Powell’s Way

A Dance to the Music of Time

collected in four "movements," by Anthony Powell. 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
University of Chicago Press, each $17.95 (paper)

A Dance to the Music of Time

a seven-hour miniseries adapted by Hugh Whitemore. broadcast in the UK on Channel Four
Videocassettes distributed by VCI, £19.99

Journals: 1982-1986

by Anthony Powell
London: Heinemann, 305 pp., £9.99 (paper)

Journals: 1987-1989

by Anthony Powell
London: Heinemann, 239 pp., £12.99 (paper)

Journals: 1989-1992

by Anthony Powell
London: Heinemann, 238 pp., £12.99 (paper)

Suppose yourself to be netted in some elaborate dream, where the examination topic for tomorrow involves the invention of a fictional conversation. The characters must be Englishmen, located at some midpoint in the recent age of ideology, who are part upper-crust and part bohemian, yet who are earnestly discussing the supernatural:

“My own occult interests are so sketchy. I’ve just thumbed over Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie. Never participated in a Black Mass in my life, or so much as received an invitation to a witches’ Sabbath.”

“But I thought Dr Trelawney was more for the Simple Life, with a touch of yoga thrown in. I did not realise that he was committed to all this sorcery.”

“After you knew him he must have moved further to the Left—or would it be to the Right? Extremes of policy have such a tendency to merge.”

“Trelawney must be getting on in age now—Cagliostro in his latter days, though he has avoided incarceration up to date.”

“What will happen to people like him as the world plods on to standardisation? Will they cease to be born, or find jobs in other professions? I suppose there will always be a position for a man with first-class magical qualifications.”

This is taken from The Kindly Ones, the sixth novel of Anthony Powell’s twelve-volume cycle collectively entitled A Dance to the Music of Time. The sequence may be said to “cover” the span of years that lay between the Great War and the Sixties. And Mr. Powell himself, now enjoying his ninety-second year, is and was very much a part of the social and literary history of England (and, he would wish to have it noted, of Wales too) over that protracted period of crisis and decline. He is one of the few living authors who was on easy and familiar terms with George Orwell, Cyril Connolly, Graham Greene, and Malcolm Muggeridge, and his collection of criticism, Miscellaneous Verdicts, together with four volumes of memoirs and three books of journals, provides an imperishable trove of first-hand acquaintance and reminiscence. A seven-hour dramatization of Dance, made and transmitted on British television in late 1997 after almost two decades of aborted schemes and rehearsals, may or may not have enlisted a wider audience for his work. It is a certainty, however, that the novels have gradually won for themselves a consecrated readership which is impervious to changes in fashion.

This is true in spite of a number of objections or perhaps reservations that have hindered the cycle’s acceptance thus far, perhaps especially (though there does exist an Anthony Powell Society in Kalamazoo, Michigan) in these United States. It is sometimes said that Powell works on too small a canvas, and depends for his effects on too much coincidence occurring within a too-limited circle. The response to this among some of his fans, as he would emphatically not wish to call them even if they do hail from Kalamazoo, has been to announce him as “the…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.