The English author Anthony Dymoke Powell (1905-2000) had a long career. His first book, The Barnard Letters (an annotated edition of the correspondence of the Regency period British military commander Andrew Francis Barnard), was published in 1928, and his last, the third volume of his Journals, in 1997. He is chiefly renowned, however, for his twelve-novel series (the learned term is a duodecalogy), A Dance to the Music of Time, which traces the intersecting lives of a group of acquaintances over half a century of social change. Narrator Nicholas Jenkins’ curriculum vitae roughly parallels Powell's own progression from Eton to Oxford, work as film scriptwriter, military service in World War II, journalism and authorship.
The first book in the series, A Question of Upbringing, appeared in 1951, and the final instalment, Hearing Secret Harmonies, in 1975. Powell borrowed the title A Dance to the Music of Time from a painting by the seventeenth-century French master Nicholas Poussin. ‘The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality,’ he commented, ‘of human beings, facing outwards like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure: stepping slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognisable 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 dance.’
Shortly after Powell's death in March 2000, the eminent Auckland architect and architectural historian John Stacpoole, who had for decades assiduously purchased works by and about Powell, donated his collection to the Library. It includes many rare items, but at its core are first-edition hardback copies of all twelve volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time in superb condition.
Related resources: Anthony Powell items in our catalogue.