Anthony Powell

Thanks to The Paris Review for reminding us that this week was the anniversary of Anthony Powell’s birth (1905). Powell was a university pal of Evelyn Waugh and roommate of Henry Yorke (who wrote as Henry Green). He was one of Waugh’s Bright Young Things who illuminated the late Twenties.

Powell is chiefly–and rightly–known for his twelve novel cycle, “A Dance to the Music of Time,” which follows that same crowd over several decades as they drift away from and bump into one another in all manner of circumstances. Coincidence is such a regular feature of the novels that someone–Julian Barnes, I think–has a line to the effect that for years if anyone at a dinner party mentioned a coincidence, someone was sure to say, “That’s just like ‘A Dance to the Music of Time.'” The cultural impact was slightly less in the US, but the late novels at least were heavily reviewed and widely read.

I would find Powell impossible to teach in anything except a class just on him because you can’t really get the flavor of the thing from just one or even two novels. I was once told his name was pronounced “Poole,” but that friend was Canadian, so I took it with a grain of salt  I believe the preferred pronunciation is closer to “Pole” with a sort of quasi-syllable break around the “w.”