A Dance to the Music of Time

by Anthony Powell

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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 of education; like the public school, connections are to be made, and university dons sometimes wield considerable power in the real world.


*London. Center of political, economic, social, and artistic life in Britain, where Jenkins must make his way in the literary world, and where his connections help him. He is in a good position to watch the characters rise and fall as they move on into middle age and early old age. London follows the European tradition, centuries old, of gathering similar activities in specific neighborhoods. This is particularly so in central London.

*Shepherd Market

*Shepherd Market. London area of small shops, restaurants, and cheap rooming houses, northwest of Piccadilly Circus and bordering on Mayfair, a smart, expensive residential area. It is a well-known assignation point for prostitutes. Jenkins lives there on first coming to London in 1923. He sees it as an enchanted area where the young man in search of adventure and success can live modestly and where, despite its seediness, there is an air of sophistication and a sense of the centers of power, social, artistic, political, and economic, at hand.

*Ritz Grill

*Ritz Grill. Restaurant in the fashionable Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly, a frequent meeting place for Jenkins with characters coming in and out of his life. It is here that he gets involved with the great and disastrous love of his life, Jean Duport, at Christmas in 1932. Le Bas, the schoolmaster, has his Old Boys reunions here.


*Belgravia. London neighborhood area west of Buckingham Palace, a labyrinth of squares of the most expensive...

(This entire section contains 869 words.)

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housing in London where Jenkins and his young friends, male and female, attend dinners and dances at the homes of the rich and titled. Widmerpool, assiduous in his determination to get ahead, is ridiculed by a debutante at a dinner dance given by Lord Huntercombe of Belgrave Square.


*Victoria. Unfashionable, somewhat run-down area west of Belgravia, where, appropriately, Widmerpool and his mother live in a small apartment. It might be seen as symbolically proper that this pair, determined to achieve success, are hovering on the edge of the more expensive part of central London.


*Soho. London district area northeast of Piccadilly Circus popular for social slumming by artists, actors, and musicians. Soho is symbolic of the raffish nature of young pleasure seekers, and for the obvious excesses of young, talented associates of Jenkins. Several clubs and restaurants patronized by Jenkins and his friends are in this ramshackle, flashy area: Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, Foppa’s, Trouville, and Umfraville’s Night Club.

*Stourwater Castle

*Stourwater Castle. Originally the home of the financial magnate, Sir Magnus Donners, who gives both Stringham and Widmerpool their early chances to succeed in big business. The magnificent house and land, the art collection, and Donners’s generosity are at odds with his boring sense of importance, and are part of Powell’s satirical view of the dead hand of wealth and power. Significantly, this is where Widmerpool’s career begins and literally ends. It is here that the last act of humiliation is imposed upon him by a spurious spiritual thug, and this time acting the fool kills Widmerpool.


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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.


Critical Essays