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...
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