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 writershares 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 added to your library.
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." (Elizabeth Janeway, New York Times)
"One of the most important works of fiction since the Second World War. . . . The novel looked, as it began, something like a comedy of manners; then, for a while, like a tragedy of manners; now like a vastly entertaining, deeply melancholy, yet somehow courageous statement about human experience." (Naomi Bliven, New Yorker)
"Vance's narration captivates listeners throughout this outstanding examination of a life in progress." (AudioFile)
I love this series, although not everyone will. There is not much action. In fact, the author's genius lies in making small events interesting and compelling, as trivial incidents take on a larger than life character. The language is exquisite with a subtlety we have pretty much lost in the past few decades but that some readers will find refreshing and delightful, as I do. I often find myself pausing to appreciate a particular turn of phrase. The series also contains humor and pathos, and provides considerable insight into various aspects of human relations.
The first novel in the series is a coming of age novel set in an English "public school" (i.e. a private school in North American terminology) and then at Oxford and is reminiscent of Brideshead Revisited and various other novels. Later novels follow the narrator through to late middle age against the background of the great events of the mid-20th century. But the great events never take center-stage, which is always occupied by small scale yet fascinating interactions between the characters.
I had read the series three times before listening to it, and I found listening provided a new dimension to my appreciation. Before starting I was worried that the narrator might not do justice to the text but he is actually very good.
Anyone looking for an action-packed adventure should look elsewhere, but for those who enjoy the subtleties of the English language and who find mid-20th century England an enjoyable milieu this series would be a good investment.
Others can share their opinions of Powell's work; I have read it through three or four times now (once every decade or so) and continue to find it wonderful. Though I would find it hard to convince someone who needed convincing.
I do want to say that Simon Vance's reading is superb. As I write this I have listened to the first three movements and he rarely stumbles (the pronounciation of Sardis is the only one I can think of), and even sings the songs. Above all, each of Powell's characters is given the "right" accent and personality; his Widmerpool, the central character in a way, is a reading of real genius. Congratulations and thanks to all involved.
My sister gave me this series of books (printed) years ago, and I never got around to reading them. I think it was because the cover art looked so pompous. However, in searching for titles read by the estimable Simon Vance, I came across them, and thought I would give a listen.
I am so glad that I did. I love the writing, which is witty, literate, and interesting. I love the narration. Simon Vance is one of the best vocal actors around, with the ability to create specific individual voices for a multitude of characters.
As others have said, the plot is dilatory, but what do you want from an epic that spans the greater part of the 20th century from the point of view of a callow youth as he, along with the century, grows and develops.
I will definitely purchase the next three sections--though I am stretching it out over a few months, because already I don't want it to end.
trying to see the world with my ears
James from Vancouver describes this series so well - I want just to add that the prose as an audiobook becomes music and underline the subtle humour in its unfolding. Simon Vance handles the words like a master musician. I so look forward to the remaining three "movements" because this series is new to me. If you like Brit lit, pass over Follett for Powell. I'm glad Follett wrote his "Giants" -- that's probrably why a publisher reproduced Powell for us now. Long live audiobooks for making accessible novels some of us would never otherwise experience.
Listening to a book with as many personal relationships envolved takes both patience and a good memory for all of the people who become a part of the description of what life was like in in England in the twenties. I had to write them down to keep track of all that was going on. Reviews tell me that this is worth while if the subject as it continues through the thirties, fortys, fiftys and into the sixtys is of special interest. If it is, the effort will be worth while. The volume is substantial.
I have been waiting for a recording of this masterpiece for as long as I have been addicted to audiobooks (there was a full-length reading by David Case, but it was never available in Audible; there were two full-length readings available in the UK, and one was by the great Simon Russel Beale, who also played Widmerpool in the BBC-TV version). This is a big, tough job, but this version really is about as good as can be imagined. Congratulations to everyone involved.
Now, how about finishing up a complete Proust?
Manager of public library services & earned 4 university degrees. The great narrators help us to fully understand & appreciate great books.
Highly recommended novel by a writer that deserves more recognition. Simon Vance, with his usual excellent narration adds to the enjoyment and entertainment of this superb novel that is very well written with many diverse characters and a masterful evocation of their social and historical context. Thank you Anthony Powell and Simon Vance.
Say something about yourself!
This book is certainly beautifully written. Definitely literature. I am very happy that I read it. However, you must pass on it if you are looking for any, any sort of action. It is dialogue and musing. Period. Exceedingly subtle. So unless you are willing to be happy for the wickedly wonderful turn of phrase, pass on this one.
I'd recommend this series to anyone who's enjoyed Simon Vance's wonderful readings of Trollope. While it's true that the books don't have a conventional plot in which a killer gets caught or a couple gets together on the last page, I never found them boring. They are, however, for grownups. It's fairly subtle. I've never read anything that better captures the ebb and flow of a person's life, the way that people weave in and out of each other's orbits, changing and yet always somehow the same. I enjoy the way that many major events occur "offstage," but the incidents that Powell does depict are so rich in nuance that you can glean what happened all the same. The writing is a delight, like basking in sunlight, and Simon Vance is as terrific as ever in fleshing out each character with his performance.
The novels comprising A Dance to the Music of Time are not novels of action, but of the mind. They are as much concerned with the inner life of its narrator, Nick Jenkins, as they are about the events of which he is describing. The novels are an extended musing on the dark comedy which is life, the inexplicable winding path our lives often take and their unexpected inter-twining with others, time and again. The novels also deal with the shifting character of what we know about each other, often strikingly wrong, and about life and our lives as social beings, as we grow older and gain experience.
Powell was an exceptionally gifted writer which is what makes these novels especially rewarding to read and re-read. His deft irony pervades the novels, giving them an almost comic character at times. It is no secret that many of the characters are based on actual personages of the era, or are amalgams of several such personages. Powell's writings endow these characters with great richness. They are rendered sharply and with great wit.
I have read A Dance to the Music of Time many times and have also frequently watched the BBC dramatization of the novels, which, though it shaves off much of the subtlety of observation and characterization of the novels, does bring a strong sense of the work to the screen. These audiobooks have been a nice surprise in that they achieve a kind of hybrid of the printed works and the BBC dramatization. Simon Vance does not merely read the novels; he performs them, using in most cases the persona of the actor or actress who performed the character in the BBC series. Unlike that series, however, we get the full text, all of the musings of the author and all of Powell's excellent and witty prose.
Like many works of this type, novels of the mind, for instance, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, these novels can seem long. For those just starting, the first two novels, especially, can be a bit dry - but if you persevere the novels just get better. There are magnificent characters, some of whom are already on the scene, but many, many more of whom, all highly individual and richly characterized, are yet to be introduced. It is well worth reading the whole of the work.
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