Study Guide

A Dance to the Music of Time

by Anthony Powell

A Dance to the Music of Time Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Public school

Public school. School that Jenkins attends as a boy. A British “public school” is equivalent to an American private school; parents pay fees, and only parents with some financial resources are able to afford them. Jenkins’s school is unnamed, suggesting that it is not meant to represent one of the great schools of England—such as Eton or Harrow. However, it appears to be of some distinction, as most of its boys are of the affluent middle class, and some have connections with the aristocracy.

The school is a late childhood version of English upper-class society. Charles Stringham has titled connections. Jenkins’s father is an army officer, and Peter Templer’s father is a successful industrialist. Kenneth Widmerpool is an anomaly; he comes from the lower middle class and was sent to the school by his parents at a great financial sacrifice to make connections that may help him later in life. The cheerful arrogance and social poise of Stringham and Templer differ from the social ineptness and groveling of Widmerpool. The latter’s constant striving sets a thematic pattern for the rest of the work; the indifference of Stringham and Templer to hard work and calculating conduct is set against Widmerpool’s determination to succeed, however questionably. Jenkins, slightly below Stringham and Templer in the social and economic hierarchy, but above the vulgarity and slyness of Widmerpool, represents a kind of ideal gentleman, moral, fair-minded, and unassertive.

*Oxford University

*Oxford University. One of the great British institutions of higher learning, in which a social hierarchy is again present. Some young men, such as Templer, who could attend, refuse to do so, confident of their connections to get them ahead. Widmerpool, obviously not bright enough to get a scholarship, cannot go on, but gets right to work on his plan to make something of himself.

It is at Oxford that Jenkins meets characters who will people his world when he begins his career in London. At the time of the novel, the university world is more than simply a matter...

(The entire section is 869 words.)

A Dance to the Music of Time Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Birns, Margaret Boe. “Anthony Powell’s Secret Harmonies: Music in a Jungian Key.” The Literary Review 27 (Fall, 1981): 80-92. Analyzes the psychological and discursive elements in Powell’s novel from the perspective of Carl Gustav Jung’s archetypal theories, focusing especially on the Jenkins-Widmerpool relationship.

Harrington, Henry R. “Anthony Powell, Nicolas Poussin, and the Structure of Time.” Contemporary Literature 24, no. 4 (1983): 431-448. This learned and eloquent piece is essential to any serious reading and study of the novel. Illuminates the grandeur and totality of Powell’s novelistic design.

Joyau, Isabelle. Understanding Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Wide-ranging and full of provocative observations. Especially good on the minor characters, whose significance is often missed. Convincingly establishes Powell as a major modern novelist.

Russel, John. Anthony Powell: A Quintet, Sextet, and War. Bloomington: Indiana State University Press, 1970. This pioneering study of Powell remains surprisingly relevant despite the fact that it was written when the novel was only three-fourths complete. Good on the psychology of Jenkins and the moral significance of Stringham.

Selig, Robert L. Time and Anthony Powell. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. Definitely the most skillful and comprehensive work on Powell to date. Selig artfully explores the novel’s relevance to contemporary narrative theory.