get them arrested, Sarah telling this story. Racist tensions much be an awful thing to live with in the UK, but fortunately in Australia everybody still gets on in a natural way without having to legislate racial harmony.

All of which brings me back to An Iron Rose. Might this segment of my review of A Dance to the Music of Time conclude with an archetypical description of some Aussies playing footy in the bush. This is Australia.

pp. 61-63

Ten minutes into the last quarter, it began to rain, freezing rain, driven into our facts by a wind that had passed over pack ice in its time. We only needed a kick to win but nobody could hold the ball, let along get a book to it. We were sliding around, falling over, trying to recognise our own side under the mudpacks. Mick Doolan was shouting instructions from the sideline but no-one paid any attention. We were completely knackered. Finally, close to time, we had some luck: a big bloke came out of the mist and broke Scotty Erwan’s nose with a vicious swing of the elbow. Even in the rain you could hear the cartilage crunch. Scotty was helped off, streaming blood, and we got a penalty.

‘Take the kick, Mac,’ said Bill Garrett, the captain. He would normally take the kick in situations like this, but since the chance of putting it through was nil, he thought it best that I lose the game for Brockley. ‘Privilege,’ I sad, spitting out some mud. ‘Count on my vote for skipper next year. Skipper.’

I was right in front of goal but the wind was lifting my upper lip. I looked around the field. There were about twenty spectators left, some of them dogs sitting in old utes.

‘Slab says you can’t do it,’ said the player closest to me. He was just another anonymous mudman but I knew the voice.

‘Very supportive, Flannery,’ I said. ‘You’re on, you little prick.’

Squinting against the rain, I took my run-up inot the gale, scared that I was going to slip before I could even make the kick.

But I didn’t. I manged to give the ball a reasonable punt before my left leg went out under me. I hit the ground with my left shoulder and slid towards goal.

And as I lay in the cold black mud, the wind paused for a second or two and the ball went straight between the uprights.

The final whistle went. Victory. Victory in round eight of the second division of the Brockley and District League. I got up. My shoulder felt dislocated. ‘That’ll be a slab of Boag, Flannery,’ I said. ‘You fucking traitor.’

‘Brought out yer best,’ Flannery said. ‘Psychology. Read about it.’

I said, ‘Read about it? Psychology in Pictures. I didn’t know they’d done that.’

Paul, I've been called to dinner. I trust you will proofread this.
In deference to Paul.

p.196 'This was an unnpleasnt surprise for everyone. The girls could not have made more noise if they had been having their throats cut.'

Now, this really did make me think. In my opinion the girls certainly could not have made more noise if they had been having their throats cut. But this is not what Ant means. Ant means that he considers one would make a lot of noise while having one's throat cut. More noise, perhaps even, than Manny would make if anybody actually gave him a vote for his review of Go book number two.

I have to say, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about this. I considered googling it, but I'm fairly sure that I'd get taken somewhere I really don't want to be. I'm not talking about Manny squealing with delight, I'm talking about the girls with the cut throats, of course.

My own sense of what would happen is that the loudest noise during this process would be that of blood hitting a hard surface. Or maybe the sound of 'shit' as the blood meets the clothes of the throat cutter. The cuttee, nup, surely silent.

Then, just this morning, as I'm eating sourdough baguette toast and tea at my local French coffee shop I come across the following scene in An Iron Rose p. 138

He'd been killed where he lay, his head pulled back by the ponytail and his throat cut. More than cut. He was almost decpaitated.....Carlie mance was in the bathroom, naked....the man had been behind her when he cut her throat....

Now this is merely inferential, but. The place has been staked out by the Feds, it is tapped for sound. There is no doubt that if these people had made so much as a squeak while having their throats cut, the Feds would have been right onto it.

I rest my case.


3.30pm I cruise into the kitchen, not unnnoticed.

'What are you doing?'
'Looking for lunch'
'But you had lunch half an hour ago'
I hate people who count your food. Hate, hate, hate. And I feel sure I said somewhere on goodreads just a day or so ago that I haven't hated anybody ever, but let's just exclude people who count your food out of that rash statement.
'You can't have another lunch now just because that book is making you miserable'.

And it is true. Absolutely true. I didn't even want the first lunch I had. I certainly don't want this one. But.

I feel like I've given this book more chances that Jesus gave all humanity. I wouldn't care to speak for him, but for me, I'll say too many. Way, way, way too many.

I keep thinking that I will nail my case here by quoting a really really really boring passage. But what to choose? Honestly dip in anywhere and prepare to be bored to death by pompous formal writing of a kind I'm gobsmacked got into print.


At school I had known Tom Goring, who had later gone into the Sixtieth, and, although we had never had much to do with each other, I remembered some story of Stringham's of how both of them had put up money to buy a crib for Horace - or another Latin author whose works they were required to render into English [fucking hell, why oh why this tedious qualification. Are we going to find the narrator out? Ah ha. YOU said it was Horace and actually:] - and of trouble that ensued from the translation supplied having contained passages omitted in the official educational textbook. This fact of her elder brother having been my contemporary - the younger son, David, was still at school - may perhaps have had something to do with finding myself, immediately after our first meeting, on good terms with Barbara; though the matter of getting on well with young men in no circumstances presented serious difficulty to her.

Sorry if that had you on the edge of your seat.

I formally throw in the towel. I've done my hundred dollars. Bugger.


If you happen to have read this book you will understand that digressions are the essence of the thing. So, it is in this spirit that I mention I went to Brightstar and I make a note to myself never to shag Keats should he come across my path. I take note that he's dead these days, but I can't see that this detail will make him less lively. In fact, make that poets fullstop. Pop poet on your profile, send me a little something about the affinity you feel for - some body part or another, my mind, even, if you like - and I promise I'll stay well clear.

And I go to bridge and somebody asks me if I know anybody with influence in the city and a big house. The whole passing acquaintance with an academic who might live near Cambridge just hasn't really done it for me. So, I've got a better approach now. 'Well, Bob of course. And Jeff...' And there is nothing the other person can say to that. They are in terrible danger of showing inexcusable ignorance if they get pursue the details of this claim. Honestly it works.

And our young wanker, - well, Manny thinks otherwise, so does that mean it's the author who is a wanker - narrator spends two pages of such tedium describing the process of thinking about kissing somebody and then kissing entirely the wrong person, honestly, truly, you don't want to know, that I revise my opinion about Brightstar. I have to admit that I would shag Keats dead or alive (him, not me) rather than the earnest sad little sod who fancies himself as a writer in this First Movement.

Maybe you have to have been a young man sometime in your life to fancy him. Maybe you have to care about money and influence and big houses. I just don't know.

At bridge certain interesting things happen, but I shan't tell you about then since it would be against the spirit of this book to pep you up that way. So, I will merely mention that my partner forgot a baby bit of system on board one, leaving us in the wrong game (which I made) rather than the right slam. And the very next board my opponent failed to understand the simple truth that aces are not necessarily highest. Hmm. That last point is almost philosophically interesting. I beg your pardon.



At dinner, Gowers asks me whom I know with a big house and an important position in the City. Panic. Are there no names I can drop, anybody of note I know? Will I be invited back here again? Umm, I reply after a frozen moment, I know an academic I believe lives near Cambridge. Gowers sniffs. But do you know any Oxford academics, Gowers replies, in those two words sweeping away the entire concept of there being academics outside that institution. Of course! My own niece lives in Oxford with her husband who is an academic there. I lean back in relief. Not to be invited back to the Gowers, well, the shame of it. Gowers is pleased.

Donald changes the subject. Any good practical jokes lately? He describes his mother in a nursing home. He turned off her TV at the powerpoint and she spent an entire day thinking her TV wasn't working. It was such a hoot. That prompted Andrea to say she was thinking of moving the newspaper her 94 year old mother gets delivered to the edge of the stairs. Wouldn't it be hysterical if the old bint fell down the stairs while attempting to retrieve the paper? We all smile at the prospect.

Then I woke up. This is what comes of reading First Movement before bed. The subject matter of the book to date, as you can see, is gross. Nasty boys with nasty values doing nasty things. One might hope they grow up except that the rest of the cast to date are nasty adults with nasty values doing nasty things. This book has a mighty lot of characters in it so far, but not one that is likeable.

One wonders if it is the author or the narrator who is a wanker. Well, obviously the narrator is a wanker in a literal sense, he is a young man. But intellectually, metaphysically? Are we supposed to be appalled by the entire thing? Would I have a different understanding of this book if I lived in a country like England where social status is so important that one can write hundreds of pages about it without being either offensive or dull?

And please God, could you not lighten up a bit, Ant? Could we not have a knock knock? An I say I say I say?

So it's Sunday, I'm going to have tea and toast for breakfast soon at one of my favourite coffee shops. I was going to wear my NYE party frock today, but it's too cold. Sorry cute LBD. You have to wait again. Next I'm going to be playing bridge all day and coming back to whereever I'm staying right now. Then I'll be cooking dinner or I will have dinner cooked for me.

And anything, absolutely anything is a review of A Dance to the Music of Time.


So, it's New Year's Eve, I had three parties I promised to go to - come as a celebrity, Marta said; you mean other than a famous writer, I ask? Marta is Hungarian, she didn't get it - a gorgeous new dress, the sexiest heels...and what am I doing?

I'm writing about A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement. The bloody thing's twenty-eight hundred pages long, I don't have time for parties. You might say, you are so not doing that, writing about this book, but hey, I'm learning on my feet while I'm reading Powell. Pithy he is not. To the point? Hardly. I'm reading Les Miserables as well right now and frankly, Ant - I hope he wouldn't mind my being intimate, I'm going to be with the guy for two thousand eight hundred pages, I don't see how to avoid getting too close to him - well, Ant makes Victor Hugo look like he's on a word diet. He makes Hugo look like he's on a bet, just how short can you make this book. And to his credit, Hugo takes a quarter of the space Ant does. Maybe he collected.

Having stated that this book is about a certain Myriel, the first sentence of Les Miserables reads:

Although this detail has no connection whatever with the real substance of what we are about to relate, it will not be superfluous, if merely for the sake of exactness in all points, to mention here the various rumors and remarks which had been in circulation about him from the very moment when he arrived in the diocese.

The first sentence of Ant's testament to the English language, if we might compare, reads:

The men at work at the corner of the street had made a kind of 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 drain-pipes.

What happened to sucker your reader in with your first sentence? What happened to 'It was love at first sight'? Oh. Joseph Heller was still on his way.

I guess the fact is that you don't want to give too much away in your first sentence when you have about - hmm, let's see, 2800 pages, say a dozen sentences to a page, that's 33,600 sentences to go. Face facts right from the very beginning, tight writing we are not looking for.

The sandals are wedges, the dress has lace and beads and red bits and a drop waist, which I adore, and it's close fitting to the waist, after which it's got the most gorgeous skirt, and well, I'm SORRY, dress. Sunday. Maybe you get an outing Sunday. And I know it's sounding again like I'm not reviewing Dance to the Music of Time but honestly, everything is a review of this book. Absolutely everything.

( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
I first began to read Dance when it was incomplete and there was something to look forward to. The pleasure then afforded was rather greater than that which is offered by a long look back.

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Powell, Anthonyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Calzada, JavierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larios, JordiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maspons, OriolPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mir, EnricDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trevor, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary 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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Omnibus volume of:

1 -- A Question of Upbringing;
2 -- A Buyer’s Market; and
3 -- The Acceptance World.

NOTE: The Simon Vance audiobook, combined here, is unabridged.
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A QUESTION OF UPBRINGING A BUYER'S MARKET THE ACCEPTANCE WORLD Anthony Powell's brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations. These first three novels in the sequence follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles which stand between them and the 'Acceptance World'.

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