23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The start of a long journey
When you've finished A Question of Upbringing, you've hardly started A Dance to the Music of Time, which is good news - there's a lot more literary nourishment ahead.
A Dance to the Music of Time is an account of the life of the fictional Nicholas Jenkins, written by Jenkins himself, in the first person. A Question of Upbringing describes Eton, which Jenkins...
Published on 18 Sep 2005 by Martin
3.0 out of 5 stars Waugh-esque
I'd been meaning to read Powell for some time, and this is the place to start. It's by turns brilliant, laugh out loud funny, and...dull. The section at the house in France seems to go on forever. The section at school, however, was as good as Waugh. And I guess that's the problem: when Waugh already exists, what's the point in Powell? He seems like a pale imitation,...
Published 2 months ago by Frootle
Most Helpful First | Newest First
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The start of a long journey,
This review is from: A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) (Paperback)When you've finished A Question of Upbringing, you've hardly started A Dance to the Music of Time, which is good news - there's a lot more literary nourishment ahead.
A Dance to the Music of Time is an account of the life of the fictional Nicholas Jenkins, written by Jenkins himself, in the first person. A Question of Upbringing describes Eton, which Jenkins attends, and introduces his schoolfellows Templar, Stringham and Widmerpool. Le Bas, a schoolmaster, makes several comic appearances. The story moves on to Oxford, where Jenkins completes his formal education and encounters Sillery, a don, who is also a comic figure.
A Dance to the Music of Time is a literary masterpiece which contains much comedy, although mild sadness and unhappiness run through the story. Nicholas has a profound appreciation of the arts, especially painting, and he often thinks about particular works of art. He tends to describe his life, and analyse it, in a highly artistic and literary way. Anthony Powell is able to convey the essence of paintings using words only, something he achieves again and again throughout A Dance to the Music of Time, in a great display of literary genius. The story also contains a certain amount of superstition, a few of the characters being highly superstitious (although sometimes this theme is not returned to for hundreds of pages). A long, long way after A Question of Upbringing, when Jenkins is in his thirties and the Second World War is raging, a wild night in the London Blitz is described, and Mrs Erdleigh analyses what is happening in highly superstitious terms, calling it a "demonic night." In Jenkins' young boyhood (not described in A Question of Upbringing, which covers somewhat later years), in a happy, innocent, now unreachable, pre-First World War existence in the English countryside, a cult leader is described, he and his followers running through the fields dressed in robes, behaving eccentrically but harmlessly. Right at the end of A Dance to the Music of Time, in the final book Hearing Secret Harmonies, when we seem to have reached the 1970s, another, younger, cult leader is described, but this man is much more sinister and disturbing, twisting his followers' minds.
Throughout his life, Jenkins observes other people with interest, not interfering with them much, and not apparently saying much to them, but being interesting enough to stimulate them into speaking to him, often at length. Jenkins' profession is literary writing, although we learn little about this work. Jenkins gets married and has children, but we do not hear much about his family. A Dance to the Music of Time concentrates on Jenkins' friends and acquaintances, who are often not encountered for years, then reappear, still the same souls but older and in different circumstances, with different things to talk about and an older Jenkins to talk to. The finest character description is of Stringham, likeable and effervescent, but on a downward path.
When you finish A Dance to the Music of Time, you have a huge amount of literary material to think about. For some reason, the first thing that comes into my head is a description of the extremely dimmed lighting in a wartime railway carriage at night; the light bulbs are described as being like "phosphorescent molluscs."
If you love literature, then A Dance to the Music of Time is compulsory.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Persevere, enter its world, the rewards are great,
This review is from: A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) (Paperback)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.
The quintessence of their Englishness, like characters in the novels of Evelyn Waugh, arises out of their apparent inability to question - or perhaps even notice - their privilege. It's a state they inhabit without either reflection or gratitude, so much taken for granted that it lies beyond doubt, its achievement apparently assumed, not expected. School means one of the better "public" schools. Going "up to university" assumes Oxbridge as a right, though Powell tinges this with the perennial blight of the English upper classes, intellectual paucity, by having several of his keen entrants "decide" not to complete a degree. One assumes that many of the others will take thirds before assuming their company chairs or ministerial portfolios. The army figures large in family histories, always at officer class, of course, and so does the City, where one can always become "something". Even Americans, however, can be described as having "millionaire pedigree" on both sides, an economic status that presumably compensates for what is otherwise a palpable lack of breeding. When family members do not assume expected and assumed heights, they are referred to in hushed tones, the words "black sheep" perhaps not politically or at least socially correct even then.
But if this really was a quintessence of Englishness, it was a pretty rare ingredient. Maybe one or two per cent of the population went to the right school. Only about five or six per cent attended higher education of any sort, let alone a university one "went up to". Neither Sandhurst nor corporate board rooms were populated by the masses. (They still aren't!) And so this was a quintessence of separateness, of rarefied heights in an extended class system and, certainly by the 1950s, some of these peaks had been scaled by other aspirants, using new climbing techniques eschewed by the incumbents of years.
And so "A Question of Upbringing" reveals its duality. It's a tale that celebrates a time lost, a nostalgic peek into a remembered adolescence where a hand placed apparently carelessly and always momentarily upon that of a member of the opposite sex remained a daring highpoint of teenage years.
Nostalgia is always tinged with loss, however. Early in the book, Powell describes the school thus: "Silted-up residues of the years smouldered interruptedly - and not without melancholy - in the maroon brickwork of these medieval closes: beyond the cobbles and archways of which (in a more northerly direction) memory also brooded, no less enigmatic and inconsolable, among water-meadows and avenues of trees: the sombre demands of the past becoming at times almost suffocating in their insistence."
And how about this for a presumption of affluence: "It was a rather gloomy double-fronted façade in a small street near Berkeley Square: the pillars of the entrance flanked on either side with hollow cones for the linkmen to extinguish their torches." And we notice we are in a different age when Powell has his lads pick up two girls off the street to joy-ride in a new Vauxhall. Without a suggestion of tongue-in-cheek or indeed relish he can write that: "The girls could not have made more noise if they had been having their throats cut."
When I first read Anthony Powell, I could not get past my ingrained hatred of this class and its power-assuming, wealth-inheriting inhabitants. It was a country that was not mine. I come to it now a little wiser and a little richer myself, richer in experience at least, and now I can appreciate the irony that my previous naivety ignored. I now look forward with some relish to the next eleven episodes. "A Dance to the Music of Time" is certainly a masterpiece to be revisited.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An understated masterpiece,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent First Volume,
This review is from: A Question of Upbringing (Hardcover)This is the first volume of the 12-volume series *A Dance to the Music of Time*. In some respects it is a relatively low-key beginning focusing, as it does, on schooldays and the immediate aftermath of them. We get introduced to our narrator, Jenkins, and a few of the characters we will meet in various guises in subsequent volumes. One of the most memorable early scenes is the arrival of Uncle Giles in the school where his smoking causes something of a commotion. Powell's novels are often described as an English version of Proust and there is something to this comparison. Like in Proust the narrator is some sense a kind of absorbent centre who, whilst giving us cues to everything, doesn't emerge that clearly himself. By contrast to Proust, the centre of action is here focused directly on the end period of boyhood, the emergence of early manhood. There is no immersion in young childhood, little presence of girls and no homo-eroticism. There is, however, more than a touch of Jamesian introspection and a writing style that conveys detail in a way that manages to awake interest without generally being absorbed in action. As an opening to the series it is intriguing and whets the appetite for more!
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kindle: Where is Volume 2 "A Buyer's Market"?,
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow introduction to a literary wonderland,
This review is from: A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) (Paperback)"A Question of Upbringing" is the first volume in Anthony Powell's 12-volume "A Dance to the Music of Time". The latter is a kind of English "A la Recherche du Temps perdu" - an elegaic look back across a life stretching through much of 20thC English history, teeming with fascinating and entertaining characters.
Unfortunately, "A Question of Upbringing" is a bit slow, and lacks much of the humour of later volumes. Not much happens: the narrator goes to school, then university. He has a frustrated romantic encounter in France and we meet key characters who will resurface later. But it's worth persevering, because the next few volumes (see my reviews!) are much better, and infinitely funnier.
Pros: gentle introduction to a masterpiece. Cons: a bit dull, though elegant in parts.
3.0 out of 5 stars Waugh-esque,
This review is from: A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) (Paperback)I'd been meaning to read Powell for some time, and this is the place to start. It's by turns brilliant, laugh out loud funny, and...dull. The section at the house in France seems to go on forever. The section at school, however, was as good as Waugh. And I guess that's the problem: when Waugh already exists, what's the point in Powell? He seems like a pale imitation, occasionally lit up with moments of brilliance.
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a lot happens,
5.0 out of 5 stars An engaging opening,
This review is from: A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) (Paperback)This is the opening volume in Anthony Powell's celebrated twelve novel, largely autobiographical sequence "A Dance to the Music of Time", recounted by Nicholas Jenkins, a barely disguised cipher for Powell himself.
Let me first declare an interest. I have read this sequence many times before, and have been writing (for what seems like several years) a detailed analysis of it and other "romans fleuves" (including Proust's "A la recherche du temps perdu", C. P. Snow's "Strangers and Brothers" and Simon Raven's "Alms for Oblivion"), so I am rather biased.
The first thing to say is that this is not a novel in which much actually happens, though the portrayals of characters and the observations of their interactions are acute and highly entertaining. "A Question of Upbringing" introduces us to Jenkins himself (though one of the most striking aspects of the whole sequence is how relatively little we ever seem to learn about Jenkins/Powell) along with several characters who will feature throughout the rest of the canon.
It opens in the early 1920s with Jenkins attending a school (clearly Eton, though never formally identified as such) where his closest confreres are Charles Stringham and Peter Templer, with whom Jenkins strikes up close bonds. Stringham, who comes from a wealthy but broken home, leaves the school early on in the book, going off to East Africa to spend some time with his estranged father. Jenkins and Templer remain at the school a bit longer until Templer also departs. Other notable characters to whom we are introduced in this section include Le Bas, a querulous yet also long-suffering schoolmaster with aesthetic aspirations, and Widmerpool, a slightly older pupil than Jenkins and his friends, who is notable principally for his lack of conformity.
As the story moves on we join Jenkins on a visit to Templer's home where he is introduced to Jean, Templer's sister, with whom he promptly falls in (unrequited) love and Sunny Farebrother, a seemingly down-at-heel ex-soldier who is trying to carve out a career in The City. After leaving Templer's home Jenkins spends a few weeks in France, ostensibly to learn the language, and re-encounters Widmerpool with whom he develops a stronger acquaintance than had been possible at school. Finally he moves on to Oxford where he studies history. Here we meet Sillery, a politically active don, Mark Members, a self-appointed aesthete, and Quiggin, a "professional" northerner with highy radical views. Stringham reappears, back from his Kenyan sojourn.
The summary above completely fails to do justice to the beauty of the writing (the first four pages are among the most marvellous excerpts of prose I have encountered), the acute observation of the interaction of people of different classes, and the muted humour. This novel also sets the slightly melancholic tone that underpins much of the sequence, though Powell never allows this to become oppressive. A beautiful opening to an engrossing sequence.
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding History of the English Upper & Upper Middle Classes,
This review is from: A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) (Paperback)I have read the the whole ten books of this epic three or four times. It is essential reading for anyone wihing to understand the thinking and evolution of the upper strata of British Society in the first seven decades of the twentieth century.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) by Anthony Powell (Paperback - 6 Jan 2005)