2016: A Dance to the Music of Time discussion

Hearing Secret Harmonies (A Dance to the Music of Time, #12)
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4th Movement > {December} Hearing Secret Harmonies

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message 1: by Sunny (new) - added it

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


Nigeyb And so it's the end of the journey. My final thoughts....


It's curious to consider that when Anthony Powell wrote Hearing Secret Harmonies the final novel in the twelve-novel series “A Dance to the Music of Time”, and despite the series starting in the early twentieth century, that it was almost contemporaneous, being published in 1975, and taking place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and makes references to hippies, the permissive society, Vietnam, and Enoch Powell.

The final two volumes, Temporary Kings and Hearing Secret Harmonies, each moving the narrative forward by around ten years, allows for some dramatic changes to have occurred, the most notable change is in Widmerpool whose trajectory changes in ways that would be difficult for anyone to imagine earlier in the series.

Anthony Powell finished the series with a real flourish. Hearing Secret Harmonies embraces the late sixties counterculture and contains some truly stunning scenes. He also manages to introduce yet more new characters, including the memorable Scorpio Murtlock and his Harmony cult.

Overall “A Dance to the Music of Time” is magnificent. Reading the series has been such a fabulous experience. Anthony Powell is a master. Although the books can be read and enjoyed individually, and on their own terms, the real pleasure is in reading all twelve books, and enjoying a narrative that takes place over a seventy year time span. Calling his series ''A Dance" is a perfect metaphor, as Anthony Powell is akin to a choreographer, who intricately keeps track of over four hundred characters across more than a million words. It's a stunning achievement, and throughout, his beautiful writing is as much of a joy as the ingenious plot and his ambitious, and completely successful, cultural and social history of England throughout the twentieth century.

The star of the series is undeniably Kenneth Widmerpool, one of the most memorable characters I have ever encountered in a book. Widmerpool is a contemporary of narrator Nick Jenkins and, despite not being friends, he crops up somewhere in every volume. Whilst narrator Nick, along with many of the characters, represent musicians, poets, novelists, painters etc., Widmerpool is the opposite, a ruthlessly ambitious person but a deeply flawed human being. I wonder to what extent he might represent the triumph of commerce and bureaucracy, over more aesthetic considerations, that appears to be one of the main aspects of twentieth century history.

Whilst reading it, I have had a copy of "Invitation To The Dance" by Hilary Spurling which is a wonderful reference book, particularly when I needed reminding about a character who had just reappeared. Now I have finished the series I plan to read the whole of "Invitation To The Dance" as it clearly contains lots of other useful and interesting information. I also have a copy of To Keep the Ball Rolling: The Memoirs of Anthony Powell which looks like another wonderful book and, according to the cover, is "especially illuminating to students of A Dance to the Music of Time". I am really looking forward to reading both, in addition to re-reading this marvellous series again.

“A Dance to the Music of Time” is a masterpiece - and one of the best literary experiences I have ever enjoyed. Profound, funny, dramatic, and remarkably accessible and easy to read. It is a series I will return to again. I cannot praise it highly enough.


message 3: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan | 106 comments I'm looking forward to this last volume but not quite sure what to expect. I should start it later today.


message 4: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments I began a few days ago and enjoyed the introduction to the Harmony cult and the link in Nick's mind to the early memory of Dr Trelawney (sp) and Mrs Erdleigh. The way Powell ties in the past to the present is so consistently amazing. I'm just reaching the current state of Widmerpool. Who would have guessed, 11 books ago, the place he would have in this saga.


message 5: by Teresa (new)

Teresa I finished last night (I admit to starting early) and am still gathering my thoughts.


message 6: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan | 106 comments I'm on chapter four and enjoying it so far. It's certainly a bit different than previous volumes but that is probably just a reflection of the change of times.

Is Widmerpool going bonkers or what?

I especially like chapter one with Scorpio Murtlock and followers. A Charles Manson wannabe maybe?


Renee M | 38 comments I'm just a few pages in, but my prevailing thought is "What the heck is going on?"


Diane Barnes I'm hoping to start this weekend. Everyone's comments have intrigued me.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) | 44 comments I finished the first chapter, the one with the blue robed youngsters. It's good to see Nick still holds on to his sense of humour and admits to being a bit of a snob, when he enjoys confounding Murtlock with obscure literary references,


message 10: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments I finished today. I found myself flying through the last 50+ pages. I think Powell did an amazing job drawing everything together, especially in this final book. The movement through time via the various characters and memories of events is done so well. And Widmerpool--I'll say no more til others have finished.


message 11: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Jonathan wrote: "I especially like chapter one with Scorpio Murtlock and followers. A Charles Manson wannabe maybe?"

I wondered the same thing, especially as to showing the charisma of such an individual upon his followers.


message 12: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan | 106 comments Jenkins does attend some interesting dinner parties. In ch 4 he bumps in to the enigmatic Fenneau and we get to hear about Scorpio's past. And Widmerpol is lurking. I've got a few more pages of the chapter to go.

I'm glad others are enjoying this one as well. I'd heard that it was a bit unusual so wasn't sure what to expect but Powell's style remains the same. I wonder how it will all end.


message 13: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan | 106 comments
'True, I live entirely out of the world these days, Mark. How should I know of such things as stinkbombs?'



message 14: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments That was quite a moment!


message 15: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan | 106 comments I finished HSH today!! That was one of my favourite books of the series but it many ways it was quite different from the rest..it was almost 'action-packed'. I thought it was a good way to end the series, i.e. to just change tack, but I wonder if others liked this approach as much as me. Powell also had a few loose ends tied up but, thankfully, didn't go overboard with this.


message 16: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments Jonathan, I liked the way Powell wrote the final book too. He brought so many of his stories and people up to the moment, but did it using tales and events of the time. It doesn't feel like a "catch up" episode but the natural result of living. Nick being an observer and in the middle of several social groups also makes all of this seem natural. I'm so glad for the series and really think he shined with the conclusion.


message 17: by Jonathan (last edited Dec 10, 2016 12:38PM) (new)

Jonathan | 106 comments Sue wrote: "Jonathan, I liked the way Powell wrote the final book too. He brought so many of his stories and people up to the moment, but did it using tales and events of the time. It doesn't feel like a "catc..."
Although I felt that vol10 (BDFAR) was a more 'natural' endpoint for the series (and still do) I'm glad that Powell continued the story for another two volumes up to the 1970s.


message 18: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan | 106 comments I enjoyed Jenkins's chat with Fenneau, another great character from Powell. I always enjoy good descriptions of characters and the description of Fenneau was excellent:
For some reason Canon Fenneau made me feel a little uneasy. His voice might be soft, it was also coercive. He had small eyes, a large loose mouth, the lips thick, a somewhat receding chin. The eyes were the main feature. They were unusual eyes, not only almost unnaturally small, but vague, moist, dreamy, the eyes of a medium. His cherubic side, increased by a long slightly uptilted nose, was a little too good to be true, with eyes like that. In the manner in which he gave you all his attention there was a taste for mastery.



message 19: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments Yes, I felt I was sitting next to Fenneau with Nick....and really didn't want to be there. But what interesting information he provides.


Diane Barnes I finished last night. I found the closing scene with Barnaby and Nick to be hilarious and strange at the same time. It was funny to see how Barnaby did not take Nick seriously at the Deacon retrospective, assuming Nick to be wrong about Deacon's first name, and discounting his remarks, presumably because he was just an old coot. And earlier, at the wedding scene, when Nick was thinking Flavia had "gone mad", because after a certain age that had to be taken into account.
All in all, a satisfying, if surprising conclusion.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) | 44 comments I am also done. What a journey this Dance has turned out to be, so many things to 'read' between the lines.
From that final gallery visit I came out with the question if Jean Templer was the love of his life? It was as if he knew it was the last time they will see each other ...

... and the big quote from The Anatomy of Melancholy at the end : a description of the whole series? of life in all its diversity and fleetness?


message 22: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Algernon wrote: "... and the big quote from The Anatomy of Melancholy at the end : a description of the whole series? of life in all its diversity and fleetness? "

Yes to both, but for me it was especially of the latter.


Diane Barnes To the Jean Templer comment: She was his first love and first real committment for sure, but Nick and Isobel seemed to be perfectly paired, and to all appearances had a very stable, loving relationship.

I also thought the last quote from "Anatomy of Melancholy" was a final comment on the themes of the Dance.


Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 29 comments I finished this today. I have enjoyed the series and this group. I am going to miss my year's companionship with Nick Jenkins.


message 25: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments I totally agree, Janet. I enjoy these book-centered groups that focus on one work or author, and this has been a particularly rewarding experience.


message 26: by Jonathan (last edited Dec 21, 2016 12:33PM) (new)

Jonathan | 106 comments I agree Janet. At the beginning the twelve books looked a bit daunting but the series was a very fulfilling read.


Algernon (Darth Anyan) | 44 comments I tried to find my own connections with the first couple of books in the series, the ones where Powell separated the world in two: The Will to Power versus the Power of Art. In this connection, I see the doom of Widmerpool as the ultimate failure of the Will : there will always be someone stronger , more determinate than you , someone who will cast you down. Opposite him is Nick Jenkins serenity as he burns his memories in a last bonfire before winter, his use of allegory to explain the events of the past and his joy of having been a part of the Dance.


Thank you all for pushing me to read this in 2016!


Diane Barnes Excellent analysis, Algernon! I too, will miss Nick, and even Widmerpool, as it was exciting to see what he had morphed into with each book. I really missed Templer and Stringham after the war, and even earlier, Uncle Giles after his death. Spending a year with these characters was a great experience.


Renee M | 38 comments I agree. I found myself missing characters as they died off throughout the series.


Diane Barnes Just want to thank everyone in this group for the discussion that made reading these books such a great experience. I'll miss the comments of you all as much as I'll miss Nick and Widmerpool. If another group read of this type, (Trollope or Galsworthy, for instance) gets initiated, please count me in.


message 31: by Sue (new)

Sue | 85 comments I want to second both Diane's thanks and her willingness, in fact desire, to join these fellow readers for another shared reading in the future.


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