Reflections on A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement by Anthony Powell (1951, 1952, 1955)

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 25: Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement (1951, 1952, 1955)

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

A Dance to the Music of Time is a massive twelve-part reflection on the social life of the wealthier class of citizens in England between the first and second world wars, the first movement contains the first three of these novels: A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer’s Market, and The Acceptance World. Many people have found Anthony Powell’s work both entertaining and compelling, and I can understand why it was a part of the Time magazine list, yet these first three novels were an incredibly slow read for me. In fairness this is not a time period or a genre I normally find compelling.

The protagonist and narrator, Nicholas, is a part of the portion of English society that has access to travel, college, and some amount of wealth and it portrays the overlapping social circles he encounters in education, art, and society. His perspective points out the vanity and formality of a society that is unraveling and while the book can look at many of the interactions (and rejections) within this society in a humorous light, Nicholas still tries to live in this nexus of the business and art world. The portrayal of the world that Nicholas encounters seems a dry and while the various characters may navigate it with different degrees of success there is very little joy in the characters. I’m guessing that the remaining volumes continue to observe the unravelling of the society and morals of the previous Victorian and Edwardian Ages in this Interwar period of economic, political, and societal upheaval but the first movement was enough for me. Again, others have found this work incredible powerful so please make your own judgments, these brief reflections are merely my consolidation of my thoughts on each work.

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