Commentary, Literature

A Dance to the Music of George Plimpton

jacket imageGraydon Carter, in his review of the new book honoring George Plimpton that led the Sunday Times Book Review, began with musings about a rather different book: “It can reasonably be said that A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell’s monumental 12-part novel about English manners, society, politics and power, still begs for an American counterpart. Lush and majestic, the book traces the years from 1921 to 1974—pretty much the period we like to romanticize as ‘the American century.’” Carter goes on to posit that Plimpton’s life may be the American analog to Powell’s novels. But if you wish to fact check Carter’s theory, we want to remind you that the University of Chicago Press is the place to go for all your Dance lessons.
Powell’s universally acclaimed epic encompasses a four-volume panorama of twentieth century London. Hailed by Time as “brilliant literary comedy as well as a brilliant sketch of the times,” A Dance to the Music of Time opens just after World War I. Amid the fever of the 1920s and the first chill of the 1930s, Nick Jenkins and his friends confront sex, society, business, and art. In the second volume they move to London in a whirl of marriage and adulteries, fashions and frivolities, personal triumphs and failures. These books “provide an unsurpassed picture, at once gay and melancholy, of social and artistic life in Britain between the wars” (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.). The third volume follows Nick into army life and evokes London during the blitz. In the climactic final volume, England has won the war and must now count the losses.
The 12-novel cycle is available in four volumes: the first movement consists of the the novels A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer’s Market, and The Acceptance World ; the second movement At Lady Molly’s, Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, and The Kindly Ones ; the third The Valley of Bones, The Soldier’s Art, and The Military Philosophers; and finally, in the fourth movement, Books Do Furnish a Room, Temporary Kings, and Hearing Secret Harmonies.
And if after 3013 pages of Powell you are hungry for more, allow UCP to sate your desire with The Fisher King: A Novel, Miscellaneous Verdicts: Writings on Writers, To Keep the Ball Rolling: The Memoirs of Anthony Powell, and Under Review: Further Writings on Writers, 1946-1990.