Book review: A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Music of Time, #1) by Anthony Powell


A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Music of Time, #1)A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book of a series of twelve books.

The story begins around 1921 and the narrator, Nick Jenkins, describes his last years at a public school, his summer spent in France and finally his going to the university.

Nick also describes his friendship with Stringham and Templer. Some other characters are also introduced in the narrative: Uncle Giles, Sillery, Buster, Sunny Farebrother and Widmerpool.

Even if some readers eventually compare with “Remembrance of the Lost Time” by Marcel Proust, it seems to me more similar to “Jean-Christophe” written by Romain Rolland. To be checked in the following volumes.

This book is being discussed in the GR group 2016: A Dance to the Music of Time.


A Dance to the Music of Time, Nicolas Poussin, 1634-1635, The Wallace Collection, London.

At the start of Anthony Powell’s series of novels named after the painting the narrator, Nicolas Jenkins, reflects on it in the first two pages of A Question of Upbringing:
These classical projections, and something from the fire, suddenly suggested Poussin’s scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward, tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays. The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outward like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure, stepping slowly, methodically sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognisable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance.

From Wiki:
Published in 1951, it begins the story of a trio of boys, Nicholas Jenkins (the narrator), Charles Stringham, and Peter Templer, who are friends at a nameless school (based upon Powell’s public school Eton College) and then move on to different paths. A fourth figure, Kenneth Widmerpool, stands slightly apart from them, poised for greatness.

The novel is concerned with the flow and transience of life and the play of time upon love and friendship. Another major theme introduced in A Question of Upbringing is the consequence of living by the will.

In presenting four very different characters – “the artist, the romantic, the cynic, and the man of will” – the author sets the scene for an extended exploration of what it means to grow and mature. The language of youth, deployed with precision, is used to depict the emergence of the boys into manhood in a period when memories of the Great War overshadow many of their elders.

The title of the book had its origin in an incident in which Powell was a passenger in a car driven by his friend, the Old Etonian screenwriter, Thomas Wilton (“Tommy”) Phipps. Phipps and Powell found themselves driving straight towards an oncoming vehicle. Powell later recorded, “Seizing the hand-brake as we sped towards what seemed imminent collision, Phipps muttered to himself, ‘This is just going to be a question of upbringing.’”

The website of the Anthony Powell Society is also an excellent source of more information about Powell and Dance.

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