Anthony Powell Biography

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...

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