Tag Archives: A Dance to the Music of Time

An Anthony Powell Abibliography


If you’re interested in Anthony Powell or imaginary books written by imaginary persons, this is for you. I started the list below while reading Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time last year. I scribbled it onto a sheet of paper, stuffed it in a drawer, and forgot about it. I offer it now as an oddity for the odd. Something like this ought to exist somewhere online and it might as well be here.

This is an incomplete list of Powell’s biblia abiblia. I’m sure I missed some. Let me know (by email or in the comments) if there’s anything you feel I should add or change. The rules: 1) Only include books referred to in Anthony Powell’s Music of Time series; 2) Every book must have a title and author; 3) Every author must be a substantial enough character to have a speaking part in one of Powell’s twelve volumes.

Evadne Clapham:
Cain’s Jawbone
Golden Grime

St John Clarke:
Dust Thou Art
E’en the Longest River
Fields of Amaranth
The Heart is Highland
Match Me Such Marvel
Mimosa
Never to the Philistines

Vernon Gainsborough (Werner Guggenbuhl):
Bronstein: Marxist or Mystagogue?

Russell Gwinnett:
Death’s Head Swordsman: The Life and Works of X. Trapnel
The Gothic Symbolism of Mortality in the Texture of Jacobean Stagecraft

Nicholas Jenkins:
Borage and Hellebore: A Study

Alaric Kydd:
Sweetskin

Ada Leintwardine:
Bedsores
The Bitch Pack Meets on Wednesday
I Stopped at a Chemist

David Pennistone:
Descartes, Gassendi and the Atomic Theory of Epicurus

J.G. Quiggin:
Unburnt Boats

L.O. Salvidge:
Paper Wine
Secretions

Odo Stevens:
Sad Majors

Sillery:
City State and State of City
Garnered at Sunset

X. Trapnel:
Bin Ends
Camel Ride to the Tomb
Dogs Have No Uncles
Profiles in String

Anonymous:
Engine Melody
(formerly: The Pistons of our Locomotives Sing the Songs of Our Workers)

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Novel Conversations

First this, from the well-fed man of action:

It doesn’t do to read too much…You get to look at life with a false perspective.  By all means have some familiarity with the standard authors.  I should never raise any objection to that.   But it is no good clogging your mind with a lot of trash from modern novels.

Then this response from the languid aesthete:

But I must say, modern books are very consolatory and congenial to my feelings.  There is, as it were, a delightful northeast wind, an intellectual blight breathing through them; a delicious misanthropy and discontent that demonstrates the nullity of virtue and energy, and puts me in good humor with myself and my sofa.

Literature is sometimes described as a conversation that takes place without regard to time or place among authors not necessarily contemporary with one another or conversant with each other’s works.  Macchiavelli in a nice passage somewhere talks about the reader’s participation in that conversation too.  But perhaps we can describe another level of talk that exists alongside or below this one, carried on between even more ephemeral interlocutors – fictional characters themselves.

It would make a tedious but possibly amusing pastime to arrange quotes like these (respectively from Anthony Powell’s Kenneth Widmerpool and Thomas Love Peacock’s Mr Listless) into the form of long symposia.  The discussion above is specially poignant because the speakers are commenting on the means of their own incarnation: Widmerpool, though it’s tempting to doubt it, only lives by the fact of other people reading him into being; Mr Listless himself is only a gust of the delightful northeast wind that blows through Nightmare Abbey.

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Books and Bombs

Yesterday I finished the third movement of Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time.  The trilogy of novels contained in this penultimate volume deals with the war years.  Nick Jenkins’ war, however, is not a clash of armies in the field but a war of familial dislocations, obscure provincial postings, and byzantine military bureaucracies.  It reminds me, in that respect, of Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece, the Sword of Honour trilogy.  It’s interesting that so much of the best writing about the war was done by this in-between generation, by persons like Waugh and Powell and Malcolm Muggeridge (in his Chronicles of Wasted Time) who were too young for the trenches in ‘14 but too old for most of the real fighting in WWII.

My own favorite passages from the third movement include the chapter in which Jenkins and Colonel Finn take their liaison charges on a tour of liberated Normandy and Belgium, and the long scene near the end of The Military Philosophers when Jenkins attends the victory service at St Paul’s.  Jules Renard once observed that it is when facing the prospect of death that men become most bookish.  This is perhaps borne out in the case of Jenkins who, faced with the mortal toll and the awful knowledge of what was only scarcely avoided by the survivors, can think of nothing but poetry, bits of Elizabethan Biblical phraseology, and snatches of rhyme from half-forgotten children’s books.

How readily you can relate to Jenkins’ instinctual retreat into words must say something about the sort of reader – and the sort of person – you are.  What exactly it says, I don’t know.  But I have myself felt the painful need, in horrible  moments, for a few favorite books.  When worldly circumstances threaten universal barbarism, words have a power to remind us that there is still some consolation in being human, that civilization and culture can still be personal possessions even when collectively renounced.  The sense of the term has shifted a little over the years, but I can’t help think that Dr Johnson’s definition of ‘Humanist’ holds up nicely: ‘A philologer; a grammarian.’

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Sublime Choreography


I do not recommend reading Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time while trying to edit and improve a draft of your own novel.  Or maybe I do recommend it.  There’s something valuable, I suppose, in boldly confronting the depths of one’s own literary inadequacy and comparative lack of talent.  Halfway through the Dance, I am in love.  I see that I have been a very promiscuous reader up till now, content to thoughtlessly set even my favorite authors aside after a book or two and roam about hungrily looking for fresh meat.  At risk of repeating the common but misleading comparison, Proust couldn’t cure me of this; Powell has.  The sixth novel in the series, The Kindly Ones, is among the very finest, funniest, most melancholy books I’ve ever had the pleasure to open.

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