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A Question of Upbringing: Book 1 of A Dance to the Music of Time [Kindle Edition]

Anthony Powell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Anthony Powell’s universally acclaimed epic A Dance to the Music of Time offers a matchless panorama of twentieth-century London. Now, for the first time in decades, readers in the United States can read the books of Dance as they were originally published—as twelve individual novels—but with a twenty-first-century twist: they’re available only as e-books.

A Question of Upbringing (1951) introduces us to the young Nick Jenkins and his housemates at boarding school in the years just after World War I. Boyhood pranks and visits from relatives bring to life the amusements and longueurs of schooldays even as they reveal characters and traits that will follow Jenkins and his friends through adolescence and beyond: Peter Templer, a rich, passionate womanizer; Charles Stringham, aristocratic and louche; and Kenneth Widmerpool, awkward and unhappy, yet strikingly ambitious. By the end of the novel, Jenkins has finished university and is setting out on a life in London; old ties are fraying, new ones are forming, and the first steps of the dance are well underway.

"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


“The most brilliant and penetrating novelist we have.”—Kingsley Amis

“There is no other work in the annals of European fiction that attempts meticulously to recreate half a century of history, decade by decade, with anything like the emotional precision or details of Powell’s twelve volumes. Neither Balzac’s panorama of the Restoration, nor Zola’s chronicles of the Second Empire, nor Proust’s reveries in the Belle Epoque can match a comparable span of time, an attention to variations within it, or a compositional intricacy capable of uniting them into a single narrative. . . . The elegance of this artifice was only compatible with comedy.”—Perry Anderson

Editorial Reviews


“I think it is now becoming clear that A Dance to the Music of Time is going to become the greatest modern novel since Ulysses.”
—Clive James

“I would rather read Mr Powell than any English novelist now writing.”
—Kingsley Amis

About the Author

Anthony Powell was born in 1905. He served in the army during World War II. He is the author of seven other novels, and four volumes of memoirs, To Keep the Ball Rolling.

Product Details

  • File Size: 396 KB
  • Print Length: 244 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0099472384
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (December 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,263 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A man reflects upon his encounters with schoolmates, friends, and family as he grows up, enters university, and starts to find his way in upper class 1920's English society, offering detailed, thoughtfully drawn descriptions in a kind of measured, somewhat nostalgic voice. I found this well-drawn glimpse into another time and another society quite fascinating; but if you don't like books where nothing much happens but observations of life, this may not be your cup of tea.

This is the first book of a somewhat intimidating 12-book series, but I thought it stood pretty well on its own and was worth reading even if I don't end up finishing the entire series.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Persevere, enter its world, the rewards are great November 5, 2007
A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell

Anthony Powell's "A Question of Upbringing" is the first part of his mammoth twelve novel epic "A Dance to the Music of Time". He writes with wit, humour and not a little sarcasm, describing a quintessential Englishness that perhaps was never representative of the society and has, arguably, disappeared. He wrote this first volume in 1951 and, though the book starts with a London scene from that era, the majority of the book deals with the characters' school and university experiences and recalls a time passed.

The main character is Jenkins. I will follow the author's lead and use surnames only for males, surnames plus titles for married, older or otherwise unavailable women, and Christian names for eligible women, whether they be of a certain class or prone to wear flowery dresses while standing next to post boxes in the street. As his friend, Stringham, discovered, even some of the surname plus title women at times can prove highly eligible.

The book's form is both simple and intriguing. It is so effective we almost miss the ingenuity of its construction. There are just four chapters, each in excess of fifty pages and each focused on one particular episode. We have school, a social gathering, a holiday in France and college undergraduate life. Powell's writing has such a lightness of touch that we forget how intensely we are invited to analyse the circumstances of each chapter and how penetratingly we discover the characters' lives. There is considerable innuendo, much gossip and usually piles of money, along with social status and influence wrapped up in every household.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
With A QUESTION OF UPBRINGING, published in 1950, the English novelist Anthony Powell began his ambitious 12-volume series "A Dance to the Music of Time", which follows the narrator and his social circle from the early 1920s until the early 1970s. As the novel opens an old man named Nicholas Jenkins reflects on Poussin's famous painting where four figures representing the Seasons dance to a lyre played by the personification of Time. A human life, muses Jenkins, is such a dance, with partners disappearing only to reappear at later times.

Encouraged by this metaphor, Jenkins' reminisces begin with his school days in the early 1920s. Studying at an unnamed institution, probably Eton, Jenkins introduces his roommates Stringham, a melancholy soul from an aristocratic family, and Templer, scion of a businessman and a bit of a rebel. These three young men form a tight band and laugh at Widmerpool, a buffonish boy always on the margins of their society, but ambitious and intent on making a name for himself. The plot of A QUESTION OF UPBRINGING is rather simple, as Jenkins proceeds from school life to a summer abroad to learn French, and then into the university. Though the paths of all four main characters diverge after school, Jenkins meets up with his peers again at odd moments, until a rather dramatic separation marks the close of this first volume of the series.

"A Dance to the Music of Time" has been compared to Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" in its first-person narration and ambitious scope. To a degree, the comparison is fair. However, Jenkins is nowhere near as introspective as Proust's narrator.
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pricing for E-books April 18, 2011
By Majhul
Format:Kindle Edition
Once more I'll observe that the pricing, this time from the rapacious University of Chicago Press (why ARE they tax-exempt?) is exploitive and unjustifiable. You can buy the four movements (= 12 books) for roughly $68. Or you can buy the 12 volumes in e-form for roughly $75. Yet, the ebook costs nothing to ship, nothing to print, no dead trees, no ink, and in fact, U Chicago had no editorial costs. No wonder reading books is dying out. It's the rip-off publishers and wretched copyright laws that will have killed it.

The series is wonderful; I've read it through 3 times, as well as individual novels at various times. It's a masterpiece.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature at its Best March 25, 2012
By Buzz
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Over the years, I've come across references to Anthony Powell's 12-volume series, "Dance to the Music of Time," as being a towering achievement of 20th century English literature, and I remember, vaguely, that some decades ago I checked out one of Powell's volumes from my local library, the time then being when I went to the library and found books and a quiet reading atmosphere, as opposed to today, with the library being heavily digitized and the ambient sound filled with patrons seeking help on how to navigate the electronic devices that comprise the collection. At the time, I had just finished reading and adoring C. P. Snow's "Strangers and Brothers" series, and I was hoping to find in Powell, an author akin to Snow, one who could absorb me into the lives of people from a society I only superficially knew, and then largely through its literature. I was sorely disappointed in Powell: his prose was long-winded, complex, and the plot moved slowly, if at all. I put the Powell book down and after these many years, I think due to its ready availability on Kindle and its near give-away price, I thought I would give "Dance to the Music of Time" another try, this time starting with the very first volume of the series, "A Question of Upbringing."

Set in the period from the end of WWI to about 1921, and within what I imagine to be upper (very upper) class English society, "A Question of Upbringing" introduces four students in a English public school, whom Powell will follow through the remaining 11 volumes of "Dance to the Music of Time," until after WWII.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A challenge but thoroughly enjoyable
This long series of books (12) is not for everyone and probably not for the younger reader but it captures the feeling of an era now past. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Published 5 days ago by Olsen
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent series
im cheating and writing the same review for each of these 12 books because the reasons i love them are the same for each

if you love proust, evelyn waugh, atonement and... Read more
Published 3 months ago by sharyn
3.0 out of 5 stars A book from the 1950's which is reflected in the ...
A book from the 1950's which is reflected in the detailed, descriptive style of writing. Reminded me a little of the Graham Greene style from the 1960's. Read more
Published 7 months ago by BHEWE
5.0 out of 5 stars An Invitation to the Dance
Reviews comment that Anthony Powell's twelve book saga ranks up there with Marcel Proust. I would agree and find Jenkins a much more congenial alter ego for the author than Marcel. Read more
Published 8 months ago by R. H. May
5.0 out of 5 stars loved the pace
loved the deliberate pace and slow entanglement of characters. Not sure if I find all the character analysis internally consistent, but it is interesting. Read more
Published 11 months ago by alan
5.0 out of 5 stars A Question of Upbringing
A Question of Upbringing is the first volume in the twelve novel, “A Dance to the Music of Time.” In order, the books are:

1. A Question of Upbringing – (1951)
2. Read more
Published 12 months ago by S Riaz
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly readable
I'm currently working my way through Proust and I'd heard Powell's multi-part novel compared. I found it excellent, but only superficially like Proust. Read more
Published 14 months ago by morehumanthanhuman
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delight, and the First of Twelve Volumes
This is deft, clever, deeply felt but reserved English prose -- kind of a combination of Evelyn Waugh, Marcel Proust and some very expensive, very dry champagne. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Steven Axelrod
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better the second time around
I read this book many years ago and I must say I love it even more now. Powell is a wonderful and witty writer.
Published 18 months ago by Brooklyn reader
3.0 out of 5 stars Insightful but a bit slow
This is the first volume of Powell's highly regarded "Dance to the Music of Time" sequence of books and it offers a smooth, if rather unexciting read. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Jim Lester
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