Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The twelve volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time are usually grouped into four “movements” of three novels each. The first novel of the first movement, A Question of Upbringing, covers its narrator’s years at school and at the university (Eton and Oxford, in the early 1920’s, although Powell gives them no name). The action shifts to the social life of London in the late 1920’s in A Buyer’s Market, and The Acceptance World concludes the movement with a school reunion in the early 1930’s. Each movement and novel are, in their own way, independent fragments of the whole sequence, but as the sequence develops, the novels certainly become less meaningful for readers unfamiliar with characters and events arising in earlier volumes.
Typically, the novels that constitute A Dance to the Music of Time consist of about four fifty-page episodes interspersed and sandwiched by page-long reflective passages, such as the one that opens the sequence. These episodes, with their attendant reflections, generally revolve around a small group of characters and a single action, usually a party or an outing. The last novel of each three-novel movement usually serves as a kind of climax for the sequence to that point. The school reunion and its immediate consequences, which conclude The Acceptance World, draw to a thematic close the various matters of upbringing and initiation into adult society that have...
(The entire section is 2757 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A Dance to the Music of Time Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Nicholas Jenkins is in school at Eton College along with three other youth, Charles Stringham, Peter Templer, and Kenneth Widmerpool. Jenkins uses his friendship with the other young men to cement his acquaintance with various areas of life: Widmerpool’s ambition, Stringham’s aristocratic connections, and Templer’s social ease and familiarity with sex. A visit from Jenkins’s scapegrace uncle, Giles, forecasts unstable elements in the adult world.
On a visit to Templer’s family, Jenkins meets Templer’s sister Jean, for whom he develops a crush. He then goes to France to practice the language in a French home, only to encounter Widmerpool, who is the object of jest and abuse on the part of the French people who know him. Jenkins also falls in love with the daughter of his host. Returning to England, he enters Oxford, where he becomes initiated into literary circles, meeting two young writers, Mark Members and J. G. Quiggin, who seem to have an odd love-hate relationship with each other.
Jenkins moves to London and works for a publisher of art books. He encounters a bizarre array of people ranging from the artist Edgar Deacon to the industrialist Sir Magnus Donners. He attends a whirl of parties and initiates several unsuccessful love affairs, encountering Widmerpool several times along the way. He spends a weekend at Peter Templer’s country house, where he once again meets Jean and begins a serious relationship with her. Jenkins...
(The entire section is 1188 words.)