Book #43-A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell

Okay, so I committed to a book per week and have, thus far, honored that commitment.  I trudged through 783 pages of Ulysses and went on to read two trilogies; U.S.A. at 1,240 pages and The Studs Lonigan Trilogy at 961 pages, each of those three sagas in the allotted one week time frame, but the buck stops here folks.  I mean c’mon,  a series of 12 books in one week?  I don’t think so and I don’t even feel that bad about it (perhaps all this reading is taking its toll).  Since it took Powell 25 years to complete his opus, trying to speed read through it would certainly not give it the attention it deserves.

Okay, enough of my bantering.  Anthony Powell crafted 12 novels supposedly influenced by Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time (1639-40) into what is known as A Dance to the Music of Time series that are oft times referred to as 4 movements so I’ll break it down reminding all that I’ve only read the 1st (A Question of Upbringing) of 12 from the entire opus.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

1st Movement:
1951-A Question of Upbringing
1952-A Buyer’s Market
1955-The Acceptance World

2nd Movement:
1957-At Lady Molly’s
1960-Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant
1962-The Kindly Ones 

3rd Movement:
1964-The Valley of Bones
1966-The Soldier’s Art
1968-The Military Philosophers

4th Movement:
1971-Books Do Furnish a Room
1973-Temporary Kings
1975-Hearing Secret Harmonies

We meet four young Englishmen at university and learn more about them as we observe them as students and more intimately as family members and travelers.  We are privy to the evolving  relationships among these men as they ready their proverbial toes for the waters ahead.

We learn little about Jenkins, the narrator, other than an introduction to his Uncle Giles, the family pariah.  Fortunately,  his keen observations do provide a wealth of knowledge on the people he encounters at school and while traveling to France.

Widmerpool is the outsider whose legend lives on at university where students refer to their shabby clothes as Widmerpoolish.  So cast out, others have actually forgotten the individual who has transformed into a mere adjective.  When Jenkins arrives at a boardinghouse in France, he is flabbergasted when he comes to find that his American neighbor is none other than Widmerpool, who is now seen in a much different light.

When Charles Stringham takes Jenkins to his home, we meet his mother and her beau, Buster and feel the discomfort felt by both young visitors.  A life of privilege seems to be what is destined for him, yet he looks upon it drearily.  Some hints are dropped at his inner turmoil, but we don’t quite get to know this chap as we should.

And then there’s Peter Templer, the womanizing party boy.  His flamboyant family has surely influenced the young man as evidenced by Jenkins as he is introduced to an assortment of characters while visiting.  Back at university, the trio take a late night drive that comes to a unexpected end which drives a wedge between Peter and Charles, marring their friendship.

While this first installment certainly stands well on its own, it was most indubitably to be continued.   The conclusion certainly left the door wide open with much unsettled.  Surely, that was the intention and I suppose it was effective as I certainly plan to continue on with the remaining 11, although not in the very near future.


There had also been some rather uneasy family jokes regarding the possibility of his having overstepped the limits set by the law in the transaction of everyday business, some slip in financial dealings that might account for an involuntary absence from the scene; for Uncle Giles had been relegated by most of the people who knew him at all well to that limbo where nothing is expected of a person, and where more than usually outrageous actions are approached, at least conversationally, as is they constituted a series of practical jokes, more or less enjoyable, according to where responsibility for clearing up matters might fall.  The curious thing about persons regarding whom society has taken this largely self-defensive measure is that the existence of the individual himself reaches a pitch when nothing he does can ever be accepted as serious.  

I knew now that this parting was one of those final things that happen, recurrently, as time passes:  until at last they may be recognised fairly easily as the close of a period.  This was the last I should see of Stringham for a long time.  The path had suddenly forked.  With regret, I accepted the inevitability of circumstance.  Human relationships flourish and decay, quickly and silently, so that those concerned scarcely know how brittle, or how inflexible, the ties that bind them have become.  

A chat with Mr. Powell would enthrall me.  His ability at capturing life experiences is spot-on and a skill I’d love to inherit.  I’d love to ask him how he was able to undertake such a daunting task over so long a period.

My rating for A Question of Upbringing is an 8 out of 10.

To see the entire list,  visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

Please share your own reviews or  comments by using the link below.

Next up, Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point.


1 Comment

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One response to “Book #43-A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell

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