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The Soldier's Art

(A Dance to the Music of Time #8)

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  631 ratings  ·  88 reviews

A Dance to the Music of Time – his brilliant 12-novel sequence, which chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England.

The novels follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles that stand between them and the “Acceptance World.”

Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 1st 1966 by William Heinemann (first published 1966)
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Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Aug 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016

It should come as no surprise for the readers who follow the movements of the Dance that Anthony Powell likes to start each episode with an allegorical scene, a trigger for the memories of the past and a sort of preview of events to come. For the number eight novel, the simple act of Nick Jenkins buying a greatcoat at the start of 1941 is loaded with hidden messages and premonitions of danger. The first scene is a London tailor shop that specializes in costumes for the theatre.

One of these effi


Having left a longer time pass between reading this eighth volume and the previous ones, I was afraid it would take me a bit more effort to immerse myself in The Dance again. But no, Powell’s fluid and rhythmic prose very quickly drew back in again. It is a delight to read.

As the second book that takes place during the war, we are now deep into it; the Germans have occupied France and are bombing England. The volume ends around June 1941, when Hitler has invaded Russia.
Vit Babenco
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is war – the time of sorrow and contrasts: some die at the frontline and some serve the military bureaucracy in the homeland…
…behind the glass windows of a high display case, two headless trunks stood rigidly at attention. One of these effigies wore Harlequin’s diagonally spangled tights; the other, scarlet full-dress uniform of some infantry regiment, allegorical figures, so it seemed, symbolising dualisms of the antithetical stock-in-trade surrounding them… Civil and Military… Work and P
May 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards - the soldier's art;
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.

-- Robert Browning, "Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came"


It seems almost by accident my pacing of Powell's 12 volume A Dance to the Music of Time brings me to book 8 in August. I didn't plan it. I fall into Powell in fits and starts.
Jul 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Colonel Pedlar stopped for a moment … then began to move again.
‘What do you think of the news?’, he asked.
‘Well, it’s rather awful, sir. B was in my mess –‘
‘Oh, I don’t mean B,’ he said. ‘Haven’t you seen a paper or heard the wireless this morning? Germany’s invaded Russia.’

or, if you prefer,

Takes place: 1941, from early in year to June 22.
Jenkins approaching his mid-30s.
Book published: 1966. Anthony Powell was 60 years old.

Significant series characters (view spoiler)
Connie G
"The Soldier's Art" is the eighth book in the series, set in 1941 during the war. Nick Jenkins is serving in the British military under Kenneth Widmerpool, his old school acquaintance, in the Divisional Headquarters. Nick hopes to transfer to a better situation more suited to his talents. Widmerpool is self-centered, playing politics to hurt others, and hoping for a promotion. Widmerpool showed up in all the previous books of the series, the character we love to hate.

When Nick goes to London on
Diane Barnes
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Despite the tedious first part describing the boredom and inanity of military life, this eight installment of The Dance is brilliant in bringing us further news of Nick's family and friends, some of whom get blitzed and killed. And the infamous Widmerpool continues his narcissistic rise.
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
As with previous volumes, the writing is sublime

Anyone missing Kenneth Widmerpool until his final page appearance in "The Valley of Bones" can be reassured that he's back with a vengeance in "The Soldier's Art". For the first time in the series, Widmerpool has gained a role where he can exert power over others and engage in schemes to further his career. Needless to say this opportunity does not bode well for his subordinates who, in this volume, happen to include both Nick Jenkins and Charles S
Katie Lumsden
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
Another fantastic book in this series, perhaps one of my favourites so far.
Kim Kaso
Nick's adventures continue, this time giving us a view of Army life as the British begin making moves to engage more directly with the Germans. Military politics and gossip abound as he encounters old friends, acquaintances, and classmates, with the ever awkward yet ambitious Widmerpool becoming his superior officer. It is a bit like reading someone's diary written in the omniscient third person narrative voice. All the day-to-day, most big things left unnoted.
Oct 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
The title comes from a poem by.Browning quoted towards the end of the book: "Think first, fight afterwards - the soldier's art".

This book has a more somber feel to it, as death claims some of Nick's family and friends. I am so in the grip of this work that I have gone straight on to the next volume.
The Soldier's Art is the eighth book of the twelve-volume series "A Dance to the Music of Time", and the second in the war trilogy.

It was published in 1966, and touches on themes of separation and unanticipated loss.

Its sequel is "The Military Philosophers."

4* A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Music of Time, #1)
4* A Buyer's Market (A Dance to the Music of Time #2)
4* The Acceptance World (A Dance to the Music of Time, #3)
4* At Lady Molly's (A Dance to the Music of Time, #4)
4* Casanova
Oct 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the eighth novel in the twelve novel cycle, “A Dance to the Music of Time,” and the first person narrator, Nick Jenkins, finds himself in the British army in a support role in the homeland, cut off from civilian life emotionally as well as physically, all outside interests and concerns numbed and distant. He is working under Widmerpool, although most of the early pages deal with his association with the hapless Bithel, to whom he admits, “I read quite a lot,” then commenting to himself t ...more
Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Returning to this series is like a breath of fresh air. Man, can Powell write! The novel is divided into three parts: one and three follow Nick through WWII Britain as Widmerpool's assistant in the military. The numbing march of daily life is alleviated only by the nefarious (and amusing!) plots of those rise-in-the-ranks types (Widmerpool chief among them). The army encourages the ambitious and allows aspects of their personalities to grow unchecked in alarming directions--revenge, sabotage, br ...more
Jul 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the eighth volume in the series and my favorite by far. With Widmerpool having a starring role instead of the cameos he has had in past volumes, Bithel's difficulties(although sad it was definitely comical) and the reappearance of Stringham and Sunny Farebrother, there was lots to keep the reader involved. Never having been in the military it was a bit difficult to keep track of all the acronyms however.
Lars Guthrie
Aug 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Stingham returns in this eighth volume of 'Dance to the Music of Time,' as well as other familiar characters. This made this more of a favorite for me than the previous 'Valley of Bones,' in which Nick's army career necessitates a new cast of characters. Stringham's seemingly winning his battle with alcoholism, if resentful of his family's intervention and although bitter and even miserable, he comes across with a kind of nobility. Moreland's back, surprisingly shacked up with Maclintick's widow ...more
The central tip-and-run raider element of The Blitz gets emotionally tougher with every re-read. I shudder at the observation “For a second one saw what she would be like when she was old.” The return of Stringham to the front lines of the narrative is welcome, even if, as he says himself, also “not untinged by shadow.” Biggs shows that casualties may have nothing to do with being on the front lines. And Widmerpool is odious, growing ever more inescapably from a mild grotesque into a monster. Th ...more
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This roman-fleuve (this is #8 of a 12 novel-sequence) just gets better as you go deeper into it. Thanks to my friend Tess for recommending Hilary Spurling's "Invitation to the Dance: A Handbook to Anthony Powell's 'A Dance to the Music of Time'," It really helped me remember what I was supposed to already know about a character. I can't recommend these books strongly enough.
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The eighth novel in the series continues to follow the character of Nick Jenkins through more of the war years. He is now a junior officer on Widmerpool's staff and is stationed at a Divisional HQ somewhere outside of London. Here, military relationships and various aspects of home front army life are explored. A number of characters from the earlier books in the series reappear in quite unexpected circumstances. The London blitz, with its indiscriminate, brutal terror is always in the backgroun ...more
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
More about the dreariness and deadliness of wartime, excellent depictions of London during the Blitz, Charles Stringham (one of my favourite characters) provides some comic relief.
Tom Ewing
Mar 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Valley of Bones" was a departure for Powell's series, an almost stand-alone novel of work and boredom in which the brief reappearance of the narrator's old life seemed (to him and me) an almost unreal distraction. In "The Soldier's Art" the old intrigues and characters of the 1930s novels reappear, but this time shabbier, with relationships worn away by time and war. The war, inevitably, removes characters and locations from the novels for good: sometimes foreshadowed, sometimes suddenly. A ...more
Judi Moore
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Not quite as strong as the previous 7 in my opinion. His sentence structure is convoluted for a modern reader so when errors creep in sometimes meaning can become quite opaque. Nevertheless I enjoyed this one and am looking forward to #9. There was plenty of the ridiculous scheming Widmerpool in this one; he only turned up at the very end of #7. When I jotted down my thoughts here about #7 I suggested that the series is largely autobiographical. This may be true but perhaps I should also note th ...more
Contains one of the most bitter passages in the entire sequence, the separate deaths of two related characters during an evening of tip-and-run single bomber air raids in the London Blitz. The description of Priscilla as she would look when she were old is heartbreaking. It is a novel which wrestles boldly with the eternal curse that is the stuff of virtually all "part two of three" narratives in which little new is introduced and little optimism is available. Also terrifying (yet also, somehow, ...more
Dec 20, 2016 rated it really liked it

"Hullo, Nick."

"This is extraordinary."

"What is?"

"You turning up here."

"What makes you think so?"

"Let's get off the main road."

"If you like."

We went down into a kind of alley-way, leading to a block of office buildings or factory works, now closed for the night.

"What's been happening to you, Charles?"

"As you see, I've become a waiter in F Mess. I always used to wonder what it felt like to be a waiter. Now I know with immense precision."

"But how did it all come about?"

"How does anything
Jun 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comedy, war
It's difficult to work out Nick's role in WWII, he seems unsure himself. Widmerpool seems more comical the more of a stuffed shirt he becomes, reminds me of a young Captain Mainwaring from Dad's army.
As ou expect some of the characters are lost during the war and even more are added.
It's the scope of the series and how Powell keeps the characters straight even through the marriages, divorces, births and deaths.
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The intensity is sure turning up, which perhaps explains my fascination with this volume. Also, I can't help wondering if Powell is trying to bring off all possible pairings between his characters or what.
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
In this volume, Nicholas Jenkins is still serving in England as a second lieutenant. Although there is still often much humor about the foibles of the army and it's officers, three of his relatives are killed in the blitz. This novel ends with the German invasion of Russia, a totally unexpected suicide, and news that an old friend was killed when the plane he was in was shot down.
A very English war. Similar themes to Valley of the Bones but less comic.
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Mr. Deacon used to say nothing spread more ultimate gloom at a party than an exuberant manner which has roused false hopes."

I have remarakably little to say on this novel, the 8th in Powell's series. We're now into the depths of WWII, which impacts on the lives of Jenkins, Stringham, the Lovells, and many others. Heights of both Powell's comedic and delicate tragic skills achieved. The real success here is Widmerpool - perhaps the only character to have appeared in every novel thus far, alongsi
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Anthony Dymoke Powell CH, CBE was an English novelist best known for his twelve-volume work A Dance to the Music of Time, published between 1951 and 1975.
Powell's major work has remained in print continuously and has been the subject of TV and radio dramatisations. In 2008, The Times newspaper named Powell among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

Other books in the series

A Dance to the Music of Time (1 - 10 of 12 books)
  • A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Music of Time, #1)
  • A Buyer's Market (A Dance to the Music of Time #2)
  • The Acceptance World (A Dance to the Music of Time, #3)
  • At Lady Molly's (A Dance to the Music of Time, #4)
  • Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (A Dance to the Music of Time, #5)
  • The Kindly Ones (A Dance to the Music of Time, #6)
  • The Valley of Bones (A Dance to the Music of Time, #7)
  • The Military Philosophers (A Dance to the Music of Time, #9)
  • Books Do Furnish a Room (A Dance to the Music of Time, #10)
  • Temporary Kings (A Dance to the Music of Time, #11)

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