Girish Mahajan (Editor)

A Dance to the Music of Time

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Author  Anthony Powell
Number of books  12
A Dance to the Music of Time httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

Characters  Kenneth Widmerpool, Uncle Giles, X Trapnel
Books  A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer's Market, The Acceptance World, At Lady Molly's, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant

Dance to the music of time 1

A Dance to the Music of Time is a 12-volume cycle of novels by Anthony Powell, inspired by the painting of the same name by Nicolas Poussin and published between 1951 and 1975 to critical acclaim. The story is an often comic examination of movements and manners, power and passivity in English political, cultural and military life in the mid-20th century.


The sequence is narrated by Nick Jenkins in the form of his reminiscences. At the beginning of the first volume, Nick falls into a reverie while watching snow descending on a coal brazier. This reminds him of "the ancient world – legionaries (...) mountain altars (...) centaurs (....)". These classical projections introduce the account of his schooldays which opens A Question of Upbringing.

Over the course of the following volumes, he recalls the people he met over the previous half a century. Little is told of Jenkins's personal life beyond his encounters with the great and the bad. Events, such as his wife's miscarriage, are only related in conversation with the principal characters.

Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. The editors of Modern Library ranked the work as 43rd greatest English-language novel of the 20th century.

Acorn tv a dance to the music of time


Jenkins reflects on the Poussin painting 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."

Poussin's painting is housed at the Wallace Collection in London.


  • Powell's official biographer, Hilary Spurling, has published Invitation to the Dance – a Handbook to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time. This annotates, in dictionary form, the characters, events, art, music, and other references. She has also calculated the timeline employed by the author: this is used in the synopses linked from the novels below.
  • The various aspects of the novel-sequence are also analysed in "An Index to 'A Dance to the Music of Time'" by B. J. Moule.
  • The novels

    (dates are first UK publication dates)

    1. A Question of Upbringing – (1951)
    2. A Buyer's Market – (1952)
    3. The Acceptance World – (1955)
    4. At Lady Molly's – (1957)
    5. Casanova's Chinese Restaurant – (1960)
    6. The Kindly Ones – (1962)
    7. The Valley of Bones – (1964)
    8. The Soldier's Art – (1966)
    9. The Military Philosophers – (1968)
    10. Books Do Furnish a Room – (1971)
    11. Temporary Kings – (1973)
    12. Hearing Secret Harmonies – (1975)


    The cycle was adapted by Frederick Bradnumas as a Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4. In order to fit the material in it was broadcast as four separate serials each based on a set of three books: the first three serials had six episodes, the last eight. The series were broadcast between 1979 and 1982. The cycle was adapted again as a six-part Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4 from 6 April to 11 May 2008, directed by John Taylor. The cycle was adapted as a four-part TV-series by Anthony Powell and Hugh Whitemore for Channel 4 in 1997, directed by Christopher Morahan and Alvin Rakoff.


    A Dance to the Music of Time Wikipedia