Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time is a roman-fleuve, a long sequence of novels that together make up a single unified work. Other examples of the roman-fleuve in English fiction include C. P. Snow’s eleven-volume Strangers and Brothers (1940-1970) and Henry Williamson’s fifteen-volume A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951-1969). In French, examples of the roman-fleuve include Romain Rolland’s Jean Christophe (1904-1912, 10 vols.), Jules Romains’s Men of Good Will (1932-1946, 27 vols.), Roger Martin du Gard’s Les Thibaults (1922-1940, 8 vols.), and Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1913-1927, 7 vols.), to which Jenkins sometimes refers in his narration. Powell’s sequence also is reminiscent of the work of nineteenth century novelists such as Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), whose books, though much longer, have huge casts of characters.
Powell’s work, in its Englishness, is like that of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) as well, as it teems with delightful native eccentrics. Perhaps Powell would not have welcomed this comparison, however, because the novelist Nicholas Jenkins, Powell’s alter ego, on more than one occasion, voices his lack of admiration for the Victorian novelists.
The length of the roman-fleuve allows the novelist to develop characters over time, to convey something of the density and complexity of life...
(The entire section is 4330 words.)
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