2016: A Dance to the Music of Time discussion

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1st Movement > {January} A Question of Upbringing

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message 1: by Sunny (new)

Sunny (travellingsunny) | 49 comments Mod
For discussion or comments about book one...


message 2: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb What I wrote in May 2014 once I'd finished "A Question of Upbringing".....



"A Question of Upbringing" by Anthony Powell

A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell

"A Dance to the Music of Time" is a twelve-volume cycle of novels by Anthony Powell, and "A Question of Upbringing" is the first of the twelve volumes.

I've wanted to read "A Dance to the Music of Time" since discovering that Julian Maclaren-Ross features somewhere in the series as a character called X. Trapnel. Such is my interest in Julian Maclaren-Ross (I am, of course, assuming you have already read "Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia: The Bizarre Life of Writer, Actor, Soho Raconteur Julian Maclaren-Ross" by Paul Willetts) that this is sufficient to inspire me to tackle one of the longest works of fiction in English literature. You probably feel exactly the same. If you don't then you should consider it.

Published in 1951, "A Question of Upbringing" is the reminiscences of Nick Jenkins (presumably based on Powell himself) who recounts his last few years at public school around 1921, a summer spent in France, and then onto university. It's a familiar world of gilded privilege, akin to the early sections of "Brideshead Revisited", though with very little by way of drama or narrative. Instead the reader is introduced to a variety of disparate characters and some prescient anecdotes. I say prescient as Jenkins hints at the ways in which their lives will turn out.

What makes this book a delight is the beautiful writing, which really captures the era and milieu, and which is aligned to regular doses of humour. Powell captures the transition of adolescence into adulthood perfectly: the insecurities, the naivety, the fast changes, the gaucheness, the way friendships may evolve and fracture, and how life choices made at this stage can shape whole lives.

I suspect this series will get better and better and "A Question of Upbringing" lays the groundwork for what it is to follow. I cannot wait to find out.

4/5


message 3: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Here are some discussion points/questions about A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell that you may enjoy mulling over whilst you're reading, or after you've read, the book....


A question of reliability: Nick Jenkins, the narrator, tells the reader that "it is not always easy... to judge others by a consistent standard." How reliable is Nick Jenkins as a narrator? To what extent is he objective, honest and trustworthy?

A question of perception: Although Nick Jenkins narrates the story, to what extent is A Question of Upbringing the story of Jenkins' life? And, to what extent is it how he sees other people's lives?

A question of time: Time in A Question of Upbringing seems to pass quickly and sometimes disproportionately. Anthony Powell devotes a similar number of pages to narrator Nick Jenkins' entire Eton career as to one summer in France. What does this tell us about time and memory, and the significance some passages of our lives may assume in retrospect?

A question of relationships: Throughout A Question of Upbringing people and relationships change and evolve, for example the friendships between Jenkins and Stringham and Templer. How credible is this? To what extent does it mirror your own life experience?

A question of friendship: The move from adolescence to adulthood puts a strain on the friendship of Jenkins, Stringham and Templer. How strong was their friendship? To what extent is the way the narrative plays out foreshadowed in the book's descriptions of school days?

A question of style: Stringham' warns Templer, "If you're not careful you will suffer the awful fate of the man who always knows the right clothes to wear and the right shop to buy them at." Why is the fate of a man awful if he knows the appropriate dress for every occasion?

How reliable is clothing as an indicator of personality? For Templar clothes are often the main subject of conversation however, by the end of the book, Templer appears a more careless person; Uncle Giles is described as "neat and still slightly military in appearance"; Sunny Farebrother invents a machine to straighten collars despite being too thrifty to dress well; and Widmerpool is notorious for dressing awkwardly. So, therefore, do people that dress well try to conceal their personality flaws? Are people who are less style conscious more profound and more moral?

A question of eccentricity: Uncle Giles is initially described by Nick Jenkins as an abnormal eccentric who is clueless about how society works, however Nick's view changes throughout A Question of Upbringing, to what extent is Nick learning that knowledge can be acquired even from the most unexpected sources, and that no one is truly insignificant?

A question of influence: Uncle Giles refers to how "knowing all the right people" accounts for others success. Sillery devotes significant energy to forming and maintaining relationships with those he believes might be useful. Templar gets a good job through his parent's connections despite not finishing university. Sillery tries to convince Stringham's mother and Buster to allow him to take a job rather than complete his studies. Many characters seem to enjoy success without hard work by knowing the right people. Life at Oxford University seems to be more socialising than education. What role does influence play in A Question of Upbringing?

A question of criticism: At one point in A Question of Upbringing Widmerpool says to Nick, "Jenkins, do you mind home truths?" How valid are Widmerpool's observations? What does this tell us about Widmerpool? About Nick? And how does it contradict or confirm what we've discovered up to this point?

A question of personal change: How does Widmerpool change throughout the course of A Question of Upbringing? What would you predict for him based on what you have seen of him in A Question of Upbringing? How interesting and appealing do you find Widmerpool?

A question of enjoyment: A Question of Upbringing is the start of the A Dance to the Music of Time twelve-volume sequence, to what extent does it work as a stand alone novel? How inspired do you feel to continue with the series?


message 4: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat Nigeyb wrote: "Here are some discussion points/questions about A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell that you may enjoy mulling over whilst you're reading, or after you've read, ..."

Interesting questions, thank you. I am currently listening to an audio book edition read by Simon Vance and I find the audio version brings out different aspects of the book compared with those I see when reading the text.


message 5: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 38 comments I was thinking about investing in that audio. Simon Vance is a terrific reader.


message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan I really enjoyed re-reading this first book. I thought it was an excellent introduction to the characters. I've only read Spring, so look forward to reading on and completing this series.


message 7: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat Susan wrote: "I really enjoyed re-reading this first book. I thought it was an excellent introduction to the characters. I've only read Spring, so look forward to reading on and completing this series."

I think it is a series which grows on you.


message 8: by Damaskcat (last edited Jan 04, 2016 12:38AM) (new)

Damaskcat Renee wrote: "I was thinking about investing in that audio. Simon Vance is a terrific reader."

It is very good. I've been meaning to read Dance for ages and I have tried to start the first book several times. But listening to Simon Vance's audio version really brought the books to life for me when I first listened to them last year and I listened to all of them. I thoroughly recommend them.


message 9: by Renato (new)

Renato (renatomrocha) | 25 comments I'll go back to Nigeyb's discussion points once I'm finished with the book.

I haven't done any outside reading about the Dance so I don't know if Powell was at all influenced by him, but I can't help it but to be reminded of Proust while tackling this first volume... which means I'm very much enjoying it!

I'm beginning to see why a company guide to this read was mentioned... once Jenkins got to La Grenadière and introduced us to so many characters I started to worry about following and being able to distinguish them apart...


message 10: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Damaskcat wrote: "Renee wrote: "I was thinking about investing in that audio. Simon Vance is a terrific reader."

It is very good. I've been meaning to read Dance for ages and I have tried to start the first book se..."


I've always been a bit daunted by the books and think the audiobook is a good option for me as well.


message 11: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments I have started the Simon Vance audio. I listen to it while reading it. This is for me the best way to deal with audiobooks... And I love Simon Vance is a wonderful reader. I have listened to various of his-- Dickens and George Eliot.


message 12: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Renato wrote: "
I haven't done any outside reading about the Dance so I don't know if Powell was at all influenced by him, but I can't h..."


Renato... many people have made the comparison with Proust... but for me, apart from the saga-quality, so far they seem to stand on different pedestals. Powell's style is so ironic, verging on the satirical, and so British....!.. it reminds me more of The Forsyte Saga, which I strongly recommend.

What does seem to be like Proust is the rich references to the visual arts, an aspect that fascinates me.


message 13: by Kalliope (last edited Jan 05, 2016 08:29AM) (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments On the painting references...

I will not post Poussin, the first painter mentioned, since it provides the designs for the covers of the book, but there is a reference to sixteenth century portraits and the 'long legs that take up so much room'... I immediately thought of Moroni...



But also this portrait of Henry Howard possibly by Scrots.




message 14: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Then there is Veronese's Alexander and Darius...




message 15: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments And the Elizabethan miniatures...

One very famous by Hilliard



.. with also long legs but not occupying much space since it is a miniature (relatively yes)


message 16: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments And the 18C prints of racehorses... Trimalchio and The Pharisee..



Looking for the images I found this link to a blog... but I don't mind posting the images I catch in the text..... Those who know me from before this group know I enjoy doing it (was very busy with this activity in the 2013 Proust group).


http://picturesinpowell.com


message 17: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments A question on Widmerpool's 'overcoat' ... I have never read The Overcoat... Any association implied here?


message 18: by Dawn (new)

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) | 12 comments I am going to listen and read along with the audio also . I love the audibles with Whispersync . I can take notes . Store quotes I love for later and if a definition or if I need to look something up in Wikipedia is needed it is all right there . The voice helps too if my eyes tire from reading . I am starting today . I am so excited !

Enjoy !

Dawn


message 19: by Renato (new)

Renato (renatomrocha) | 25 comments Kalliope wrote: "I have started the Simon Vance audio. I listen to it while reading it. This is for me the best way to deal with audiobooks... And I love Simon Vance is a wonderful reader. I have listened to variou..."

I tried doing the same but for some reason the audiobook was throwing me off... I'm just reading now...


message 20: by Renato (new)

Renato (renatomrocha) | 25 comments Thank you for posting all the paintings, Kall!

And I see what you mean about Powell's style being more ironic... it certainly is!


message 21: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Renato wrote: "Thank you for posting all the paintings, Kall!

And I see what you mean about Powell's style being more ironic... it certainly is!"


It seems (Manny posted this) that it becomes more like Proust later on...


message 22: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Much more accessible than Proust and quintessentially English too. Aside from the scale, and Powell's admiration for Proust, I don't really understand why way people suggest they are similar.


message 23: by Renato (last edited Jan 05, 2016 11:13AM) (new)

Renato (renatomrocha) | 25 comments Well, the way Powell starts telling us about his narrator's childhood through associations of senses (the snow falling, smells, etc..); the way he permeates his childhood accounts with future knowledge assessments; the use of paintings; how Jenkins seems not even to be present through most scenes and stands in the side collecting his impressions of everything; and not to mention the question of Time... I haven't read much, of course, so those are my first impressions...


message 24: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ You're probably right - and there may well be lots more too


I must confess that my comments are purely based on having found Proust to be hard work and a bit boring, and Powell to be compelling and hugely entertaining .


message 25: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Renato wrote: "Well, the way Powell starts telling us about his narrator's childhood through associations of senses (the snow falling, smells, etc..); the way he permeates his childhood accounts with future knowl..."

Yes, all those elements are there... I have finished the firs chapter but may go back and reread some sections - the descriptions...


message 26: by Sue (last edited Jan 05, 2016 09:58PM) (new)

Sue | 85 comments Kalliope, thanks so much for the art--itI really complements the reading well. And I would agree with those Proustian observations though I am very early on in my reading---and the heavy ironic sense. I do enjoy that in a book!


Algernon (Darth Anyan) | 44 comments Read the first couple of pages this morning : gorgeous prose, the dance already begins to a music we cannot choose or control.

I'm glad I decided to join here, because already the experience is enhanced by these art links.


message 28: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat Kalliope wrote: "Renato wrote: "
I haven't done any outside reading about the Dance so I don't know if Powell was at all influenced by him, but I can't h..."

Renato... many people have made the comparison with Pro..."


I agree - it is a bit reminiscent of the Forsyte Saga though of course that isn't narrated by one of the characters. I've read and re-read the Forsyte Saga several times. I also remember watching the BBC's original adaptation of it with Eric Porter as Soames and Nyree Dawn Porter as Irene.


message 29: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat Renato wrote: "Well, the way Powell starts telling us about his narrator's childhood through associations of senses (the snow falling, smells, etc..); the way he permeates his childhood accounts with future knowl..."

It could also be because of Widmerpool who keeps appearing at any and every opportunity like the man in Proust who kept appearing when he was eating madeleines. A tenuous association maybe but that's what I first thought of and I haven't read Proust!


message 30: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat Not sure whether this is the best place to mention it but there is an Anthony Powell Society

http://www.anthonypowell.org/home.php

I was the person who first mentioned Dance to the secretary and inadvertently led to the Society existing in the first place. He always says I changed his life! My one claim to fame.


message 31: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Damaskcat wrote: "

I was the person who first mentioned Dance to the secretary and ..."


Oh, interesting...


message 32: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Damaskcat wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Renato wrote: "
I haven't done any outside reading about the Dance so I don't know if Powell was at all influenced by him, but I can't h..."

Renato... many people have made the co..."


I hope to read the Forsyte again... I have watched the newer TV version and I have the DVD box set of the older one.... May be after Powell I can read it again.


message 33: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments Forsyte is on my long list ... definitely plan to read. I've never watched the series, either one.


message 34: by Diane (new)

Diane Barnes I loved the Forsyte Saga and would love to read it again. Maybe next year this group can move on to that series.


message 35: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments That sounds like a really good idea, Diane.


message 36: by Connie (new)

Connie G (connie_g) I started the book tonight, read 35 pages, and love Powell's writing so far. The narrator is a little younger than the other boys. We are seeing things through his eyes as he matures and experiences upper class life. He seems to be looking back at his school experiences with a dry sense of humor.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) | 44 comments I am in France already!
A lot of things happened, including a direct reference to Galsworthy and a night of shady going on at a house by the sea.

I think we need to make it clear how we will deal with spoilers.
Maybe instead of a chapter by chapter discussion, an unrestricted talk for the whole book one.


message 38: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy Silverman (silvej01) | 5 comments Hi all. It's great to read all the comments (and see the pictures!). Here is a brief review of the book that I posted last March:

This is my third reading of this book. I read it the first time in the mid to late 80s and then again probably about 10 years ago. Since I don't often re-read books, it's strange to me that I've come back to this again and again. It's not exactly that it's a great favorite of mine. There is no real plot, and I don't especially identify with most of the characters, although the first person narrator is sympathetic and generally likable. Still, it's the writing and the richness of the characterizations that take my breath away. I kept thinking this time around that the fluidity of Powell's writing makes him, for me at least, something like a English Fitzgerald. The facility with which he can so easily capture nuanced emotions and situations, along with an interest with the very wealthy and how they live. This first of twelves novels in his Dance to the Music of Time follows young Nick Jenkins and several of his friends and acquaintances from his latter days at a posh public school in post WW1 England up into his Oxford University years. And Nick Jenkins, the narrator, has a place similar to Nick Carraway in Gatsby. He comes from a sufficiently affluent family, but his closest friends are from the upper reaches of society and are fast livers. He is an actor in his world to some extent but mostly he is observing and commenting on the behavior of his friends and their families. I've also read the next book in this doz-tet of novels, but I'll be heading back to that one again soon.


message 39: by Teresa (last edited Jan 09, 2016 06:00PM) (new)

Teresa Algernon wrote: "I am in France already!
A lot of things happened, including a direct reference to Galsworthy and a night of shady going on at a house by the sea."


I am there too and was just looking up If Winter Comes, the name of the novel Jenkins is reading when Widmerpool warns him about reading popular novels. According to wiki, it was written by the British novelist A. S. M. Hutchinson and according to the New York Times, it was the best-selling book in the U.S. for all of 1922. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._S._M...


message 40: by Diane (new)

Diane Barnes I just got started, and I am so so enjoying being back in the world of English novels. It reminds me a bit of Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited", probably because of the school setting and the educated class turns of phrase. "Frightfully good", "dreadfully boring", the type of thing I'll go around repeating for a couple of days, don't you know. But it's witty and daring, and the characterizations are perfect.


message 41: by Diane (new)

Diane Barnes For those of you who have read "The Balkan Trilogy" does Uncle Giles remind you a bit of Yakimov?


message 42: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments Oh Diane, spot on :) I hadn't thought of that but it fits.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) | 44 comments One of the things I would like to discuss later on is the role of Widmerpool in the allegory of time : is he the grotesque avatar of Time that leads the dance? I understand from the author that he keeps coming in and out of the scenery.


message 44: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Diane wrote: "It reminds me a bit of Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited", probably because of the school setting and the educated class turns of phrase."

I too was reminded of Brideshead Revisited, Diane, for the reasons you stated and for the visit to the home of the friend with the rich mother.


message 45: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Diane wrote: "I just got started, and I am so so enjoying being back in the world of English novels. It reminds me a bit of Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited", probably because of the school setting and the e..."

Yes, I also thought of Brideshead... together with Galsworthy, and as Algernon pointed out above, I was also pleased to see him mentioned.

Following all the literary references, with Les Misérables and Bel-Ami is very entertaining.

Thank you Teresa, for looking up If Winter Comes.


message 46: by Kalliope (last edited Jan 10, 2016 12:53AM) (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Algernon wrote: "One of the things I would like to discuss later on is the role of Widmerpool in the allegory of time : is he the grotesque avatar of Time that leads the dance? I understand from the author that he ..."

There is certainly an ominous feeling about Widmerpool... The way he is introduced at the very beginning... coming out of the shadows, and now the Narrator's comment, in the episode in the Touraine, on the significance of W's mediating between the two Vikings. For him it was an early sign of W's later quest for power... It made me think of the imminence of Fascism.


message 47: by Manny (new)

Manny (mannyrayner) | 15 comments Kalliope wrote: "Algernon wrote: "One of the things I would like to discuss later on is the role of Widmerpool in the allegory of time : is he the grotesque avatar of Time that leads the dance? I understand from th..."

I absolutely do not think that Widmerpool is an avatar of Time. Much more in agreement with Kalliope about the quest for power.


message 48: by Susan (new)

Susan Widmerpool does really remind me of Yakimov, Diane. I hadn't thought of that before!


Algernon (Darth Anyan) | 44 comments I am reading the series for the first time now, and I have no knowledge of later developments, only what was hinted at in the introduction. In the Tourainne episode, it was the insistence of Widmerpool on having a clear purpose in life, his disgust at Jenkins' indifference to his own future that prompted my analogy.


message 50: by Kalliope (last edited Jan 10, 2016 02:22AM) (new)

Kalliope | 67 comments Algernon, this is also my first read of this work... But the sentence There was something about the obstinacy with which he pursued his aims that could not be disregarded, or merely ridiculed. Even then I did not recognise the quest for power. (p. 157) stood out for me.

And this made me think about the peculiarity of his being chosen as the first character coming out onto the stage in such a sinister manner.... But you are right in that his immediate juxtaposition to the brilliant introduction comparing the circle of workers with Poussin's A Dance to the Music of Time does invite to think of him as a sort of pendulum that comes and goes...


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