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A Dance to the Music of Time

by Anthony Powell

Other authors: William Taylor (Introduction)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: A Dance to the Music of Time (Omnibus 1-12)

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1285170,229 (4.59)62
This set encompasses a four-volume panorama of 20th-century London. Opening just after World War I, the volumes go on to evoke London during the blitz and, in the final volume, England after the war.
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» See also 62 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
I was lucky enough to start reading the books, each one as they were showing up from about the fourth at the British Council Library. Imagine how this added to the enjoyment as you could rush to the library to book your turn, the anticipation and I was never disappointed. Except perhaps the last one. I didn't feel he had got the comeuppance of Widmerpool quite right. That is the delight the books are so readable.

My enormous enjoyment in reading each eagerly anticipated novel was slightly diminished every time Mrs. Erdleigh "laid out the cards", or planchette quoted Karl Marx, or the mantra "The essence of the all is the godhead of the true" was intoned, or Scorpio Murtlock humiliated Widmerpool. It was interesting to speculate whether Murtlock was a satiric portrait of Aleister Crowley, but one was left wondering whether Powell actually believed in all this nonsense. Mrs. Erdleigh after all predicted Pamela Widmerpool's end. Most disconcerting. It took me decades to discover that the title of St John Clarke's (John Galsworthy, Hugh Walpole?) "Match Me Such Marvel" was a quote from John Burgon's immortal lines describing Petra-"A rose-red city half as old as time". Nothing ever reproduces or replaces the unique experience of a first reading of Proust or Powell, notwithstanding the further insights which come with later readings following on accumulated erudition touching on the life and experiences of the author, and the world and people being described.

I must admit a real fondness for Dance and Powell's other novels and I now reread them all in one go every 10 years or so. For a college lad from Lisbon in the 70s, those well-thumbed and dog-eared Penguins - the early ones, complete with those wonderful Osbert Lancaster covers - were doors to a world I well knew would never be my own. But still it was nice to take a peek. And they are still among the many books that furnish my room, many homes later. At the same time I really didn't like the account of his privileged sort of war. A general sees him struggling through a volume of Proust, categorises him as a linguist and, eureka, he's whisked from the front to be a liaison officer with exiled, allied nationals. I wonder how many bilingual or multilingual squaddies had to brave the bullets in battle.

“A Dance to the Music of Time” is a masterpiece - and one of the best literary experiences I have ever enjoyed. Profound, funny, dramatic, and remarkably accessible and easy to read. I read all 12 volumes in 2010. Anthony Powell is a master. Although the books can be read and enjoyed individually, and on their own terms, the real pleasure is in reading all twelve books, and enjoying a narrative that takes place over a seventy year time span. Kenneth Widmerpool is one of the most memorable characters I have ever encountered in a book.

What I find interesting is that some people find Powell's "reputation" is still in the balance. Well, to my mind, the only question is - was he a good writer, and my answer would be that there can be no doubt about that in the slightest. It is the fate of most deceased writers to go through vogues of popularity then periods of ignominy, until the cycle repeats. For very, very select few their star always shines, and out of Powell's peers Waugh and Orwell are probably the two that will remain constantly illuminated; but such lack of visibility does not somehow decrease the quality of what was produced.

I would state that Powell was the best writer in English of his time. In a 12 volume series, produced over many years, one struggles to recall a badly constructed line. His prose should be studied as someone who was an absolute master of his craft. I always thought back then as I stated that as his satire is less strident than Waugh's, that as his social commentary less visible than Orwell's, his works will date far more quickly than theirs have. It could be than in 100 years his novels are barely read, indeed it's probably likely to be the case, but then, as I say, I think we will lose sight of an exceptionally able wordsmith, whose nuanced prose deserves more attention and respect than I think it receives. ( )
  antao | Jun 29, 2019 |
Have you ever taken a long road trip, one where you marveled at the diverse scenery that you passed along the way, crossed the desert, maybe even stopped long enough to explore a cave, a quaint little shop, or for a swim in the ocean? Perhaps you stopped long enough to meet new and interesting people, tried different foods and took in that open air concert at the town square. You've had wonderful experiences and enjoyed the trip immensely, but oh the relief to have the trip over, to put your feet up and give a sigh of contentment that you are back home to once again sleep in your own bed that fits your body perfectly amidst all your belongings that make it your home.

That is how I feel now that my journey through this novel and its 2,940 pages is over. It was a memorable trip with Jenkins and his friends, watching them as they grew from schoolboys to young men just stepping into that half-way stage between teenagers and adults then on to the beginnings of their careers and adult relationships. A side trip, called the war, derailed their lives for six long years but we met more people on this path, people not normally to be met during peacetime, and most soon out of their lives again.

To give a detailed description of a book of this length with the number of characters introduced is a task far beyond the capabilities of this reader so what I'll present are my highly condensed thoughts. The entire 12 novel sequence, primarily set in England between the two wars, was narrated in the first person by Nicholas Jenkins who drew detailed pictures of his friends, Stringham, Templer, Moreland, Widmerpool and others, their triumphs, their joys, their personalities, and their troubles, so well that we could relate them to people and events we have known in our own lives. We were taken into the world of the arts, literature and fine art with writers, artists, actors, composers, film makers, publishers and politicians and saw their struggles for acceptance and financial success in England, France and Venice as we also watched the overall changing societal culture of the time. Jenkins proved to be a reliable yet dispassionate narrator and a keen observer of events and those people around him. At the same time, other than his career path Jenkins was strangely reticent about his own personal life. Except for his Uncle Giles, we were told little to give us a picture of his own parents and family or his life with them. We know he married a woman named Isobel Tolland but in addition to the name we know nothing of her as a person except as an extension of himself. He spoke often about her aunts, uncles and siblings and their doings but seldom of Isobel herself. Of his offspring we know even less. He mentions a child but never gives its name and except for a few brief references to a son he almost totally ignores his existence. I finished the book learning very little about the man Jenkins himself so was unable to form any emotional attachment to him. This whole saga was written with such seeming dispassion that this reader also felt detached from emotion.

The last two books of the sequence brought a close to the stories of the main characters with happy outcomes for some, less happy for others and truly sad endings for still others. Here Jenkins did also introduce a whole new generation of young adults with their happenings but a whole new novel will have to be written to take us further.

According to Wikipedia, Powell is reputed to have taken inspiration for his sequence and the name A Dance to The Music of Time from the painting of the same title by Nicolas Poissin c 1636 and based many of his characters on actual people of his time including Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley and John Galsworthy. I have read that Powell introduced about 300 characters into the novel and I can readily believe it. Some we grew to know well, others we met with a handshake or a nod of the head, others were brief acquaintances, in and out of Jenkins life rapidly, but each leaving his footprints behind. It is to Powell's credit that he maintained the flavor of his characters as well as the tone of the sequence throughout which was no mean feat considering the time span taken to write the book from the first to the last. Some books I enjoyed more than others with Jenkins war-time life being my least favorite but my interest never waned throughout. Although the quality and enjoyment of each book varied individually, when taken as a whole the novel shines.

Rather than a plot there is a gentle movement of events and people advancing through the years. If you are more interested in good characterization than reading a fast action plot, if you can invest the time required to complete the series then I do recommend it. As each of the 12 books builds upon previous books with no conclusion in each but merely picking up where the last book left off, you might find yourself unsatisfied if you abandon it before completing the sequence. This doesn't mean that it should be read in one fell swoop as I basically did, it would work equally as well if broken up into the various books or movements and read over a longer period of time as it was first published. Myself, I just had to go directly on to the next to find out what was happening to those people I'd grown to know and care for. I'm very glad that I read it, truly enjoyed every page to a greater or lesser degree with my only regret being that I won't be able to experience this book again for the first time.

I highly recommend this book !! ( )
  mlbelize | Jan 27, 2014 |
This is a book that came to mean so much to me that I almost can't talk about it––too personal. And yet, I'm not British and I didn't have any of the life experiences of the characters (400+) in Powell's panorama of the second half of the 20th century.

I listened to the book on audio first, and the first several hours went by with me thinking: "Is anything ever going to happen?" But I was drawn into the story and the world Powell creates and the characters became as real to me as anyone I knew. After I finished listening to the story, which took over 100 hours, it took weeks to recover; it was almost all I could think about. I immediately bought the books so that I could have the pleasure of reading the words on the page and flagging my favorite parts. ( )
  MaineColonial | Apr 7, 2013 |
Interesting, funny saga of a group of privileged friends in the first part of the 20th century. A long series, but I looked forward to each book. So beautifully written, a joy to read. ( )
  xine2009 | Jun 16, 2009 |
Brilliant and worth the time. Compares nicely to Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.
  JVCarmic | Jul 24, 2008 |
Showing 5 of 5
Anthony Powell's 12-book series A Dance to the Music of Time is often seen as the epitome of the English novel. Tariq Ali finds some surprising European connections
added by MaineColonial | editThe Guardian, Tariq Ali (Jan 26, 2008)
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anthony Powellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Taylor, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Leistra, AukeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The complete set consists of 4 "movements" of 3 books each. The individual books were originally published separately (12 volumes).
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This set encompasses a four-volume panorama of 20th-century London. Opening just after World War I, the volumes go on to evoke London during the blitz and, in the final volume, England after the war.

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