Anthony Powell by Hilary Spurling

No-one who has relished reading  A Dance to the Music of Time ( will want to miss this monumental biography of Anthony Powell. Hilary Spurling ( lets us in on a huge amount of interesting detail about the novelist. There is the Eton schoolboy and Oxford undergraduate, a Parisian prostitute, Nina Hamnett (the artist’s model painted by Walter Sickert, Augustus John and Roger Fry) and then a series of affairs with other women living chaotic lives. Then there is the working life and the gradual formation of a novelist who charted his times and social milieu.

Spurling frequently points out that Dance to the Music of Time is a very autobiographical novel, and marriage, love and sex are among its central themes. Perhaps, in the end, the 12 novel cycle reveals more about its author than any biography. Powell, despite a treatment of 528 pages by Spurling, emerges as a shadowy figure. ‘You’re an awfully companionable cad, rather a loveable swine’, said the Irish writer Mary Manning. Powell strove for a literary style capable of capturing his central subject: ‘human beings behaving’. An admirer of Proust, he eventually discovered how to bring his own blend of English comic social realism to a work on a huge scale. He achieved, as his own words express, ‘a novel that curiously resembles a poem in the manner in which its cadences carry the ebb and flow of the imagination and the will’.

Do also treat yourself by watching the TV adaptation of Dance to the Music of Time (

Available here on DVD from 1997 

528 pages in Hamish Hamilton

First published 2017

ISBN  978-0241143834

Hilary Spurling

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