From Publishers Weekly
"An uninspiring figure, to say the least." So wrote Anthony Powell (1905–2000) in his journals about his future first biographer, after Barber (The Captain: The Life of Simon Raven
) interviewed him in 1983. It's a tribute to the genial Barber that he can quote this dismissal with bemusement in his sprightly, anecdote-filled biography of the sometimes prickly author best known for that 12-volume chronicle of the human comedy, A Dance to the Music of Time
. Drawing on his several interviews with Powell, Powell's four volumes of memoirs, published journals, unpublished letters and more, Barber charts the high points of his subject's career, from his days at Eton and Oxford, through his brief stint in Hollywood, service as a staff officer in WWII and the composition of his masterpiece (published between 1951 and 1975), to his retirement as a book reviewer for the British Telegraph
in 1990, after being savaged in its pages by Auberon Waugh. That Dance
has always been more a critical than a popular success Barber persuasively attributes at least in part to Powell's personal reticence. As Barber admits in his preface, he was not Powell's choice for official biographer, but until a full, authorized account comes along, this entertaining life serves as a satisfying appetizer for Powell fans. 23 b&w photos.
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The first full-length biography of British writer Powell will be relished by fans of the author's celebrated 12-novel sequence Dance
to the Music of Time. Although Powell downplayed direct biographical links between his characters and his friends and fellow writers, Barber knows that this topic remains fascinating to the novels' cultlike devotees, and although admitting that many of Dance
compelling characters--especially the protean figure Widmerpool--are amalgams of many people, he tenaciously traces their genealogies. He also places his subject in the midst of British literary life in the twentieth century, supplying revealing snapshots of other major figures with whom Powell interacted: Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, and Henry Green, among them. Finally, Barber proves an adept critic, showing how Powell was able to bring a satirist's eye to the messiness of life, driving home the point that "experience, far from being the name that everyone gave to their mistakes, was something from which no conclusions could be drawn." For those who know this too-little-known modern master, here's a chance to revisit old friends. Bill OttCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved