Anthony Powell Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anthony Dymoke Powell was one of England’s most respected novelists of the twentieth century, and A Dance to the Music of Time, in twelve volumes, published over a quarter of a century, is one of the longest works of fiction written in English. Powell was born in London on December 21, 1905, into an upper-middle-class family. His father, P. L. W. Powell, was a career military officer, and his mother, Maude, belonged to an old family with upper-class ties. The Powells moved often while Powell was a child because of his father’s military assignments, and these early experiences were later transformed into fictional incidents in Powell’s novels. He attended the exclusive public school Eton College and then was matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford. Powell’s contemporaries at Eton and Oxford included such future literary luminaries as Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Cyril Connolly, and Harold Acton. After leaving Oxford, Powell worked in London for the publishing house Duckworth and finished his first novel, Afternoon Men, in 1931. His social scene in London included both debutante balls and bohemian literary and artistic haunts, all of which play a part in his subsequent novels. He left the publishing business in the mid-1930’s for scriptwriting after he married Lady Violet Pakenham, and by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he had published four more novels.

In World War II, he initially served in his father’s old regiment but was later transferred to an intelligence unit, working as a liaison to several governments-in-exile based in London. He found it impossible to write fiction during the war and instead began a study of John Aubrey, the seventeenth century antiquarian, which was published in 1948. He resumed his career as a literary critic in the late 1940’s, but his primary focus was upon his multivolume work, A Dance to the Music of Time. The first volume, A Question of Upbringing, was published in 1951, and the twelfth and last volume, Hearing Secret Harmonies, appeared in 1975. Powell’s stated reason for writing a series of connected novels was that it would free him from the usual eighty-thousand-word format and would allow him to develop an extended plot and story; it would also not require him to invent a different cast of characters for each new novel. The result was a brilliant study of upper-middle-class London society, from the years before the Great War through...

(The entire section is 1001 words.)

Anthony Powell Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Anthony Dymoke Powell was born December 21, 1905, in London, England. His mother was the daughter of a barrister; his father, himself the son of a colonel, was a lieutenant in the army who was to win decoration in World War I and retire as a lieutenant colonel. Powell, his parents’ only child, spent his early years in a military environment. He was to have a continuing respect for the service; General Conyers, in A Dance to the Music of Time, is only one of a number of sympathetically portrayed army officers in Powell’s fiction.

As a member of a well-to-do family, Powell had an upper-class education and acquired the values of his class. He entered Eton in 1918, where he made friends, such as Hubert Duggan, a source for Stringham, who were to contribute to his subsequent characterizations. When, in 1923, Powell matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, he continued to collect the friends and the personal impressions that were to serve him well when he later described Nick Jenkins’s experiences. Powell’s memoirs, To Keep the Ball Rolling, written after A Dance to the Music of Time, are invaluable for helping readers deal with the complex issue of the relation between fiction and “real life,” but it may be said that Powell was not always entirely forthcoming and that many of his fictional characters are based, often rather closely, on particular prototypes.

While at Oxford, Powell made various vacation trips to the Continent; in 1924, he traveled to Finland, where his father was stationed. Later, he drew on this travel in his early novel Venusberg. Powell graduated from Oxford in 1926 and went to work for the publishing firm of Duckworth, in London. There, Powell lived the quasi-bohemian life that is described in A Buyer’s Market and subsequent volumes in A Dance to the Music of Time and is also reflected in his five prewar novels. He spent much time in the company of painters and musicians, meeting, among them, the composer Constant Lambert, who was to become a lifelong friend and the prototype for Hugh Moreland in Powell’s series.

On December 3, 1934, Powell married Lady Violet Packenham; they were to have two sons, Tristam and John. With his marriage, Powell acquired a large set of interesting in-laws; collectively, they were to contribute something to his fictional portrait of the Tollands; his brother-in-law Frank Pakenham, the seventh earl of Longford, was to serve as a major...

(The entire section is 1016 words.)

Anthony Powell Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anthony Dymoke Powell (AN-toh-nee pohl) was born in London, England, on December 21, 1905, the son of P. L. W. Powell and his wife, the former Maud Wells-Dymoke. Few novelists of manners have led lives so ideally suited to their art as Powell. Born in 1905 of, on his father’ s side, an old military family with its roots in Wales, and, on his mother’s side, a line of prominent Lincolnshire landowners, Powell was educated at Eton from 1919 through 1923 and at Oxford’s Balliol College, where he earned a B.A. in history in 1926. His experiences provided him with an insider’s privileged view of the changes in middle-and upper-class English society since World War I. Because his father’s duty in the army kept the family on the Continent after the war, Powell was also familiar with European society.

Various literary occupations, as well as travels, broadened Powell’s view of society and provided settings for his fiction. After taking his degree, he entered publishing with Duckworth, the firm that published his first novel, Afternoon Men (1931). Venusberg (1932), his second novel, set in a fictional Baltic state, makes use of his knowledge of European manners. Powell deals with English provincial manners, particularly hunting, the aristocracy, unconventional military men, and artists with social ambition, in his next novel, From a View to a Death (1933).

Shortly after his marriage in 1934 to Lady Violet Pakenham, daughter of Brigadier the Fifth Earl of Longford, Powell left publishing to write film scripts for Warner Brothers of Great Britain. His satiric view of the film industry is reflected in Agents and Patients (1936). During the later 1930’s, he contributed book reviews to the London Daily Telegraph and wrote What’s Become of Waring (1939), a novel about a literary hoax. This novel, his last for twelve years, marked the end of Powell’s apprenticeship as a writer.

Powell’s fiction was interrupted by World War II. Commissioned in 1939 to a territorial battalion of the Welch Regiment, Powell served as an infantry second lieutenant for eighteen months. In 1941, he was transferred to the intelligence corps, where he acted as liaison officer between the War Office and Polish, Belgian, Czech, and French forces. By 1943, he was a major, and by the end of the war he had been decorated by the Czech and Belgian armies. On leaves from the war, Powell collected material for a definitive biography of the seventeenth century biographer and antiquarian John Aubrey, which was published as John Aubrey and His Friends (1948, 1963). Powell’s first son, Tristram, was born shortly after his enlistment, and his second son, John, was born shortly after his discharge in 1946.

Powell returned to publishing fiction in 1951 with the release of...

(The entire section is 1163 words.)

Anthony Powell Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

While there is no general aesthetic of the sequence novel or roman-fleuve (a multivolume work of fiction chronicling the history of a family or social group), writers who work in this form are usually attempting a more comprehensive picture of character and society over longer periods of time than can be attained in a single novel. To accommodate the range of his social vision and narrative genius, Anthony Powell needed a more expansive form than that provided by his pre-World War II fiction. Even though his five prewar novels and the two independent novels published after A Dance to the Music of Time are interesting in themselves, the essence of Powell’s art is expressed in the panoramic view of society...

(The entire section is 127 words.)