Andrew S · Fiction · In the Library · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

A Dance to the Music of Time: Second Movement | by Anthony Powell

A Dance to the Music of Time

A Dance to the Music of Time: Second Movement
by Anthony Powell
(University of Chicago Press, 1995, 746 pages)

It took me a while (months of on and off reading), but I finally got through this second movement of Powell’s twelve volume sequence of novels. As it turns out, I enjoyed the last of the three novels in this volume more than any other so far. Like the first volume, this one consists mostly of conversations and encounters at parties, bars, and restaurants. The narrator, Nicholas Jenkins, is engaged by the end of At Lady Molly’s, the first of the three novels, though he tells us very little about his courtship or marriage itself in the novels that follow. It seems that he proves his own observation that “Marriage was a subject upon which it was hard to obtain accurate information. Its secrets, naturally, are those most jealously guarded; never more deeply concealed than when apparently most profusely exhibited in public” (234). The marriages, near marriages, and divorces of Jenkins’ various friends and acquaintances make up much of the interest of the plots. While many new characters are introduced, it seems that old ones are constantly appearing in unexpected places. The people depicted range from starving artists to aristocrats with radical political views.

One of the dynamics of these books is the contrasting picture of an older generation that had been defined by the first World War and the younger generation that is about to be thrown into a second. As the personal dramas of various characters play out, most of which appear fairly trivial, there are constant rumors circulating about the political developments in Germany as Hitler comes to power. This adds a tension to the frivolity of the upper classes, and we see people attempting to profit from, brace themselves for, or distract themselves from the coming conflict. Jenkins himself seems to spend more and more time dwelling on his childhood and youth, interpreting his current experience through the light of the past. By the end of the final novel the war has broken out, and Jenkins is trying to secure a position as an officer in the infantry.

The most interesting character continues to be Kenneth Widmerpool, Jenkins’ old friend from school. Widmerpool manages to be both comical and menacing as he climbs higher in the worlds of business and politics. Awkward and self-serving, he is a person you cannot imagine having any real friends, though he retains a kind of affinity for Jenkins. He confides in Jenkins, and despite how obnoxious Widmerpool is, Jenkins seems to have a sort affection for him. I can’t figure out why this is exactly, but I’m very curious to see how Widmerpool will develop in the books that follow.

{Andrew reviewed A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement last July if you want to check that out as well 🙂 }

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