Ninety-Nine Novels: A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
In 1984, Anthony Burgess published Ninety-Nine Novels, a selection of his favourite novels in English since 1939. The list is typically idiosyncratic, and shows the breadth of Burgess’s interest in fiction. This podcast, by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, explores the novels on Burgess’s list with the help of writers, critics and other special guests.
In this episode, Will Carr explores the world of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time with writer and academic Nicholas Birns.
A Dance to the Music of Time is a twelve-volume roman-fleuve following fifty years in the life of the narrator Nick Jenkins from his schooldays in the 1920s through the Second World War to his later years at the beginning of the 1970s. Blending comic writing with examinations of the social and political mores of the British upper-classes, Jenkins remembers the people he shared his life with during key events, not least his nemesis and the recurring villain of the sequence, Kenneth Widmerpool, who comes to dominate both Jenkins’s memories and the novel sequence as a whole.
Anthony Powell was born in Westminster, London in 1905. He was educated at Eton, where he became friends with the future novelist Henry Green, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he became a member of the Hypocrites’ Club, a student club which counted Evelyn Waugh among its members. After Oxford, Waugh introduced Powell to the bohemian scene in London, where he met his close friend, the composer Constant Lambert. During the war he worked for the Intelligence Services and was decorated for his actions on the European Front. After the war, he became a full-time writer. As well as the twelve volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time, he wrote seven further novels, four volumes of memoir, several plays and various works of non-fiction. He died in 2000, aged 94.
Nicholas Birns is on the faculty of New York University, where he teaches contemporary world literature in English. His most recent book is The Cambridge Companion to the Australian Novel which he co-edited with Louis Klee. He is the author of many other books and articles in the subject of literary criticism, including Australian literature, in which he is one of the world experts. His first book Understanding Anthony Powell appeared in 2004 and was part of the wider discussion of Powell’s work that occurred in his centennial year of 2005. He is a founding member of the Anthony Powell Society.
Books mentioned in this episode
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1867)
- The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (1906-21)
- Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (1913-27)
- Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
- Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928)
- Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (1930)
- The Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess (1956-9)
- Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame (1957)
- Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White (1961)
- Alms for Oblivion by Simon Raven (1964-76)
- The Novel Now by Anthony Burgess (1967)
- The Novels of Anthony Powell by Robert K Morris (1968)
- Invitation to Dance: A Handbook to Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time by Hilary Spurling (1977)
- The Novels of Anthony Powell by James Tucker (1977)
- The Harpur and Iles Series by Bill James (1985-2019)
- The Lampitt Chronicles by A.N. Wilson (1988-96)
- The Night Soldiers Series by Alan Furst (1988-2019)
- The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud (2006)
- Dance Class: American High-School Students Encounter Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time compiled by John A Gould (2009)
In Series One and Two of Ninety-Nine Novels, we learnt about authors including James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Iris Murdoch, Ian Fleming and William Golding, among others. These episodes are available at your favourite place to get podcasts.
You can join the conversation and tell us which 100th book you would add to Burgess’s list by using the hashtag #99Novels on Twitter.
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The theme music for the Ninety-Nine Novels podcast is Anthony Burgess’s Concerto for Flute, Strings and Piano in D Minor, performed by No Dice Collective.