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A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement Paperback – May 31, 1995
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Library Journal
Powell's epic of 20th-century England is actually composed of 12 novels divided into four "movements," although they can be read individually as separate works. The novels were originally published from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Twelve-volume series of novels by Anthony Powell, published from 1951 to 1975. The series--which includes A Question of Upbringing (1951), A Buyer's Market (1952), The Acceptance World (1955), At Lady Molly's (1957), Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (1960), The Kindly Ones (1962), The Valley of Bones (1964), The Soldier's Art (1966), The Military Philosophers (1968), Books Do Furnish a Room (1971), Temporary Kings (1973), and Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975)--traces events in the lives of a number of characters from Britain's upper classes and bohemia, following them from adolescence in the 1920s to senescence in the 1970s. Powell found inspiration for the title and form of his opus in Nicolas Poussin's painting "A Dance to the Music of Time," which depicts the Four Seasons dancing to music played by Father Time. The novels focus on social behavior; all characters are dealt with objectively, as they would wish to appear to outside observers. Personality and motivation are revealed through minute and subtle analysis of disconnected incidents. Nicholas Jenkins, a nonparticipant who is secure in his own values, narrates much of the action of people obsessed with power, style, creativity, and public image. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The first three parts of the story take place in the post World War I era of the 1920s and early 1930s. The characters are associated with British socioeconomic levels that include very wealthy (Templeton), wealthy (Stringham), upper middle class (Jenkins) and middle class (Widmerpool). After university, the characters go their separate ways determined by their economic classes but end up meeting in London while pursuing different individual goals.
Nicolas Jenkins, the narrator of the novel, gets a job at a firm that publishes "art books" and uses free time offered by his relatively unstructured job to write novels. Like Robert Musil's character in A Man Without Qualities, Nick is a keen observer who seems to be continually on the edge of the social dance, jumping in on occasion but content to ruminate about the motives and behaviors of others. As he focuses on his three school acquaintances, Nick's commentary becomes increasingly reliable as he compares current incidents to reinterpret collective experiences of the past. He learns to abandon simplistic rules for understanding of the choices of his friends and others. He also learns his station in life and the limits of his ability as observer to discover immutable standards of acceptable social actions. Life is just too complex and changeable to maintain superficial and immature interpretations of the dance of life.
Each volume of the first movement is self-contained as Powell gives readers descriptive reminders of characters and events that preceded the current action. The writing style is simple and direct and the pace is slow and deliberate. Powell presents many allusions to art, philosophy, and history like James Joyce in Ulysses with much less tangential writing. Using the Kindle dictionary and an iPhone, I enjoyed looking up each reference.
The tone of the first three works is humorous and satirical without being overly cynical (except for the spoof of John Galsworthy). Readers can visualize Poussin's painting and observe the dance of the four main characters. Economic, political and social parallels can be seen with our own turn of the century culture.
I highly recommend the first movement of Powell's omnibus work to readers who love to observe the dance of life. I have not encountered a contemporary writer who is such a good chronicler and analyst of the unfolding and interacting lives of realistic rather than stereotyped characters. I feel fortunate to have 9 more volumes in 3 more movements to read in the 4 paperback edition published by the University of Chicago press (1995). Though life is beautiful and upsetting, comical and tragic, expected and catastrophic, Powell shows readers the worst action they can take is to drop out of the dance. As in Proust's In Search of Lost Time, the social isolate is irrevocably self-centered forever missing the chances of a lifetime to listen to the music of time and in Powell's words move "hand in hand in intricate measure" with others.
The comparisons with Proust: Proust is much better, more poetic and profound, than Powell. The narrator, Marcel, pulls you in to an almost solipsistic universe in which he, while outwardly passive, remains the main character throughout in his work, exposing the readers to the deep vicissitudes in his intense inner life. Our narrator here, Nick Jenkins, seems an almost completely empty vessel save for his detached reflections. That's how it seems to me....so far.
It also seems to me that to really catch the wry humour here you have to have lived in England or among English people for a considerable amount of time. If one reads the exchanges herein in American accent, the delicious nuances fall flat. Such as in an exchange as this one where Eleanor and Sir Gavin are debating whether to attend the luncheon at the Donners castle:
"I don't know what you call neighbours," said Eleanor. "Stourwater is twenty-five miles at least."
"Nonsense," said Sir Gavin. "I doubt if it is twenty-three."
That cadence that leads up to the stress on the final syllable, "three", is what makes the exchange so gorgeously droll. Yes, it is still somewhat funny in American English. But, well, you see what I mean.
Despite these reservations, I find myself in profound disagreement with the reviewer who says that this volume is "literally about nothing." The judgment holds water only if you believe that life is about nothing. As Nick reflects at one point, "Even in the quietest forms of life the untoward is rarely far from the surface."
And how this volume bears this out!
If you appreciate British society, you will like this. If not, you probably won't. This isn't an everyman that could be set elsewhere (USA for instance). The very Britishness is what makes it work.
Amazon's description is sufficient to explain where Powell is going with this series. I am looking forward to reading the 2nd Movement.
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1st Movement... ??