Pictures in Powell

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Nicholas Poussin, oil on canvas, 1634-1636, currently in the Wallace Collection
(photograph from Wikimedia Commons)

With his title, A Dance to the Music of Time [henceforth Dance], Anthony Powell (1905-2000) announces the important role of art in his flowing, twelve-volume, comic novel about aristocratic and educated British life amid  two-thirds of the twentieth century. When we recently began rereading the novel, we were excited that the Internet now let us pursue Powell’s artistic references as far as our delight and energy allowed. Some of the references are extended metaphors that echo throughout the novel; others are brief mentions of an artist or a movement that merely serve to extend Powell’s evocation of the cultural moment.  In our blog posts, we will follow the references in the order that they appear in the book and record what we have seen and learned  We hope that readers will send us comments that further expand our understanding and that we can share in the blog.  As Americans, we particularly welcome insights about British life that we have overlooked or misunderstood.

From the outset, we want to acknowledge two inspirations. Eric Karpeles’ gorgeous Paintings in Proust (Thames & Hudson Ltd., London, 2008) enhanced our reading of In Search of Lost Time by illustrating and explicating Proust’s many references in his novel to visual art.  With their titles both Proust and Powell highlight that the malleability of time is their core theme. One can debate whether Powell is legitimately the “British Proust.”  In our blog, our contribution to that debate will be exploring instances when these authors mention the same work or same artist.

Hiliary Spurling’s Invitation to the Dance (William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1977; Arrow Books, 2005) includes a Painting Index that has let us check for references that we missed in our own reading. Her character, book, and place indices are also valuable resources. We will follow her lead by referring to page numbers from the revised editions of the novels (William Heinemann Ltd in Britain and Little, Brown & Co. in the USA), followed by page numbers from the Flamingo paperbacks.

Another resource that offers insight for Pictures in Powell is Powell’s autobiography.  We have access to the abridged and revised version To Keep the Ball Rolling (Unversity ofChicago Press, Chicago, 1982) [TKBR].  We are eager to hear from any reader who spots additional references from the original four volume Powell memoir (Infants of the Spring, Messengers of the Day, Faces in My Time, and The Strangers All Are Gone.)

Some Poets, Artists & ‘A Reference for Mellors’ (Timewell Press Limited, 2005) [SPA… ] is a collection of a number of Powell’s elegant brief, informative, and usually generous reviews of art books, which also provide insight on his own opinions on some the artists mentioned in Dance. We will provide references to some of these essays as we go. These are book reviews, not art reviews, but Powell often offers opinions about the artists or their works, something that Jenkins rarely does, except for his ironic remarks about the fictional artists who populate his world.  The difference in tone between these reviews and mentions of the same artists in Dance reminds us to understand the artistic references in Dance as cultural history, rather than as critique.

Scholarly writing on Powell’s use of art in Dance includes:

Tan Ngiap Leng  (1990) The Uses of Art in the Fiction of  Anthony Powell
with Special Reference  to A Dance To The  Music Of Time, PhD Thesis, Birnbeck College, University of London

Stanton (1973) Art in The Dance: A Study of the Uses of the Fine Arts in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, PhD Thesis, University of Notre Dame

Sturrock (2010) The Arts in Anthony Powell’s Temporary Kings: A Note
and Some Comments, ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, 23:1, 56-60

Walsh (1973) Painting in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, MA Thesis, University of Texas at Arlington

Note that the Walsh and Stanton theses analyze only the first 10 volumes of Dance.

The website of the Anthony Powell Society is also an excellent source of more information about Powell and Dance.

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