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Anthony Powell

I have thus far considered writers who dealt obliquely with the social changes that the Second World War brought. There were many of course who explored the subject more directly. To my mind the one who stands out amongst these was Anthony Powell, and the title of his greatest work, A Dance to the Music of Time, testifies to his purpose in this regard.

The work consists of twelve volumes, which together present a panoramic view of social change over the second and third quarters of the century. At one stage, when I thought my energies limitless, I contemplated of a comparative study of this and the similar sagas for earlier generations of Galsworthy and Anthony Trollope. I finally settled down to the much more limited study of Trollope’s treatment of women and marriage as compared to that of his own peers, but I have often thought the larger study would be fascinating, in terms of techniques as well as subject matter – including relations between sexes and classes.

Powell wrote four sets of three books, and I had made the mistake of starting in the middle when I was still a schoolboy. The book I first read was Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, one of the second set, which was the least interesting of the four. I then avoided Powell for some time, before starting on the very first book, A Question of Upbringing, which had me hooked.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2010
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