Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455
Powell’s memoirs were published in individual installments from 1976 through 1982; a one-volume abridged edition, To Keep the Ball Rolling, appeared in 1984. Powell prepared the abridged edition himself.
The first volume, Infants of the Spring, chronicles Powell’s ancestry on both sides of his family, his immediate forebears, and his childhood and youth. Memories of several prominent classmates at school and the university, including the writers Henry Green, Harold Acton, and George Orwell, are prominently featured.
In the second volume of the memoirs, Messengers of Day, Powell describes his early years on the London writing and publishing scene, providing vivid details of his brief residence in the bohemian London district of Shepherd’s Market. Sections are also devoted to Powell’s longtime friend, peer, and rival, Evelyn Waugh; to his close friendship with the composer Constant Lambert (the model for the character of Hugh Moreland in A Dance to the Music of Time); and to a detailing of the key books, ranging from the works of Petronius to those of more modern writers, such as Marcel Proust and Fyodor Dostoevski, which influenced Powell throughout his career.
The third volume, Faces in My Time, covers Powell’s marriage to Lady Violet and his military service. He also records his literary friendships with writers as diverse as F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom he met while seeking out work as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, and T. S. Eliot, whom he encountered at a seaside resort and liked despite not totally identifying with his literary and religious views.
The final volume, The Strangers All Are Gone, records Powell’s move, with his family, to a house called The Chantry near the market town of Frome in Somerset, in England’s West Country. It also records Powell’s extensive travels, which included trips to India, Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand. In addition, Powell provides his opinions about William Shakespeare, from whose work derives the titles of the four individual memoirs; the title of the one-book abridged version is from Joseph Conrad. Powell argues that Shakespeare’s sonnets revealed a real homosexual passion for a biographical individual. He closes with a quote from the artist Michelangelo, who compared art to a snowman, saying that art “is sometimes worth making, even if it is, inevitably, temporary.”
Powell’s memoirs, like his novels, are more about other people than himself; he was not prone to self-revelation. They thus lack the deep introspection of the best autobiographies, nor are they replete with scandalous literary gossip. Nonetheless, their very self-effacement allows them to serve not only as a functional social history of twentieth century Britain but as a window upon the literary mind—how it works and how it operates based on a writer’s specific experiences.
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