Anthony Powell's universally acclaimed epic encompasses a four-volume panorama of twentieth century London. Hailed by Time as "brilliant literary comedy as well as a brilliant sketch of the times," A Dance to the Music of Time opens just after World War I. Amid the fever of the 1920s and the first chill of the 1930s, Nick Jenkins and his friends confront sex, society, business, and art.
In the second volume they move to London in a whirl of marriage and adulteries, fashions and frivolities, personal triumphs and failures. These books "provide an unsurpassed picture, at once gay and melancholy, of social and artistic life in Britain between the wars" (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.).
The third volume follows Nick into army life and evokes London during the blitz. In the climactic final volume, England has won the war and must now count the losses. In the background of this second volume of A Dance to the Music of Time, the rumble of distant events in Germany and Spain presages the storm of World War II. In England, even as the whirl of marriages and adulteries, fashions and frivolities, personal triumphs and failures gathers speed, men and women find themselves on the brink of fateful choices. Includes the novels: At Lady Molly's, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant, and The Kindly Ones.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Anthony Powell's book, you'll also receive an exclusive Jim Atlas interview. This interview – where James Atlas interviews Charles McGrath about the life and work of Anthony Powell – begins as soon as the audiobook ends.
©1962 Anthony Powell (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"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." (New York Times)
"Simon Vance is a master of differentiating characters and conveying a complexity of emotions while allowing listeners room to experience their own reactions. Vance skillfully guides us through Nick's London of artists, musicians, and writers; the several faces of marriage; and the odd mix of hope and fear as the world slips once again into a nightmare." (AudioFile)
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""the Future is ever the Consequence of the Past.""
BOOK FOUR (At Lady Molly's): We begin the 2nd Movement with the fourth book of 12. If you prefer to think of Anthony Powell's (rhymes with pole's, not towel's) masterpiece cycle in terms of months, 'At Lady Molly's' is April.
This novel, like most all of Powell's novels so far, brings in new characters, allows old characters to flow through, and generally pushes time forward a few years. I've heard many descriptions of Anthony Powell's narrative. Some describe it as a dance (obviously) that Powell choreographs. Some describe it as a symphony where themes and instruments appear, play their part, and remain silent for a couple minutes only to reappear in slightly different circumstances and dress.
I am reminded a bit of Degas' experimentations with monotypes. He loved to play with the process of printmaking. How the printmaking process could smudge and press his ideas with either dark fields or light fields. His images of people and landscapes would emerge out of darkness, smudged reflections would arrive from the plates. He would create multiple images from the same plate that would allow him to create ghost images. He would let the press express, through colored smudges, the idea of movement. I think Powell is playing with some of the same ideas. Through time and memory, faces blur, but the dance continues. People spin into focus, briefly, and then spin away. That is the cycle of life and relationships.
I also like the appearance early in this novel of Lord Alfred Warminster (or Erry, short for Erridge, or Alf). This character is largely based on George Orwell, a contemporary of Anthony Powell and classmate and friend from Eton, who operated in many of the same circles. Orwell and Powell were actually very close for several years, and Alf, seems to be Powell both celebrating Orwell and poking gentle fun at his talented, leftist friend. In fact, Powell and Orwell were so close that at Orwell's funeral in 1950 Powell was the one who selected the hymns. Reflecting on this Powell wrote:
"The Lesson was from Ecclesiastes, the grinders in the streets, the grasshopper a burden, the silver cord loosed, the wheel broken at the cistern. For some reason George Orwell's funeral service was one of the most harrowing I have ever attended."
Anyway, like Proust, it is easy to get caught up in the talk, the movement. Whereas reading Proust always reminded me of participating in a lucid dream, reading Powell seems more like being fairly toasted at a beautiful party or -- well -- a dance.
BOOK FIVE ('Casanova's Chinese Restaurant'): Powell's fifth book opens with a flashback to the late 20s, and a discussion about love, marriage, and suicide. The book processes through the challenging marriages of Hugh Moreland (composer friend) and Maclintick (music critic friend) and their two difficult marriages. St John Clarke dies Erridge (see Orwell) is back from Spain. Af far as plots go, like most of Powell's books, there really isn't much happening. A couple dinner. A couple parties. Memories and flashes of insight into friends and their motives. Art, music, writing is discussed at length. People die. If I was pitching it as a movie, it would be a difficult pitch, but it is beautiful, thoughtful, and gentle.
The entire novel reminds me of listening to the 3rd movement of Mahler's 5th symphony. Powell's prose just glides. As you are spinning though the chapters and scenes, Powell throws a couple prose flowers of truth at you, and you spin on. Faces are recognized, spin, and blur out. Themes emerge, crystalize, and disappear just as quick. Yet, at the very end, you also find a dark pull to the gravity of this novel. What you initially took for a carousel is actually a ghost railway, and all at once the reader is "slowly climbing sheer gradients, sweeping with frenzied speed into inky depths, turning blind corners from which black, gibbering bogeys leapt to attack, rushing headlong towards iron-studded doors, threatened by imminent collision, fingered by spectral hands, moving at last with dreadful, ever increasing momentum towards a shape that lay across the line."
BOOK SIX ('The Kindly Ones'): The clock is at 6pm. The series is half-way through. And war, war has just begun.
"The slayer of Osiris once again demands his grievous tribute of blood. The Angel of Death will ride the storm."
The novel begins with a flashback to the eve of the Great War. Nick is a kid watching the adults in his life adjust and move to the inevitability of war and the changes it will bring into all of their lives. The best scene in this is one where the household parlourmaid, Billson appears the family's formal dinner naked (and clearly having a moment) after finding out the man she loves will marry another woman.
We also have many great scenes with Dr. Trelawney. Trelawney is an occultist who seems to be largely drawn from Thelema founder Aleister Crowley (occult + drugs + asthma + relationship with Germany and British Secret Service). Anyway he is a fascinating character to include in this book. The occult, however, seems to fit this novel that deals with an almost anticipation of the great war against the Nazis, while also showcasing England's historical fascination with the weird and magical. It also fits the title, 'The Kindly Ones' which is an allusion to the Furies - The Eumenides - The Kindly Ones. According to Powell, in the beginning of this novel, 'The Kindly Ones' "inflicted the vengeance of the gods by bringing in their train war, pestilence, dissension on earth; torturing too, by the stings of conscience."
So a naked parlourmaid serves almost as an "infernal goddesses" portending the coming Great War. Later in the novel, we see other signs and portents (and an older, weaker, but still portending Dr. Trelawney) of another coming cataclysm (World War II) that is more felt and believed than understood. It seems at this point in the narrative inevitable (and for us with the virtue of looking back, obvious) that death and destruction will soon exact its vengeance on Nick and his friends, England, and the World. Everyone seems to be paralyzed by the realization that the fun times are slipping into the night, the storm approaches, and future for everyone is about to go to Hell.
"The god, Mars, approaches the earth to lay waste. Moreover, the future is ever the consequence of the past."
"Simon Vance is a perfect reader for " A Dance...""
Having now listened to all 4 Movements, I have found the First And Second Movements to be my favourites. Simon Vance's voice is so 'just right' for our hero. I did take the time to locate the painting referred to in the title and yes, seeing a print of that helps me understand how Anthony Powell has structured his story. So here we have Summer, and the fullness of life. In this case slap in the middle of WW2. In this, it is from a personal perspective. No great heroism, no great mirror for morality, more the impact of war, the loss of old friends, the recognition of human ambition and frailty. Having said that, this story flows so naturally, personalities develop and relationships alter .
Yes I do think this is very good. In time I expect I will listen again and enjoy it as much as I have done now.
If you have enjoyed the First Movement, I expect you will this one, The Second Movement.
"Third time I have read/or listened to these books"
Each time I read these books I find new parts that resonate for me today. This is the first time I have listened to them, the entire series, and have enjoyed them immensely. The reader is brilliant. The individuals are all distinctive and the humor and irony in Powell's writing becomes very evident.
I look forward to listening again in a few years time.
"Not To Be Missed Masterpiece"
A Dance to the Music of Time, inspired by the painting of the same name by Nicolas Poussin, was rated by Time magazine as one of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Written by the English novelist Anthony Powell, who took almost 25 years to create the 12-volume set, provides a highly-literate and highly-amusing look into the English upper-middle class between the 1920s and the 1970s. Told through the eyes of Nick Jenkins (the author), the book covers politics, class-consciousness, society, culture, love, social graces, manners, education, power, money, snobbery, humour, and more. Students of British history will no doubt recognize the real-life persons thinly disguised as characters in these novels.
Although daunting in terms of length, the absolutely brilliant narration by the talented Simon Vance rewards the reader over thousands of pages, hundreds of characters, and twelve installments of gorgeous prose. This is a not-to-be-missed collection of novels for any serious reader of English literature.
"Passing the Time"
Individual episodes stand out here, but the whole of the movement serves to keep Powell's project moving forward. It gets frustrating to find that characters you're curious about simply drift away, and it gets a bit confusing as new ones -- especially artists whom I got the feeling were based on historical figure I might or might know -- emerge all at once as central.
If you start this one, you've already gotten intrigued by that first movement. If you finish this one, you're probably hooked to the finish. At least that's how it went for me.
"Even better read aloud"
Anthony Powell captured my imagination circa 1966, not so long after I first read Tolkien.
Nick Jenkins is the narrator, and his amused and amusing use of the language to describe people he meets - mostly with seriously memorable dialog - feeds back into his reflection and imaginings as he grows from childhood into old age. The chosen reader is simply excellent, and his literal "voice" truly adds remarkable value.
If you already love A Dance to the Music of Time, I suspect you will share my joy at another "reading" by this talented production team.
If you have not, get ready for history written one conversation at a time, with seriously realized characters who keep growing, changing, surprising and not surprising.
"Don't Waste Your Time"
This book would have been vastly improved by having significant female characters in the story. It would be more interesting if it weren't so extremely wordy. It would be more interesting if there were some, any significant action. There is some dry humor, but it's not worth the effort.
There is no way to relate to any of the characters in the story, unless you happen to share their orientation, i.e., English, older probably too old to read this now, and by all means, male.
All if them.
If I could I would ask to get my credits back. I have tried valiantly to read this set of books three separate times. Now, I believe I'll just delete them. They're not worth the space they take up.
"The narrative moves on"
To enjoy this next instalment of this loosely autobiographical novel (the narrator Nicholas Jenkins is reputed to be Powell) I think one needs to have listened to the First Movement where the main characters are introduced otherwise the nuances of the relationships will be lost. There's a lot of writing to evoke the era and the story moves slowly with many diversions to include a wealth of characters which, apparently, to those in know are based on real people, but many will now be unfamiliar to most of us. These many hours of listening in the Second Movement cover the inter-war years and the ups and downs of the people we met in the First Movement. I think there's an advantage to listening to this set of 12 books that together comprise the three Movements (9 parts in total as downloads) as one can be doing other things as the same time. I must admit that at times it was just verbal wall-paper keeping me company as I walked in the hills, but as the hours flow by I am getting more wrapped up in Nick and his associates lives.
The narrator is excellent and deserves a medal for the huge task of recording the whole series.
enthralling, excellent for commuting. It spans a vast repertoire of behaviour with a light but piercing touch. Narrator excellent. The characters weave and interweave through time over decades.
writing a review of the second movement is perhaps a waste of time: if you've encountered - and completed - the first, then surely you will be hooked. I read the first movement, and was so glad to listen to the rest.
simon vance is a superb narrator of powell, and captures the comedy running through the novels very well indeed. widmerpool is a creation of absolute genius. these are long reads, which could not be described as page turners, that I found myself captivated by.
the books themselves are, for me, as good as writing gets. they are often criticised for focusing on the lives of the upper classes, but i don't think that is valid. the books offer a wonderful insight into british society in the first half of the century.
I cannot recommend these books highly enough. Not everyone will enjoy them, but those who do will absolutely adore them.
"A privilege to have read it"
Good, better, best.
His range of voices.
If I were Powell, perhaps I would be able to write well enough to describe how fantastically good this cycle of books is—but I am not. What I can say is that it is an astonishing work of literature. The writing is simple and clear, it is by turns humorous and tragic, just like life.
I enjoyed every sentence; when I had to stop I was irritated by the interruptions; I was sorry when it ended and I feel that reading it was my time best spent.
Simon Vance, who narrated the entire twelve books, gave voice to a whole world of men and women, all with their own vocal affectations, habits and accents, all distinct and recognisable. He is obviously a truly talented artist but that sort of reading needed far more than just talent, it required the sort of application that most people would have trouble holding for a few hours, let alone the weeks or even months that recording this massive work would have involved.
The irony is that both writer and actor put so much work into the Music of Time books and they are so skilled at their jobs that the whole thing appears completely effortless.
"Volumes 4-6 of the Twelve volume sequence"
Excellent acting, excellent characterisation. If the teeny social world that the books inhabit has become interesting, or if Powell's orotund but stunning prose has gripped you in the first three volumes, these are unmissable. "Casanova's Chinese Restaurant" deals with issues like infant mortality and the Spanish Civil War that Powell can't manage. Then "The Kindly Ones" locates the shambles left by the First War, and the encroaching terror of the Second War, and it's just brilliant. And you can't read six until you've read five. Difficult. Half way there.
"As good as the first"
An excellent continuation of the story of the English upper and literary classes between the wars.
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