Published in 1951, it begins the story of a trio of boys, Nicholas Jenkins (the narrator), Charles Stringham, and Peter Templer, who are friends at a nameless school (based upon Powell's public school Eton College) and then move onto different paths. An ungainly fourth figure, Kenneth Widmerpool, stands slightly apart from them, poised for greatness - of a sort.
Like much of the sequence it inaugurates, the novel is concerned with the flow and transience of life, and the play of time upon love and friendship. Another major theme introduced in A Question of Upbringing is the consequence of living by the will.
In presenting four very different characters - "the artist, the romantic, the cynic, and the man of will" - the author sets the scene for an extended exploration of what it means to grow and mature. The language of youth, deployed with precision, is used to depict the emergence of the boys into manhood in a period when memories of the Great War overshadow many of their elders.
The title of the book had its origin in an incident in which Powell was a passenger in a car driven by his friend, the Old Etonian screenwriter, Thomas Wilton ("Tommy") Phipps. Phipps and Powell found themselves driving straight towards an oncoming vehicle. Powell later recorded, "Seizing the hand-brake as we sped towards what seemed imminent collision, Phipps muttered to himself, 'This is just going to be a question of upbringing.'
Later Nick is sent off to France to learn the language, staying at La Grenadière, where Widmerpool puts in an appearance, displaying unexpected powers of persuasion.
The final chapter sees Nick at university where he enjoys the delights of afternoon tea with Professor Sillery and meets for the first time Mark Members, JG Quiggin, and Bill Truscott. A car outing with Templer, Bob Duport and Jimmy Brent turns to disaster when Templer drives them into a ditch.