Anthony Powell's universally acclaimed epic encompasses a four-volume panorama of twentieth century London. Hailed by Time as "brilliant literary comedy as well as a brilliant sketch of the times," A Dance to the Music of Time opens just after World War I. Amid the fever of the 1920s and the first chill of the 1930s, Nick Jenkins and his friends confront sex, society, business, and art.
In the second volume they move to London in a whirl of marriage and adulteries, fashions and frivolities, personal triumphs and failures. These books "provide an unsurpassed picture, at once gay and melancholy, of social and artistic life in Britain between the wars" (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.).
The third volume follows Nick into army life and evokes London during the blitz. In the climactic final volume, England has won the war and must now count the losses. Four very different young men on the threshold of manhood dominate this opening volume of A Dance to the Music of Time. The narrator, Jenkinsa budding writer shares a room with Templer, already a passionate womanizer, and Stringham, aristocratic and reckless. Widermerpool, as hopelessly awkward as he is intensely ambitious, lurks on the periphery of their world. Amid the fever of the 1920s and the first chill of the 1930s, these four gain their initiations into sex, society, business, and art. Considered a masterpiece of modern fiction, Powell's epic creates a rich panorama of life in England between the wars. Includes these novels: A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer's Market, The Acceptance World.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Anthony Powell's book, you'll also get an exclusive Jim Atlas interview.
In this exclusive interview with Audible Modern Vanguard host Jim Atlas, Charles McGrath contrasts Anthony Powell’s multi-volume masterpiece with the novels of Marcel Proust and Evelyn Waugh. In its scope – a universe populated by over 300 characters! - Dance to the Music of Time has as much in common with character-driven TV series like The Wire and The Sopranos as it does with other classics of British social comedy.
This production is part of our Audible Modern Vanguard line, a collection of important works from groundbreaking authors.
©1951 Anthony Powell (P)2010 Audible, inc.
"Anthony Powell is the best living English novelist by far. His admirers are addicts, let us face it, held in thrall by a magician." (Chicago Tribune)
"A book which creates a world and explores it in depth, which ponders changing relationships and values, which creates brilliantly living and diverse characters and then watches them grow and change in their milieu. . . . Powell's world is as large and as complex as Proust's." (New York Times)
"Vance's narration captivates listeners throughout this outstanding examination of a life in progress." (AudioFile)
A Dance to the Music of Time, inspired by the painting of the same name by Nicolas Poussin, was rated by Time magazine as one of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Written by the English novelist Anthony Powell, who took almost 25 years to create the 12-volume set, provides a highly-literate and highly-amusing look into the English upper-middle class between the 1920s and the 1970s. The book covers politics, class-consciousness, society, culture, love, social graces, manners, education, power, money, snobbery, humour, and more.
Although daunting in terms of length, the absolutely brilliant narration by the talented Simon Vance rewards the reader over thousands of pages, hundreds of characters, and twelve installments of gorgeous prose. This is a not-to-be-missed collection of novels for any serious reader of English literature.
I won't belabor the point, earlier positive reviewers are right, this is an excellent production of an overlooked gem. It is full of lovely prose and a fascinating re-creation of a bygone era. The interview which accompanies the First Movement, which you should read first, makes an apt comparison to Proust, while pointing out that Powell's acute observations of character focus much less on the narrator and more on the other characters. There is little navel gazing here, and you come to appreciate the narrator "Jenkins" and his modesty which enables him to cast more light on other characters.
Readers of contemporary novels may struggle with the minimal plot of this book... very little happens during the first six hours of narration! But hang in there as Powell populates his world with memorable characters and transports you to another place and time.
Simon Vance does an excellent job.
Powell's Music of Time books are a masterpiece of English literature. Massive in scope but ironically very narrow in its analysis of people, place and time, Powell devoted his life to these novels. His prose are rich, lyrical and incredibly smart. Simon Vance is excellent as always.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
***** "For reasons not always at the time explicable, there are specific occasions when events begin suddenly to take on a significance previously unsuspected; so that, before we really know where we are, life seems to have begun in earnest at last, and we, ourselves, scarcely aware that any change has taken place, are careering uncontrollably down the slippery avenues of eternity."
-- Anthony Powell, A Buyer's Market
BOOK ONE (A Question of Upbringing): the first of Powell's monster 12-book 'A Dance to the Music of Time' deals primarily with Nick and his fellow students during their last year in public school and first couple years either "up" at University or "down" in the city working. The four major players in the first book: Nicholas Jenkins (the narrator), Charles Stringham, Peter Templer, and Kenneth Widmerpool. These characters all show up again in Book 2. Along with various other characters (Nick's uncle, Jean Templer, Mark Members, JG Quiggin, Bill Truscott, etc.).
BOOK TWO ('A Buyer's Market'): focuses on Nick and some new characters, and many of the old, as they maneuver through the social dinners, dances and teas that seem designed to both stratify society AND bring together these young people together to get married; to find adequate husbands for daughters and satisfy the social or monetary need of the men who are just starting to 'make something' of their lives.
Events seem to guide the paths of these people in and out of each others lives. Probably the most painful to watch is Widmerpool, who seems always to exist in a socially difficult place and constantly dealing with sugary embarrassments.
I love how art is taking on a larger presence in his novels. Not a surprising fact given that the book itself is named after a painting with the same name by Nicolas Poussin. But, internal to the book, it makes sense given that Edgar Bosworth Deacon (an artist) plays a part and that Nick is now working in a publishing house devoted to art books.
There are parts of this novel that, obviously, bring to mind Marcel Proust, but a lot of the first two novels, at least, seem substantively more related to both Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I wonder if the either the character of Members/Quiggin is, in fact, E. Waugh. And if so, who the other writer "is".
***** "Emotional crises always promote the urgent need for executive action, so that the times when we most hope to be free from the practical administration of life are always those when the need to cope with the concrete world is more than ever necessary"
-- Anthony Powell, The Acceptance World
BOOK THREE ('The Acceptance World'): There is something amazing about Powell's attempt to gather the passage of time, the progression of life, the dynamic of relationships over 12 novels. When I read Proust and as I read Powell and even Knausgaard, I am always a bit shocked by the boldness of folding together six (Knausgaard), seven (Proust), or twelve novels into a narrative that actually works.
Reading Powell reminds me of reading an Evelyn Waugh that is stretched out over decades, or reading Proust where instead of the narrator focusing in, the narrator is actually ignoring the inner-life and capturing the world and the people around him. It is kind of dizzying if you step back and think about it. It is like reading Downton Abbey serialized from the 30s into the 60s with more characters, more art, and a bit more London and bit less Abbey.
So, I'm done with A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement and done with Spring. Bring on Summer and I'm guessing World War 2.
Julian Fellows, please take note. Nick Jenkins and his world need you! The characters are unforgettable and the period touches impeccably precise.
The brilliantly sharp humour, and the ever deepening insights of both protagonist and indeed reader as the narrative unfolds. A marvellous portrait of an era long gone. To be compared with Brideshead Revisited.
The different voices and the sense of wistfulness that Powell intended.
No! Certainly not.
I don't blame those people who complained they were bored. It is not for everyone. This is a cerebral slow burner of a tale spread over 12 novels and about 40 years. It's not for those who like a rollicking, tumultuous incident-packed plot. It just aint that sort of work.
For those with time, patience, and an interest in English social history, this is a glorious and profound experience.
I made it through all four movements of A Dance to the Music of Time -- that's 12 separate novels -- and I think this sits with the third movement as the most appealing. The early parts of this may be the strongest of the entire cycle, but they are also the most conventional. Powell writes with real grace and patience, and he introduces the first of his more than several dozen characters. Still, the star of all the novels is the voice, and it's at its most pure here at the start.
Bottom line, you can read this movement without going on to the others, but you really can't do the reverse.
YES, but this is difficult to listen to as there are so many characters over such a long period of time.
This understated book is the first of a series that grew on me and became enthralling. Written in form of an autobiography, it tells the life of an author from his boyhood after the first world war through his youth in school and at Oxford, his military service during the second world war, and afterward through his old age in perhaps the late 60s. The story is an assemblage of small moments in his relationships, in the military and otherwise mainly with artists, musicians and authors. One character recurs throughout, acting as a sort of archetypal figure of trage-comedy.
Some may find the pace too slow; there is little action, but give the books a chance. I found myself feeling as if I was there, too, seeing, hearing, feeling, even smelling, life as it was in England then. Taken as a whole, it has a mythic force. I found it haunting and well as amusing. Simon Vance achieves a tour de force of portraying widely diverse characters completely convincingly, enabling me to become immersed in the story.
I recommend listening to rather than reading these, at first, because the various accents of the characters are key to the story. Being unfamiliar with British class society, and their various accents, I would have lost a great deal if I had started with the books.
"The best way to enjoy this true classic"
The written version of this book is rightly regarded as an English classic, but its size (4 volumes)can be off-putting but this unabridged audio version makes it more accessible taking some of the pressure off of your time being read to you whilst driving or working with your hands or when your eyes are 'tired'. This reading highlights the perfect way in which the English language is used throughout the book. Only an unabridged version can really do this book justice. You will find yourself becoming attached to a whole host of characters and following them through their lives and traumas and 4 volumes. And as for value for money... it makes membership even more attractive!!
"Life in a past era in minute detail"
I chose this audio book as I had enjoyed watching the Channel 4 dramatization. The whole audio version comprises three "Movements" and each movement is divided into three parts. It's a lot of listening: over 60 hours. It's ordered chronologically so needs to be listened in sequence as the characters back-stories are detailed in Movement One, part one and so on. It did find it helped that I'd seen the screen version so had a mind's eye view of the characters as there are so many of them. The main characters are a group of men whose lives are described from their school days onwards. It's an upper class life starting in the mid 1920s. It's not a riveting listen more an unfolding of their lives and interactions with other people and tangentially with historical events. I've read elsewhere that the author based many of the characters on real-people (see Wikipedia entry about the books). This first Movement takes the main players from school to early adulthood.
The writing is stylish and the narrator does a splendid job of bringing the characters to life.
"Completely compulsive and absorbing"
This is a listening experience not to be missed! It’s true that the first three books (the first download) are not the best, but I’m giving 5 stars to the whole series because you have to get to grips with the first books in order to understand the whole series. Powell introduces nearly all the characters in the first books and you really have to work your way through the 12 books quite fast in order to remember who is who. Recognised as a 20th century classic, A Dance to the Music of Time holds up a mirror to a certain part of British society in the mid-20th century. It is completely compulsive. Once you have got to know the characters they take on depth and as you listen you become increasingly intrigued and involved in the story. Where the books are at their best is in the mid century, when they describe the war years and then the late 40s. With a very light touch, they evoke both post-war depression (gloomy, dark streets) and post-war optimism (new magazines and art movements). As things gradually get better in London, and Britain in general, the story comments on the major social improvements of the period, and some of the truly weird things which happened in the 60s and 70s – explaining, without judging, both the paranoia of some and the search for an alternative society of others. Simon Vance’s reading is masterly – every character has his or her own voice. He keeps faith with the main character, Nick, who looks on but never judges. This is not however, a bodice ripper – only a brilliant explanation of the 20th century. As far as listening is concerned it’s one of the very best books I’ve ever listened to – absolutely absorbing - you don’t want it to end, but it’s also one of those books you can just start all over again!
I did love the writing and the wit, the gentle flow of the 'story' and the atmosphere it sets. Gently unfolding narratives are fine with me, if I am in the right mood and this is what it delivers. I also very much enjoyed the narration - his voices worked well in underlining the social strata we are living in here.
At times, partly due to the calming qualities of the reader's voice and partly due to the sometimes less than gripping sections, my mind did wander and I may have missed several minutes here and there maybe 10 or more sometimes - but it never seemed to matter much.
If you want drama and action, don't buy this. If you want a rich slice of social commentary with almost no pace but a lot of atmosphere to get thoroughly lost in, this is probably for you.
"I''m not sure"
I'm not sure why, but I've always been curious about this story and I missed the highly recommended 1990s(?) TV adaptation. I was looking for hours and hours of listening, and having exhausted my favourite Victorian classics (for the time being) decided to give this a go. It gets you interested and then it's hard work - and gets you interested again and then is hard work again.; I'm not sure why the narrator is so important to the story to be there in the first place - actually I'm not sure where the story is going. And its easy to drift off mid extra-long sentence and miss something happening. So I've just downloaded the second volume - I'm not sure why. Maybe Simon Vance?
"A privilege to have read it"
Have not read the print version
His range of voices was better even than my imagination could have conjured up.
Yes, but that would have been impossible.
If I were Powell, perhaps I would be able to write well enough to describe how fantastically good this cycle of books is—but I am not. What I can say is that it is an astonishing work of literature. The writing is simple and clear, it is by turns humorous and tragic, just like life.
I enjoyed every sentence; when I had to stop I was irritated by the interruptions; I was sorry when it ended and I feel that reading it was my time best spent.
Simon Vance, who narrated the entire twelve books, gave voice to a whole world of men and women, all with their own vocal affectations, habits and accents, all distinct and recognisable. He is obviously a truly talented artist but that sort of reading needed far more than just talent, it required the sort of application that most people would have trouble holding for a few hours, let alone the weeks or even months that recording this massive work would have involved.
The irony is that both writer and actor put so much work into the Music of Time books and they are so skilled at their jobs that the whole thing appears completely effortless.
ADTTMOT is perhaps my favourite series of novels. I can understand why people don't like it; it is dry, complex, determinedly upper-class and very long, but it is a masterpiece. The language is fantastic - if complex, the characterisation subtle and accomplished and you really need to read them all to appreciate the grand literary structure that has been created out of nuance, seemingly extraneous conversations and random events..there is a plan!
I too wondered what was going on after the first novel but was irredeemably hooked.
However, despite good narration I think that it's all too much for a simply read audiobook - a dramatisation would have worked better I think as it would still have a large element of narration to explain and set the context but would remove the demand to over-extemporise with the panalopy of different characters.
"Jane Austen for the mid Twentieth Century"
I read these books in paperback twenty years or so ago. I loved them then, and have enjoyed rediscovering them now. I quite see the criticisms others have made, the snobishness, the smugness, etc. Even so, having been brought up in the England which pervades the books I recognise, and delight in the characters who people them, and I just love Powell's observation and analysis. OK OK, he's not quite up with Austen, but then, who is?
He shares her observation and humour, and his evocation of the zeitgeist of the fifties and sixties in England certainly rings true to me. If I have a quibble it is with the reader's pronunciation here and there. Mostly this is trivial, but nobody who had been to a performance of Siegried could possibly pronounce the name Mime as if describing one of those white faced pests who are inspired by Marcel Marceau. The name is pronounced 'meemer'. This confused me for a moment.
I can't be bothered to write reviews for each of the 'Movements' this will have to serve for the entire set of books.
""The interminable linoleum of our school-days.""
Yes. It is good to read a novel that develops slowly - after all, these are the first three novels in a twelve-volume series.
It is already a TV series.
The least interesting feature of the first three novels, at least, of Anthony Powell's 12-volume "A Dance to the Movement of Time" (1951-1975) is its philosophy of time-as-music-and-art and of the inter-relatedness of everything. Powell opens book one, "A Question of Upbringing" (1951) with a discrete scene, almost an extended epigraph, which initiates this philosophy by way of a reference to Nicolas Poussin’s 1636 painting, "A Dance to the Music of Time". But this scene could be more remarkable as a brief acknowledgement of a world of labour that is elsewhere largely absent from the novels; these are best appreciated as a satire of middle- and upper-middle-class men who have barely escaped their public school-days, even by the end of book three, which marks the first “movement” of the series. That novel, "The Acceptance World" (1955), concludes with a wonderful account of the annual school reunion and its host, the boys' former housemaster, Le Bas. This is Powell at his best: he gets the tone of satire just right because it arises from within the social milieu, needing only the not-entirely honest detachment of Nicholas Jenkins as narrator to provide a degree of critical edge. There are many other opportunities for acute observations as the small group of main characters run into each other, usually at society events in London from the 1920s into the 1930s. It says something about the quality of Powell’s writing that the novels held my attention even though most of the characters are deficient in sympathy and understanding and evince narrowness of outlook that derives from their material advantages. Through Jenkins’ point of view, it can be suggested that Powell is critical of the shallowness of the social world portrayed, even though he is far from a radical social commentator. It is less clear that he is critical of the roles to which Nicholas assigns the women he meets, and he is more liberal than everyone else he meets, male or female.
Nicholas Jenkins has his fortune told at one point, as though Powell isn't confident that the first-person narration is successfully conveying his character; or, perhaps it is that Jenkins isn’t that much of a character, however crucial he is to the novels. This is most evident in the presentation of the character of Kenneth Widmerpool, who becomes central to the twelve novels. It is a brilliant technique to have Widmerpool presented intermittently in these first three novels and through the first-person narration of Nicholas Jenkins.
Widmerpool is an extraordinary character, in part because, in comparison with the socially-accomplished Charles Stringham and Peter Templar, Nicholas’s two most important contemporaries at school he verges on the embarrassing. At the school reunion, Nicholas comments on Widmerpool’s "innate oddness, one might almost say his monstrosity" and, yet, in this third novel we become aware that, alongside the frenetic social world as characters come and go and revolve around Stringham, Templar and Jenkins, himself, Widmerpool is doggedly rising. "Ah, yes, Widermerpool. ... I hope he will find his level in life", Le Bas remarks, thereby missing the point of Widmerpool. It should be said, however, that Widmerpool’s rise is quite unlike that of many characters in novels of social mobility – exactly how different is best appreciated by readers, themselves, though a sense of how different is suggested by Jenkins’ description of Widmerpool’s odd but determined style of dancing. It is in these passages of social satire and character delineation, rather than in the explicit philosophical interventions made by Nicholas Jenkins on Powell’s behalf that Powell’s achievement is best appreciated. For all the talk of roman-fleuve, time, art, and music, Powell's novels do not push the boundaries of the novel as a genre.
"Excellent description of its time"
Yes. The book is very well crafted and is in parts hilarious.
A Dance to the Music of Time is a counterpoint to C P Snow's Strangers and Brothers series of books, which covers the same period, was a great read, but did not have Powell's sense of humour.
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