Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Anthony Powell’s early novels, of which Afternoon Men is his first, did not establish him as anything more than a minor writer overshadowed by his more powerful contemporaries such as Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh. It was not until he started his twelve-volume series of novels in 1951, entitled A Dance to the Music of Time (1951-1975), that he began to make a place for himself as a writer of power and significance. Afternoon Men was favorably received as a first novel by a minor talent, but critical opinion has always been somewhat divided about its worth. Some have called it a comic masterpiece because of its carefully controlled and understated style. Others have said that it is as meaningless as the lives of the characters it depicts.

One critic has suggested that no one has made partygoing seem so dreary and promiscuity so depressing as Powell has in this book. Whether one sees that opinion as an assessment of the genius of the book in capturing and anatomizing the aimless life-style of the “bright young people” or a judgment on the dreary nature of the novel itself is largely a matter of disputed critical opinion. What is not disputed is that although the style and themes established by Powell in this novel have continued in his later work, A Dance to the Music of Time has made Powell one of the major British novelists of the twentieth century.