A Dance to the Music of Time Summary

Anthony Powell

A Dance to the Music of Time

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A Dance to the Music of Time Summary

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Beginning in 1914 and ending in 1971, Anthony Powell’s twelve-volume epic A Dance to the Music of Time (1951–1975), a classic of British fiction, follows a group of English friends whose relationships ebb and flow over the course of several decades. The series has been adapted several times for television and radio. Powell was included on The Times list “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.”

The first volume, A Question of Upbringing, takes place from 1914 through 1924. Nicholas Jenkins, the everyman narrator of the story, and his friends Charles Stringham, Kenneth Widmerpool, and Peter Templer cause mischief in their final months in school. Nick goes to France to study the language and, finally, attends university. Along the way, he meets Jean Templer, Peter’s sullen sister.

A Buyer’s Market takes place in the late 1920s. The story opens in the summertime and covers many debutante balls. Nick attends these with his love interest, Barbara Goring. On the weekends, Nick lunches with the magnate, Sir Magnus Donners, and his mistress, Gypsy Jones. When Sir Donners passes away, Nick sleeps with Gypsy at the funeral.

The Acceptance World takes place in the early 1930s. Nick begins an affair with Jean Templer, who has since married Bob Duport. Nick, Charles, Kenneth, and Peter are reunited at a dinner held by Le Bas, their old school housemaster. As Kenneth gives a pompous, long-winded speech, Le Bas collapses due to a stroke.

At Lady Molly’s takes place in 1934. Nick’s affair with Jean has ended, and he is invited to dinner at the country home of the Tollands. The family has many daughters, and upon meeting Isobel, Nick decides at first sight that he will marry her. Kenneth also becomes engaged, but it is soon called off.

Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant revisits the late 1920s before returning to the mid-1930s. Before his marriage to Isobel, Nick reminisces about several acquaintances. While Isobel has a stay in the hospital, Nick meets Hugh Moreland, a composer, and his wife, Matilda. Matilda gives birth to the couple’s first child, but the baby dies. Nick also reconnects with Charles, who is now a recovering alcoholic.

The Kindly Ones also has several flashbacks, though it primarily takes place in the late 1930s. As the story leads up to World War II, Nick reminisces about his childhood during World War I. While staying with the Morelands, Nick encounters Bob Duport. During a drunken evening, Bob tells Nick about his misery over Jean’s many affairs. Nick finds this to be a painful subject.

The Valley of Bones takes place in 1940. Enlisting in the army in Wales, Nick is made a Second Lieutenant. He meets several fellow soldiers, including Jimmy Brent, who also had an affair with Jean. The soldiers spend much of their time romancing local women. Nick is called to report to the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, who turns out to be Kenneth.

The Soldier’s Art takes place in 1941. Nick is stationed in the divisional headquarters with Kenneth and Captain Biggs. Charles arrives as well and works in the mobile laundry, but he is later transferred to the Far East. Bombs begin falling, and some of the soldiers lose their lovers. Captain Biggs hangs himself.
The Military Philosophers takes place from 1942 through 1945. Nick now works as an assistant in Whitehall. He learns from Charles’ niece, Pamela, that his friend was captured in Singapore. He also encounters Bob Duport, who reports that Peter was killed in the Balkans. Kenneth becomes engaged to Pamela, but later she accuses him of murdering Peter. At a Thanksgiving service, Jean attends with her new husband, Colonel Flores, but Nick fails to recognize her.

Books Do Furnish a Room takes place in the late 1940s. The Earl of Warminster, the brother-in-law of Nick’s uncle, passes away. Kenneth and Pamela arrive at the funeral, but Pamela is drunk and makes a scene. Nick is invited to work at Fission, a literary magazine that was being funded by the Earl.

Temporary Kings takes place in the late 1950s. Kenneth and Pamela are still together a decade later, but they fight constantly about her many affairs and wild behavior. Pamela later dies of an overdose. At a party, Nick meets Polly Duport, the actress daughter of Bob and Jean.

Hearing Secret Harmonies takes place from 1968 through 1971. Nick and Isobel agree to host a caravan of hippies because Isobel’s niece is one of their members. Kenneth becomes involved with the hippies and decides to join them, but they are revealed to be a cult. Kenneth dies on a naked run soon after joining them. Later, Nick reconnects with Bob, Polly, and Jean at a gallery.