A Dance to the Music of Time

A Dance to the Music of Time is a twelve-volume cycle of novels by Anthony Powell, inspired by the painting of the same name by Nicolas Poussin. It has sometimes, erroneously, been referred to as a roman à clef. One of the longest works of fiction in literature, it was published between 1951 and 1975 to critical acclaim. The story is an often comic examination of movements and manners, power and passivity in English political, cultural and military life in the mid 20th century.

The sequence is narrated by Nick Jenkins in the form of his reminiscences. At the beginning of the first volume, Nick falls into a reverie while watching snow descending on a coal brazier. This reminds him of "the ancient world - legionaries (...) mountain altars (...) centaurs (....)". These classical projections introduce the account of his schooldays which opens A Question of Upbringing.

Over the course of the following volumes, he recalls the people he met over the previous half a century. Little is told of Jenkins's personal life beyond his encounters with the great and the bad, with events, such as his wife's miscarriage, only being related in conversation with the principal characters.

Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.


Jenkins reflects on the Poussin painting in the first two pages of A Question of Upbringing:

These classical projections, and something from the fire, suddenly suggested Poussin's scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward, tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays. The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outward like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure, stepping slowly, methodically sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognizable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance.

The story was adapted by Hugh Whitemore for a TV mini-series in the autumn of 1997, shown on Channel 4 and starring Simon Russell Beale, James Purefoy, Miranda Richardson, Zoe Wanamaker, Sir John Gielgud, John Standing, Robert Lang, Emma Fielding, Claire Skinner, Paul Rhys and Annabel Mullion.


Powell's official biographer, Hilary Spurling, has published Invitation to the Dance - a Handbook to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time. This annotates, in dictionary form, the characters, events, art, music, and other references. She has also calculated the timeline employed by the author: this is utilized in the synopses linked from the novels below.

The novels

(dates are first UK publication dates)

Principal characters

Character Details Key & Sources
Nick Jenkins Narrator A cypher, everyman; Powell himself
Kenneth Widmerpool A mediocre student whose rise seems unstoppable. Elements of several Labour MPs investigated as Soviet agents. AP confirmed character inspired by Col. Denis Capel-Dunn under whom he served in the Cabinet Office. Plus element from Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller's schooldays.
Charles Stringham Schoolfriend of Nick's. A romantic. Drawn from Hubert Duggan, whose glamorous mother married Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India. Not, as is often supposed, based on Powell's friend and fellow author Henry Green.
Uncle Giles ("Captain Jenkins") Nick's uncle, unreliable and usually untraceable. Ne'er-do-well type adopting military persona familiar between the wars.
Peter Templer Raffish schoolfellow of Nick's. based on John Spencer, friend of the author's.
Jean Templer Peter's sister; Nick's lover Unpredictable and self-absorbed, unexpected tastes in men.
Professor Sillery Manipulative Oxford don Professor Sir Ernest Barker, and F.F. Urquhart. Not Sir Maurice Bowra as often suggested.
Pamela Flitton Femme Fatale based on Barbara Skelton, tempestuous sometime wife of Cyril Connolly. Nymphomaniac.
Mark Members Promising poet Peter Quennell, all-purpose literary personage, poet, and cultural historian. The name and the conference-going suggest Stephen Spender.
Edgar Deacon Disreputable painter and antique dealer Combination of Mr Bailey, an alcoholic antiques dealer, and eccentric bookseller Christopher Millard.
Dr Trelawney Occultist Aleister Crowley, self-styled Great Beast 666
The Field Marshal Leader of desert warfare Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
X. Trapnel Novelist and parodist Julian Maclaren-Ross
Hugh Moreland Composer Constant Lambert
St John Clarke Passé author John Galsworthy
Max Pilgrim Entertainer in the manner of Noel Coward inspired by Douglas Byng
Sir Magnus Donners Magnate and government minister partly drawn from Lord Beaverbrook
J G Quiggin Marxist writer Conflation of Powell's enemies, novelist CP Snow and critic F R Leavis.
Erridge (Earl of Warminster) Socialist peer; Jenkins's brother-in-law The Earl of Longford, Powell's brother-in-law. Also Powell's friend George Orwell — lives as a tramp for a time, fights in Spanish Civil War, dies in his forties.


The cycle was adapted by Frederick Bradnumas as a Classic Serial on Radio 4. In order to fit the material in it was broadcast as four separate serials each based on a set of three books, the first three serials had six episodes, the last eight. The series were broadcast between 1979 and 1982

The cast was

  • Ada Leintwardine Frances Jeater
  • Albert Fred Bryant
  • Alfred John Church
  • Alfred Tolland John Church
  • Anne Jenny Twigge
  • Archie Brian Carroll
  • Asbjornsen David McAlister
  • Audrey Maclintick Jenny Lee
  • Babs Stripling Liza Flanagan
  • Baby Wentworth Petra Davies
  • Bagshaw David Gooderson
  • Bagshaw Snr Cyril Conway
  • Bamby Kenneth Shanley
  • Barbara Josie Kidd
  • Barnabas Henderson Anthony Daniels
  • Barnby John Bull
  • Betty Templer Eve Karpf
  • Biggs Roger Snowdon
  • Bill Truscott Jeffry Wickham
  • Billson Tara Soppet
  • Bithel Anthony Hall
  • Blackhead Malcolm Hayes
  • Blanche Theresa Streatfeild
  • Bob Duport Michael Spice
  • Bracey Gordon Reid
  • Breeze Alaric Cotter
  • Buster Fox John Pullen
  • Buster Foxe John Pullen
  • C.S.M Derek Pollitt
  • Calthorpe Adam Richardson
  • Captain Gwatkin Richard Gold-Parry
  • Captain Jenkins Brian Haines
  • Carolo Iain Mitchell
  • Charles Stringham Simon Cadell
  • Cheeseman/Italian youth Christopher Scott
  • Chips Lovell John Levitt
  • Colonel Flores Geoffrey Matthews
  • Commandant Leroy Lewis Stringer
  • Corporal Gwylt Clive Merrison
  • Daniel Tokenhouse Willoughby Gray
  • Der Voort Crawford Logan
  • Dicky Umfraville/Archie Gilbert Brian Carroll
  • Dr. Trelawney Patrick Barr
  • Dubuisson Gregory de Polnay
  • Duport Michael Spice
  • Eleanor Anne Rosenfeld
  • Eleanor Walpole-Wilson Anne Rosenfeld
  • Emily Brightman Margot Boyd
  • Erridge Alexander John
  • Evadne Clapham Miranda Forbes
  • Farebrother Hugh Dickson
  • Fettiplace-Jones Nigel Greaves
  • Field-Marshall Nigel Lambert
  • Finn Brian Haines
  • Fiona Cutts Jill Lidstone
  • Flavia Wisebite Patricia Leventon
  • Frederica Phyllida Nash
  • General Conyers William Fox
  • General Liddament Richard Hurndall
  • George Tolland Bernard Brown
  • Gibson Delavacquerie Roy Spencer
  • Girl Friend Lolly Cockerell
  • Gossage Christopher Scott
  • Greening/Chuck Stuart Organ
  • Gwen Carol Marsh
  • Gypsy Jones Susan Sloman
  • Hogbourne-Johnson Frank Duncan
  • Hugo Tolland John Gray
  • Irish Girl Philomena McDonagh
  • J.G. Quiggin Gordon Dulieu
  • Janet Hilda Kriseman
  • Jean Templer Jane Asher
  • Jenkins (Narrator) Noel Johnston
  • Jimmy Stripling Charles Hodgson
  • Katherine Westminster Jill Balcon
  • Kedward Henry Davies
  • Kucherman Nicholas Courtney
  • L.O. Salvidge John Forbes-Robertson
  • Lady Anne Umfraville Jenny Twigge
  • Lady Craggs Susan Sloman
  • Lady Frederica Phyllida Nash
  • Lady Isobel Elizabeth Proud
  • Lady Molly Sian Phillips
  • Lady Walpole-Wilson Lydia Sherwood
  • Le Bas Peter Pratt
  • Lintot Walter Hall
  • Louis Glober Alan Tilvern
  • Lundquist Eric Allan
  • Maclintick Leonard Fenton
  • Madame Leroy Mary Wimbush
  • Maelgwyn-Jones John Livesey
  • Maiden Andrew Branch
  • Major Prasad Garard Green
  • Mark Members/Soak Ronald Herdman
  • Matilda Donners Liza Flanagan
  • Maureen Felicity Hayes-McCoy
  • Max Pilgrim David Alder
  • Mildred Blaides Josie Kidd
  • Milly Ysanne Churchman
  • Mona Templer Tammy Ustinov
  • Moreland Sion Probert
  • Mr. Deacon Godfrey Kenton
  • Mr. Gauntlett Wilfrid Carter
  • Mr. Templer William Eedle
  • Mrs. Conyers Peggy Paige
  • Mrs. Erdleigh Betty Baskcomb
  • Mrs. Foxe Monica Grey
  • Mrs. Jenkins Ursula Hirst
  • Mrs. Widmerpool Eva Haddon
  • Mrs. Widmerpool Eva Stuart
  • Mrs. Woodley Madi Hedd
  • Myra Erdleigh Betty Baskcomb
  • Nicholas Jenkins Gareth Johnson
  • Nicholas, as a boy Stephen Rooney
  • Norah Sonia Fraser
  • Norah Tolland Sonia Fraser
  • Norma (Waitress) Amanda Murray
  • Norman Chandler Andrew Branch
  • Odo Stevens John Baddeley
  • Orn Christopher Bidmead
  • Pamela Flitton Elizabeth Rider
  • Pamela Jo Manning Wilson
  • Pardoe Philip Sully
  • Pedlar Jonathan Scott
  • Peggy Stepney Phyllida Nash
  • Pennistone Philip Sully
  • Peter Templer Christopher Good
  • Polly Duport Patience Tomlinson
  • Popkiss Mansel David
  • Prince Theodoric John Bull
  • Priscilla Penny Brownjohn
  • Priscilla Tolland Penny Brownjohn
  • Quiggin Gordon Dulieu
  • Robert Tolland Anthony Hyde
  • Roddy Cutts Geoffrey Collins
  • Rosie Hilda Schroder
  • Rosie Stevens Hilda Schroder
  • Russell Gwinnett Peter Marinker
  • Scorpio Murtlock Crawford Logan
  • Sergeant Pendry John Griffiths
  • Short Alan Dudley
  • Sillery Preston Lockwood
  • Sir Gavin Alan Wheatley
  • Sir Magnus Donners Jack May
  • Smith R.S. Campbell
  • Soper Martin Friend
  • St. John Clark Martin Friend
  • Stanley Jeavons Michael McStay
  • Stringham Simon Cadell
  • Sultan the dog Leonard Fenton
  • Sunny Farebrother Hugh Dickson
  • Susan Cutts Lolly Cockerell
  • Ted Jeavons John Bott
  • Templer Christopher Good
  • Tolland Martin Friend
  • Trapnel Steve Hodson
  • Truscott Jeffry Wickham
  • Tuffy Weedon Margaret Ford
  • Uncle Giles Garard Green
  • Veronica Tolland Paddy Turner
  • Widmerpool Brian Hewlett
  • Williams/Air Raid Warden Haydn Wood
  • Woman Street Singer Josephine Gordon
  • Young Jenkins Gareth Johnson

The cycle was adapted again as a six-part Classic Serial on Radio 4 from 6 April to 11 May 2008, directed by John Taylor. The cast was:

The cycle was adapted as an eight-part tv-series for Channel 4 in 1997, directed by Christopher Morahan and Alvin Rakoff.


External links

Search another word or see asbjornsenon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature