Thursday, 13 May 1999

Anthony Powell: A Question of Upbringing (1951)

Edition: Penguin, 1962
Review number: 249

The first volume of Dance to the Music of Time sets a fairly comfortable tone. After all, narrator Nicholas Jenkins and his set have many advantages in the England of the thirties, going from minor public school to Cambridge (with a summer in France in between to improve their French). The book is correspondingly uneventful, as they grow up in an environment where little effort is demanded from them and where, indeed, great effort would be considered rather strange. A Question of Upbringing is about their growing up, from the sixth form to university, and the lack of incident in their lives is perhaps indicated by Powell starting his story at that comparatively late age; no hint is given of their lives in the lower school.

The serene background is a contrast to the sequence of novels to which it is perhaps most tempting to compare Dance to the Music of Time, C.P. Snow's Strangers and Brothers. There, conflict is introduced through a character who does not fit in, who attends the public school and university despite his class background rather than because of it. The principal impression left by the first novel in Music in Time is one of serenity, despite the crises of adolescence portrayed in it. There is, of course, the depression and then the war awaiting these young men, but they don't know that yet.

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