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A Dance to the Music of Time – his brilliant 12-novel sequence, which chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. The novels follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles that stand between them and the “Acceptance World.”


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A Dance to the Music of Time – his brilliant 12-novel sequence, which chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. The novels follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles that stand between them and the “Acceptance World.”

30 review for Hearing Secret Harmonies

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fergus

    When I read the concluding trilogy of the epochal writer Anthony Powell’s 12-volume masterpiece, A Dance to the Music of Time in the late seventies and early eighties, I was enthralled. And I was so carried away I even had a (postal) correspondence with the great Master himself, over in England, for a while. I was a star-struck recent English graduate, and (quite stupidly) queried Powell as to the factual origins of one of his characters. Each novel, after all, HAS been seen as a type of roman-à-c When I read the concluding trilogy of the epochal writer Anthony Powell’s 12-volume masterpiece, A Dance to the Music of Time in the late seventies and early eighties, I was enthralled. And I was so carried away I even had a (postal) correspondence with the great Master himself, over in England, for a while. I was a star-struck recent English graduate, and (quite stupidly) queried Powell as to the factual origins of one of his characters. Each novel, after all, HAS been seen as a type of roman-à-clef! I can just hear old Powell harrumphing his response by return mail: to whit (in his usual elusive and mysteriously non-allusive way) that, while it is nice to speculate, what matters is enjoying the book itself! But he was such a gentleman about it! Well, my mother the librarian was suitably impressed, and I got my few seconds of family fame, but that was all. Igor Stravinsky, avid reader that he was - and he anxiously awaited each new novel in the Powell saga’s sequence, being a nearer contemporary - must’ve known the man quite well. But now that I’m older and wiser, my own adulation for Powell, and my naïf pleasure in his books has waned dramatically. I was never a social animal, as Powell’s characters are, bless ‘em. The endless treadmill of worldly vanities is something I’ve always studiously tried to avoid. And as I am a bit reclusive and aloof, I take my time with novels I like and mull over them. I weigh each book’s value carefully, as one would calculate its weight right down to the gram. Value, in my elderly years, is much more solid and vital a commodity than in my youth, and one of the first weighing scales I use is that of moral integrity. On that first essential test Powell flunks out. Nicholas Is a wonderful narrator, though he sees through most of his prominent friends’ endless charades. He avoids endlessly pirouetting in their manner, but pays the price in his increasingly enervating depression. These folks in his novels have little hope. They seem so much like Dante’s damned in their bleak, private, midnight hours. And yet they continue to vainly strut their witticisms on the social stage. His characters, by and large gentlemen and ladies, live only for the delights, intellectual or otherwise, of the moment. “Is that ALL there is?” the sagging Peggy Lee once crooned late in her singing career. Well, there’s peace of mind too, too, Peggy, but if that’s what you really wanted you would have been far better off FORGETTING your anxious, acquisitive self! Depression hounds all Nicolas’ friends like a pack of wolves. As it does for all of us who remain hedonists? Now, I’m a glass-half-full type of guy who thrives on goodness and decency. I’m no longer - thank heaven! - the callow kid I was in my youth. The long and the short of this review is - though it is actually far less that, than my own flagrantly modernist type of belle-lettres - that Powell, though he remains charming and delightful like so many other 1930’s Bright Young Things... will have to find another fan! For now such between-the-lines, self-serving communal gossip as fills these pages is for me just too outré. And, frankly, a bit of a bore.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    Such a long journey! We first met Nick Jenkins in school, as a teenager with a keen interest in the affairs of others and a rather reclusive, shy temperament. Now he is in his late sixties, and hopefully he has some wisdom to impart from all the events he witnessed, from all the people he has met and from all the books he has read or written. Two compensations for growing old are worth putting on record as the condition asserts itself. The first is a vantage point gained for acquiring embellishm Such a long journey! We first met Nick Jenkins in school, as a teenager with a keen interest in the affairs of others and a rather reclusive, shy temperament. Now he is in his late sixties, and hopefully he has some wisdom to impart from all the events he witnessed, from all the people he has met and from all the books he has read or written. Two compensations for growing old are worth putting on record as the condition asserts itself. The first is a vantage point gained for acquiring embellishments to narratives that have been unfolding for years beside one's own, trimmings that can even appear to supply the conclusion of a given story, though finality is never certain, a dimension always possible to add. The other mild advantage endorses a keener perception for the authenticities of mythology, not only of the traditional sort, but - when such are any good - the latterday mythologies of poetry and the novel. The whole journey is allegorically portrayed as a Dance, the actors coming in and out of focus to the tune of a melody only they can hear. Careful observation might reveal recurring patterns and familiar faces, but the important thing is that the Dance is eternal. New players come in as old friends depart. Fancy new steps are claimed by a younger generation who unwittingly are repeating the same moves that were popular in their grandfather's times. Case in point: The first chapter introduces a new character that will be central to the events unfolding in this last volume. His assumed name is 'Scorpio' Murtlock and he is the self appointed guru of a new sect that seeks communion with the higher spheres of existence, a harmonious life and a revival of pagan rites and beliefs. Since one of his adepts is Fiona Cutts, a relative of Nick's wife Isobel, Murtlock and his gang come to visit Jenkins at his country retreat, there to reenact some humorous scenes and dialogues from his childhood encounter with another guru, a Dr. Trelawney. 'How are we going to bring off an act of Harmony on a Saturday afternoon?' 'Through the Elements.' 'What elements?' 'Fire, Air, Earth, Water.' In practical terms, the project devolves into a leisurely crayfish trapping. But, since Nick is in a contemplative mood, the whole opening scene is infused with portents and whimsical fancy, reiterating the closing verse of the penultimate episode, a quote from Thomas Vaughan about the "liberated soul ascending, looking at the sunset towards the west wind, and hearing secret harmonies." Jenkins is watching a flight of ducks forming their customary arrow across the sunset clouds and draws connections between Roman auguries, military tactics and the coming winter of his soul, the end of all seasons: "What message do the birds foretell?" If you haven't noticed until now, our narrator is a bit of a snob, and finally, he gets to acknowledge this less savoury aspect of his personality, throwing obscure words ( 'vaticinatory' ???) and literary allusions at the young hippies when he gets vexed by their smug appropriation of mystical powers: One had to fight back. Murtlock made no comment. I hoped the quotation had floored him. Side note : the reader is advised to be patient. The younger generation has its own way of getting back at the pompous elders (view spoiler)[ throwing paint at Widmerpool and stinkbombs at official dinners (hide spoiler)] A second chapter expands on the role of mythologies and allegories in decoding the motivations and the personalities of the people involved in the Dance. Since over twelve volumes the 'soloist' so to speak turned out to be the person that first enters the scene in "A Question of Upbringing" (remember that grotesque, angular figure running alone in the mist?), Jenkins embarks on a study of "Orlando Furioso" and the way this Romantic hero can be assimilated with the controversial Widmerpool. Riding a hippogryph, Astolpho undertook a journey to the Moon. There, in one of its valleys, he was shown all things lost on Earth: lost kingdoms: lost riches: lost reputations: lost vows: lost hours: lost love. Only lost foolishness was missing from this vast stratospheric Lost Property Office, where by far the largest accretion was lost sense. I would not like to spoil the elegant and often funny arguments of Jenkins, but I cannot help admiring the way the author links Orlando losing his wits after being betrayed by his lover to Widmerpool's mind unraveling in the aftermath of Pamela's suicide. The analogy goes much deeper, touching on the central theme of the whole cycle, the battle between the World of Will and the World of Art, with the final stage set to mark the defeat of the man who painted himself as leading a Heroic Life. Revisiting the past is apparently the favorite pastime of Jenkins in his later years, a melancholic pursuit that is only compensated by his still sharp wit and his still keen interest in the foibles of his contemporaries. The 'action', such as it is in this plotless series, takes place over a series of dinner functions - most of them concerned with the awarding of a literary prize for biographies. Widmerpool can be relied upon to make either a spectacular entry or a hilarious exit. One of the recurring characters (Matilda Donners), poring over old photographs illustrating the Seven Deadly Sins, observes about Kenneth: He ought to have played the eighth Sin - Humbug. The Donners Memorial Prize serves a double role here. Firstly, that of revisiting the past, of meeting old friends, of adding 'embellishments' to old stories and throwing new light on those events of the past that we thought we understood at the time. Secondly, it offers a platform for Jenkins and his literary friends to discuss art and the artist in the context of a rapidly changing society. For example, Emily Brightman comments on the rise of the 'yellow press' and the encouragement of scandalous speculations about the private life of public personalities (with emphasis on alleged homosexuality of established authors): In its vulgar way, a painstaking piece of work, although one must always remember - something often forgotten today - that because things are generally known, they are not necessarily the better for being written down, or publicly announced. Some are, some aren't. As in everything else, good sense, taste, art, all have their place. Saying you prefer to disregard art, taste, good sense, does not mean that those elements do not exist - it merely means you lack them yourself. Since the literary prize is awarded for biographies, Jenkins intervenes with a passage attributed to his friend Trapnell, a longish quote that I include here because I believe it has bearing on the whole Dance and on the relationship between fact and fiction in its inception: People think because a novel's invented, it isn't true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Because a novel's invented, it is true. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they can't include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that. The novelist himself lays it down. His decision is binding. The biographer, even at his highest and best, can be only tentative, empirical. The autobiographer, for his part, is imprisoned in his own egotism. He must always be suspect. In contrast with the other two, the novelist is a god, creating his man, making him breathe and walk. The man, created in his own image, provides information about the god. In a sense you know more about Balzac and Dickens from their novels, than Rousseau and Casanova from their Confessions. Leaving the literary criticism behind, let us get back the the Dancers and witness the final tour around the ballroom. I find it fascinating how Powell gives the impression that he coreographed everything right from the start, that everything happens for a reason. Two chance encounters make direct reference to events from the very first episode in the cycle - to the school days and the first visit to the Templer mansion. It is as if Powell believes in karma, no longer how long it takes for payback: We meet Sunny Farebrother in the underground, coming back from a funeral, only instead of being subdued, he smirks about how he foiled a practical joke attempted by the deceased, five decades ago. Sir Bertram Ackworth, a young boy probably everybody forgot about, gets his satisfaction from Widmerpool for being sent out of school in disgrace, also five decades ago. In the same sphere of reassesments of past events and introducing new steps in the Dance, my favorite part of the last episode is the dynamic relationship between four people in love (of a sort) : Scorpio Murtlock is mostly in love with himself, interested in power games, but he accepts the adoration of Fiona Cutts and he wants to attract within his circle American biographer Russell Gwinnet. What he gets instead is an entanglement with Widmerpool - like two stags clashing horns over who is the true Master of Will. Fiona herself rebels at being treates as an object and tries to escape the influence of Scorpio with the help of poet and critic Delavacquerie, who is in turn involved in promoting Gwinnett's biography of Trapnel ... and so the Dance goes on: some will get married, some will be brought down, some will fade into oblivion. What the music is and where the Dance will lead us is never spelled out clearly, and probably this is one reason why the whole prospect is so fascinating and worth studying, even when we all know where the final curtain is: People love where Beauty is, where Money is, where Power is - why not where Death is? An American poet said Death is the Mother of Beauty. Death is one of the Dancers now, partnering both with the Will and with the Artist. Of the two path in life - the search for Power and the search for Enlightenment, illustrated through the years by the parallel paths of Widmerpool and Jenkins, only one leads to serenity and wisdom. The other leads to ruin and dissolution. But, like everything else in life, the borders between the two are blurred and the answers are often obscure, to be guessed by reading between the lines instead of finding them carved on stone tablets. Logic, determination and pragmatism can only take you this far and no further to the Elysean fields. Emotion, passion, acceptance are more faithful partners in the Dance: Thinking - as General Conyers used to insist - damages feeling. No doubt he had got the idea from a book. That did not make it less valid. Something can get lost, especially in the arts, by thinking too much, which sometimes confuses the instinct for what ought to go down on paper. Nostalgia is the major chord in the music of Time, as Jenkins visits a gallery of mythological paintings by his old friend, Mr Deacon, there to say a final farewell to a woman that was most probably the love of his youthful years, a departure performed with his usual undemonstrative, introverted manner when it comes to intimate details of his life: Jean once more held her hand. Fashion, decreeing one kissed almost everyone these days, might not unreasonably have brought that about had she kept herself less erect. It was thus avoided without prejudice to good manners. 'So nice to have met.' 'Yes, so nice.' This is an emotional farewell for me also, after spending the whole of 2016 under the spell of Anthony Powell's prose and allegories. 'We go through life lacking understanding of many things' is not the most cheerful final lesson to take with me as I say goodbye, but this is no reason to despair, even as we light a bonfire in which we throw all our 'might have beens' and 'do you remember whens' . Art, history, myth offer solace with the words of past masters, such as Richard Burton in his "Anatomy of Melancholy" - a reminder that the show must go on and that, despite its fleeting nature, life remains endless fascinating in its diversity and constant rebirth. Melancholy is tempered by joy to have been a part of the Dance.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    Sooner or later all things come to the end… Even the most beautiful ones. “We are often told we must establish with certainty the values of the society in which we live. That is a right and proper ambition, one to be laid down without reticence as to yea or nay. Let me say at once what I stand for myself. I stand for the dictatorship of free men, and the catalysis of social, physical and spiritual revolution. I claim the right to do so in the name of contemporary counterculture…” The riotous sixti Sooner or later all things come to the end… Even the most beautiful ones. “We are often told we must establish with certainty the values of the society in which we live. That is a right and proper ambition, one to be laid down without reticence as to yea or nay. Let me say at once what I stand for myself. I stand for the dictatorship of free men, and the catalysis of social, physical and spiritual revolution. I claim the right to do so in the name of contemporary counterculture…” The riotous sixties are around and about… a general shift in mass consciousness, emancipation of youth, sexual liberation, a tremendous breakthrough in arts, experimentation with the altered state of mind, psychedelic mysticism… …there being no death, only transition, blending, synthesis, mutation – just as there are no marriages, except mystic marriages. Marriages that transcend the boundaries of awareness… It’s an ideal world of celestial harmony… but the dark shadow of Aleister Crowley is always present there. The old get older and the young are full of hopes. The young talk revolutions and the future, the old talk diseases and myths of the past…

  4. 4 out of 5

    Whitaker

    Certain books are age specific: not in a "Suitable for ages 7 and up" way; they just have to be read at the right time in life to truly resonate. Catcher in the Rye has, I think, to be read in one's adolesence; any older and the angst would just grate. On the other hand, I would say that Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time can't be read any younger than one's middle years. I don't think the way it captures so perfectly the unexpectedness of life's trajectories would make any sense to anyone yo Certain books are age specific: not in a "Suitable for ages 7 and up" way; they just have to be read at the right time in life to truly resonate. Catcher in the Rye has, I think, to be read in one's adolesence; any older and the angst would just grate. On the other hand, I would say that Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time can't be read any younger than one's middle years. I don't think the way it captures so perfectly the unexpectedness of life's trajectories would make any sense to anyone younger. I look at where I am now, and where my peers in university are now, and I don't think any of us could have thought that we'd be where we are. I've seen people who were written off as mediocre go on to have exciting careers in New York. The wild child settled down to a very respectable conservative Christian marriage. On the other hand, the star student from a respectable family ended up embezzling money from his clients and after several years on the run is now in jail. A few people came out; childhood sweethearts got divorced; the boy-next-door best-possible catch had an affair and then moved on to sleeping with the interns. It's not as if I even followed any of these people's lives or that they were my closest friends. Some I read about in the papers (the embezzler), others were of the Foot-in-Mouth variety chance meeting (So, how are you and S doing? Oh, right, I'm so sorry to hear about the divorce. Er, so, nice weather we're having.), and others of course were the, OMG, did you hear about D? But that's how life is. We lead our own lives, hang out with our friends, go through our life changes and end up in places we never thought we would, see friends go through their own peculiar journeys, and hear about the many many others we never really kept in touch with. A Dance to the Music of Time captures that ebb and flow perfectly. At 20, you think you got it all worked out. At 40, you realise that nothing is ever truly worked out, and the best you can do is just keep up with the changes. I can't think of a better work to have read at this juncture of my life. I would truly love to have thrust it into my sweaty eager 20-year old hands with the urgent injunction to "Read it, just read it. This is what living is going to be like. Not all of it is going to be fun, and it isn't going to work out the way you think it will, but I promise you, the experience is all worth it." But the truth is, at 20 I wouldn't have got it. Now in my 40's, with some wryness and recognition, I do. I can't wait to see how I'll react when I read it again in my 50's and in my 60's.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    It is with a great sense of accomplishment that I finish this twelfth volume in Powell ' s "A Dance to the Music of Time." I had wanted to read this for many years, but was daunted by the sheer scope of reading over 3000 pages. Last year I was invited to join a small group reading and discussing one volume per month, which seemed to be possible. It has been a wonderful experience; I have looked forward to each month's installment, the discussion of art, music, literature, and all the characters It is with a great sense of accomplishment that I finish this twelfth volume in Powell ' s "A Dance to the Music of Time." I had wanted to read this for many years, but was daunted by the sheer scope of reading over 3000 pages. Last year I was invited to join a small group reading and discussing one volume per month, which seemed to be possible. It has been a wonderful experience; I have looked forward to each month's installment, the discussion of art, music, literature, and all the characters who brought the middle of the 20th century in England, between the wars and into the 1960's, to life. These 12 volumes are narrated by Nick Jenkins, beginning with his time as a schoolboy just after WWI, and ending in the late 60's. They seem to encompass everyone (over 300 characters) and everything. The humor is amazing and witty, the passage of time handled brilliantly, and the characters unsurpassed. What can be said to explain the rise and fall of Kenneth Widmerpool? What a creation! I am both thrilled and sad to finish this work. Thrilled to have read it, sorry that I won't have more to look forward to.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    Two compensations for growing old are worth putting on record as the condition asserts itself. The first is a vantage point gained for acquiring embellishments to narratives that have been unfolding for years beside one’s own, trimmings that can even appear to supply the conclusion of a given story, though finality is never certain, a dimension always possible to add. The other mild advantage endorses keener perception for the authenticities of mythology, not only of the traditional sort, but Two compensations for growing old are worth putting on record as the condition asserts itself. The first is a vantage point gained for acquiring embellishments to narratives that have been unfolding for years beside one’s own, trimmings that can even appear to supply the conclusion of a given story, though finality is never certain, a dimension always possible to add. The other mild advantage endorses keener perception for the authenticities of mythology, not only of the traditional sort, but – when such are any good – the latterday mythologies of poetry and the novel. cover suggested by title-related themes or perhaps featuring the Quiggen twins Takes place: spring 1968 to autumn 1971. Nick Jenkins now in his early 60s – his seventh decade. Book published: 1975, 24 years after the first volume. Anthony Powell then 70. Nick Jenkins came close, but will never be able to catch his creator in age. Powell will live to be 94, but for Nick the end has come, since this is the final book in the dodecology (to stretch a definition). The eleven main characters (by roughly the number of pages they are referenced on – with new characters in bold) – Widmerpool (“Ken”, please), Leslie Murtlock, Russell Gwinnett, Fiona Cutts (almost a new character – her birth rated a brief notice in Books Do Furnish…), Isobel Jenkins (nee Tolland), Barnabas Henderson, Mark Members, ‘Bith’ Bithel, Amanda & Belinda Quiggin (new like Fiona Cutts), the Rev Canon Paul Fenneau (a very strange case), Sir Magnus Donners, X. Trapnel. The last two rise from the dead to dance one more time. The war has been over for a quarter-century. Three of the leads (Leslie Murtlock, Fiona Cutts, Barnabas Henderson) are two generations younger than Nick Jenkins. Secret Harmonies The first chapter finds a caravan parked on the Jenkins’ land, the four occupants (one being their niece Fiona Cutts) engaged in a crayfish expedition organized by Nick and Isobel. Besides another young woman (Rusty) the group includes both new/main characters, ‘Scorpio’ Murtlock and Henderson; the two girls wearing T-shirts advocating, or proclaiming, HARMONY. This seems harmless, even desirable. But Jenkins’ narrative suggests darker connections, as we read the group described, by Fiona’s parents, as a cult, Murtlock as ‘spooky’ and ‘creepy’; and soon enough Jenkins himself is using such as “gnomic pronouncements”, “Shortcuts to the Infinite, Wisdom of the East, Analects of the Sages”, “hypnotic powers”, “the ability to impose oneself on others” in describing his own reactions to Murtlock. I was reminded of the astonishing scene in the penultimate chapter of the previous novel, involving Widmerpool, his wife Pamela, and Mrs. Erdleigh (“the Sorceress”) – witnessed by, most usefully for the telling afterwards, both Hugh Moreland and Odo Stevens – as perhaps a foretelling of aspects of the “secret harmony” theme. Mrs. Erdleigh’s enigmatic pronouncements to Pamela, the sequence described by Moreland as “the Sorceress in the ascendant, Lady Widmerpool afflicted”, the words themselves by Jenkins as “cabalistic dialectic”, her “final warning” enunciated thus:Court at your peril those spirits that dabble lasciviously with primal matter, horrid substances, sperm of the world, producing monsters and fantastic things, as it is written, so that the toad, this leprous earth, eats up the eagle. Here things began to coalesce, blend together for this reader. Mrs. Erdleigh herself, as seer, palm reader, medium, as well as Dr. Trelawny, are both types intimately associated with these narrative threads - but now have passed beyond the pale, and though mentioned in the finale, their spirits are not up to the task of providing a living, breathing exemplar. For this, Powell reintroduces the Rev Canon Paul Fenneau, the only character I know of that appeared in the first volume (at a Sillery tea party in 1924, a bashful undergraduate, where Nick catches the “Paul”, but misses his surname) and has subsequently vanished from Jenkins’ life for over forty years, now appearing for representation of the type, even though with a religious pretext; and to play an intermediary’s role in the final movements of the dance. Fenneau, interested in Alchemy, mindful of the Philosopher’s Stone, occultism, having “the moist dreamy eyes of a medium”, whose “Your servant”, to an enquiry from Widmerpool, is voiced “like a djinn rising vaporously from an unsealed bottle.” And what else is involved in this other-worldly narrative skein? The power of the Mage, Secrets only revealed to the initiate (thus secret harmonies); Dr. Trelawney’s role of thaumaturge; his and Mrs. Erdleigh’ s view that “death no more than transition, blending, synthesis, mutation”. Time itself is woven in, by direct reference to the Nicolas Poussin 17th century painting, now called Dance to the Music of Time. (Yes, we’ve heard that title before, haven’t we?) Nick refers to this as a ‘painter’s time’, contrasting it to a ‘writer’s time’ as exemplified in Ariosto’s 16th century poem Orlando Furioso, which plays as significant a narrative role in this novel as Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy did in Books Do Furnish …. Significantly, Nick mentions the Valley of Lost Things from the poem, a location on the moon holding all those things lost by the inhabitants of Earth: “lost kingdoms, lost reputations, lost hours, lost vows, lost love.” Might we add, "lost Time"? The title, Hearing Secret Harmonies, finds its way into both a phrase used by Mrs. Erdleigh (“the liberated soul ascends, looking at the sunset towards the west wind, and hearing secret harmonies”), and a disquisition by Fenneau:An element of Gnosticism emphasizes the duality of austerity and licence, abasement as a source of power, also elements akin to the worship of Mithras, where the initiate climbed through seven gates, or up seven ascending steps, imagery of the soul’s ascent through the spheres of the Planets – as Eugenius Philalethes says – hearing secret harmonies.Powell brings the novel, and the Dance, to a sublime conclusion, writing of a bonfire on his property near a quarry, that its smoke “now brought back that of the workmen’s bucket of glowing coke, burning outside their shelter" – thus referencing the second sentence of the Dance, eleven novels and hundreds of thousands of words ago; and following with a “torrential passage” (Nick’s phrase) from Burton’s Anatomy: “I hear new news every day of … A vast confusion of … Now comes tidings of … then again, as in a new shifted scene, … Today we hear of … “. Then concludes:The thudding sound of the quarry had declined now to no more than a gentle reverberation, infinitely remote. It ceased altogether at the long drawn wail of a hooter – the distant pounding of centaur’s hoofs dying away, as the last note on the conch trumpeted out over the hyperborean seas. Even the formal measure of the Seasons seemed suspended in the wintry silence. The Grand Finale For me, Powell’s finale to his series is magnificent, even transcendent. (It’s the only time in reading many hundreds of pages that tears came to my eyes.) I might argue that the entire series is worth reading for the sake of this concluding volume. Harmonies, Time, Lost Things – and all the rest, woven into an astounding pattern, interconnections leading one to and fro, back and forth, stopping nowhere, time suspended, then advancing, the individual finally dropping out of the dance; which yet continues without her, younger generations having already filled in. As we dance our way through Time, we discover new, surprising, exciting interpretations of steps already taken, without full knowledge of what was involved, or being unfolded, when we first learned those steps. Continually discovering anew, for our understanding, amusement, artistic appreciation, sexual and emotional reverberations, an always changing blend of each participant’s unique contribution – to the music, heard differently by everyone, ultimately composed by all. A Dance to the Music of Time, Nicolas Poussin, ~1635 (this title first seen in 1913, various titles used prior to that) Afterward For stat geeks only. (view spoiler)[Having traversed Powell’s epic series, the reader might enjoy the following lists of the most significant characters in the four Seasons of Jenkins’ narrative, and overall. SPRINGCharles Stringham Kenneth Widmerpool Peter Templer J.G. Quiggin Jean Templar Lawrence Le Bas Captain Giles Jenkins (‘Uncle Giles’) Sillery Ralph Barnby Mark Members SUMMERIsobel Tolland Widmerpool Viscount Erridge Hugh Moreland Lady Molly Jeavons General Aylmer Conyers Ted Jeavons Quiggin Sir Magnus Donners Peter Templer AUTUMNOdo Stevens Widmerpool Stringham David Pennistone Priscilla Tolland Isobel Tolland Captain Rowland Gwatkin Moreland Chips Lovell Captain ‘Sunny’ Farebrother WINTERWidmerpool X. Trapnel Pamela Flitton Lindsay (‘Books-do-furnish-a-room’) Bagshaw Ada Leintwardine Professor Russell Gwinnett Quiggin Dr. Emily Brightman Isobel Tolland Moreland And for the whole series:First ten: Kenneth Widmerpool Charles Stringham Peter Templer Sir Magnus Donners Isobel Tolland Captain Giles Jenkins (‘Uncle Giles’) Jean Templer Ralph Barnby J.G. Quiggin Hugh Moreland Second Ten: Edgar Deacon Viscount Erridge St. John Clarke Sillery Mark Members Sunny Farebrother Amy Foxe Bob Duport Lawrence Le Bas Gypsy Jones Lady Molly Jeavons (hide spoiler)]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    It's curious to consider that when Anthony Powell wrote Hearing Secret Harmonies the final novel in the twelve-novel series “A Dance to the Music of Time”, and despite the series starting in the early twentieth century, that it was almost contemporaneous, being published in 1975, and taking place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and makes references to hippies, the permissive society, Vietnam, and Enoch Powell. The final two volumes, Temporary Kings and Hearing Secret Harmonies, each moving th It's curious to consider that when Anthony Powell wrote Hearing Secret Harmonies the final novel in the twelve-novel series “A Dance to the Music of Time”, and despite the series starting in the early twentieth century, that it was almost contemporaneous, being published in 1975, and taking place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and makes references to hippies, the permissive society, Vietnam, and Enoch Powell. The final two volumes, Temporary Kings and Hearing Secret Harmonies, each moving the narrative forward by around ten years, allows for some dramatic changes to have occurred, the most notable change is in Widmerpool whose trajectory changes in ways that would be difficult for anyone to imagine earlier in the series. Anthony Powell finished the series with a real flourish. Hearing Secret Harmonies embraces the late sixties counterculture and contains some truly stunning scenes. He also manages to introduce yet more new characters, including the memorable Scorpio Murtlock and his Harmony cult. Overall “A Dance to the Music of Time” is magnificent. Reading the series has been such a fabulous experience. Anthony Powell is a master. Although the books can be read and enjoyed individually, and on their own terms, the real pleasure is in reading all twelve books, and enjoying a narrative that takes place over a seventy year time span. Calling his series ''A Dance" is a perfect metaphor, as Anthony Powell is akin to a choreographer, who intricately keeps track of over four hundred characters across more than a million words. It's a stunning achievement, and throughout, his beautiful writing is as much of a joy as the ingenious plot and his ambitious, and completely successful, cultural and social history of England throughout the twentieth century. The star of the series is undeniably Kenneth Widmerpool, one of the most memorable characters I have ever encountered in a book. Widmerpool is a contemporary of narrator Nick Jenkins and, despite not being friends, he crops up somewhere in every volume. Whilst narrator Nick, along with many of the characters, represent musicians, poets, novelists, painters etc., Widmerpool is the opposite, a ruthlessly ambitious person but a deeply flawed human being. I wonder to what extent he might represent the triumph of commerce and bureaucracy, over more aesthetic considerations, that appears to be one of the main aspects of twentieth century history. Whilst reading it, I have had a copy of "Invitation To The Dance" by Hilary Spurling which is a wonderful reference book, particularly when I needed reminding about a character who had just reappeared. Now I have finished the series I plan to read the whole of "Invitation To The Dance" as it clearly contains lots of other useful and interesting information. I also have a copy of To Keep the Ball Rolling: The Memoirs of Anthony Powell which looks like another wonderful book and, according to the cover, is "especially illuminating to students of A Dance to the Music of Time". I am really looking forward to reading both, in addition to re-reading this marvellous series again. “A Dance to the Music of Time” is a masterpiece - and one of the best literary experiences I have ever enjoyed. Profound, funny, dramatic, and remarkably accessible and easy to read. It is a series I will return to again. I cannot praise it highly enough.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    Obviously I'm going to chew on this last book for a bit and try and roll the whole thing up. Powell reminds me of one of those extreme runners. Those masochists who seem to enjoy running 50, 100, or more miles. The amazing things about writing 12 novels that are together nearly 3000 pages and written over 24 years (1951 - 1971), is how uniform these books are. I'm not saying uniform in a boring way. I'm just saying there isn't a real weak link in them. They are beautifully constructed. I think o Obviously I'm going to chew on this last book for a bit and try and roll the whole thing up. Powell reminds me of one of those extreme runners. Those masochists who seem to enjoy running 50, 100, or more miles. The amazing things about writing 12 novels that are together nearly 3000 pages and written over 24 years (1951 - 1971), is how uniform these books are. I'm not saying uniform in a boring way. I'm just saying there isn't a real weak link in them. They are beautifully constructed. I think of big canvasses like the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. Certainly, with such a big canvas the risk of a disappointing section or segment isn't linear. A big book, with more pieces and pages, comes with an exponentially growing level or risk. Powell just didn't have a shitty two years anywhere in that 24 years.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    The final volume of "A Dance to the Music of Time" series shows life as a circular dance with the younger generation repeating the same steps to the dance as the older generation moves out of the circle. In "Hearing Secret Harmonies" a 1970s hippie cult camps overnight at Nick and Isobel Jenkins' home in the English countryside. Isobel's niece has been mesmerized by the cult leader, Scorpio Murtlock. He leads the group in pagan rituals often tied to the seasons and the sites of ancient standing The final volume of "A Dance to the Music of Time" series shows life as a circular dance with the younger generation repeating the same steps to the dance as the older generation moves out of the circle. In "Hearing Secret Harmonies" a 1970s hippie cult camps overnight at Nick and Isobel Jenkins' home in the English countryside. Isobel's niece has been mesmerized by the cult leader, Scorpio Murtlock. He leads the group in pagan rituals often tied to the seasons and the sites of ancient standing stones. The book ties in mythology, literature, art, and spiritualist characters from earlier books. The Seventies was a time of youthful rebellion, sexual freedom, and experimentation with drugs. Kenneth Winderpool, a college administrator now, embraces the new age. Russell Gwinnett is researching Gothic symbolism of mortality, and also comes into contact with the mystic cult. The occult rituals of the group become increasingly sinister, and there is a power struggle between two of the members. The twelve books in the series have been following Nick Jenkins' observations about life since he was a teenager. It is the satirical view of someone in the British upper class, well-schooled in literature, art, music, history, and culture, like the author himself. Nick and his friends are getting older. However, the circular Dance of Life will continue moving to the Music of Time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katie Lumsden

    A really moving and fascinating end to the series - a bit weird, very powerful, and all together fantastic.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor

    "In my beginning is my end." A brilliant final act in Powell's Dance. This last volume charts the decline and fall of Kenneth Widmerpool and brings this great work to a very satisfactory end. Wonderful stuff.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    is the final novel in Anthony Powell's twelve-volume masterpiece, A Dance to the Music of Time. It was published in 1975 twenty-four years after the first book, A Question of Upbringing appeared in 1951. Completing his meditation upon the themes of time and will, the author recounts the narrative in the voice of a convincingly middle-aged Jenkins. (In the television adaptation of the novels an older actor was chosen to play Nick in the final part.) 4* A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Musi is the final novel in Anthony Powell's twelve-volume masterpiece, A Dance to the Music of Time. It was published in 1975 twenty-four years after the first book, A Question of Upbringing appeared in 1951. Completing his meditation upon the themes of time and will, the author recounts the narrative in the voice of a convincingly middle-aged Jenkins. (In the television adaptation of the novels an older actor was chosen to play Nick in the final part.) 4* A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Music of Time, #1) 4* A Buyer's Market (A Dance to the Music of Time #2) 4* The Acceptance World (A Dance to the Music of Time, #3) 4* At Lady Molly's (A Dance to the Music of Time, #4) 4* Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (A Dance to the Music of Time, #5) 4* The Kindly Ones (A Dance to the Music of Time, #6) 4* The Valley of Bones (A Dance to the Music of Time, #7) 4* The Soldier's Art (A Dance to the Music of Time, #8) 4* The Military Philosophers (A Dance to the Music of Time, #9) 4* Books Do Furnish a Room (A Dance to the Music of Time, #10) 3* Temporary Kings (A Dance to the Music of Time, #11) 4* Hearing Secret Harmonies (A Dance to the Music of Time, #12)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Realini

    Hearing Secrets Harmonies by Anthony Powell Sublime…you can almost Hear the Secret Harmonies… Alas, this is the last of twelve volumes in the magnificent series A Dance to the Music of Time by the divine Anthony Powell - The English Proust- this is how he was regarded by critics Indeed, his chef d’oeuvre compares well with Remembrance of Things Past, probably the best novel ever written. We have said goodbye to a number of main characters in the eleven previous volumes, starting with Charles Stringha Hearing Secrets Harmonies by Anthony Powell Sublime…you can almost Hear the Secret Harmonies… Alas, this is the last of twelve volumes in the magnificent series A Dance to the Music of Time by the divine Anthony Powell - The English Proust- this is how he was regarded by critics Indeed, his chef d’oeuvre compares well with Remembrance of Things Past, probably the best novel ever written. We have said goodbye to a number of main characters in the eleven previous volumes, starting with Charles Stringham. We meet his sister again and Flavia- I cannot remember her other name- is now the mother-in-law of Widmerpool. The Harmonies mentioned in the title refer to a theme that has appeared in the first part and throughout a Dance to the Music of Time. Scorpio Murtlock that only makes an impressive, but belated appearance in the final tome is the third “occultist” to appear in the series He follows in the footsteps of Dr. Trelawney, who was a colorful presence in previous titles and has a worthy “descendant” in Scorp. There are funny runs in nature, with members of the cult led by Scorpio going about in the nude and even breaking into a wedding party. The unbelievable transformation that takes place involves Kenneth Widmerpool, now Lord Widmerpool. He wants others to call him Ken, dismissing the aristocratic title, for now he has become a rebel and an insurgent. This is the man who represented the Evil in almost Pure Form, throughout all of A Dance to the Music of Time. He was responsible in good part for the death of Charles Stringham and in an unquantifiable measure for his wife’s demise- Pamela. Karma is responsible for what you get back, at least according to Buddhist believes and if you have been awful, you have to pay for it. It is not pleasant to say that I liked the payback that Lord Widmerpool gets, but there it is... the monster deserved it. At one point, he is anointed as head of a university and the ceremony is pompous and resplendent, until the Quiggin twins throw paint over him. With this rascal behaving as I knew him from previous chapters, I was expecting and outraged bully to pour down all the magma and fire from hell. Well, he does the opposite, seeing as he is transformed and on the way to Harmony and the godhead of the true… - The Essence of the All is the Godhead of the True This is how cult members greet each other and Lord Widmerpool becomes a follower in one of the most unexpected turns of events. After the paint throwing incident, the dean of the university keeps the signs on his body and starts dressing provocatively…that is the way the old Widmerpool was in the past. He brings the Quiggin twins to a soiree where a literary Donner prize was awarded and speaks about his new anarchist views. As he speaks and horrifies his audience, with his ostentatious clothes- a red pullover at a black tie dinner- and his specifying, that was not in the program and anyway veered off the subject and into wild territory, something else happens - The young twins throw in the middle of an upscale ceremony a stink bomb There are other clashes and strange occurrences, some around the above mentioned group formed around Scorpio Murtlock. There are bizarre rituals around places that have historical significance and legends around them, where some locals are scared to death by the appearance of spectres with horns, near locations which anyway had enjoyed a reputation of being haunted. Members of the cult have to have sex with each other- all present with all the rest! - Including poor Lord Widmerpool- who has by now become Ken, pure and simple. A climax is reached when a party of dirty, peculiar men and women dressed in robes show up in the middle of a wedding that takes place in a castle, which I imagine to be like Downton Abbey and the clash is funny. Stupendous, exhilarating, enchanting, resplendent work…I could go on for a while with synonyms, but you’ve got my meaning by now.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

    How does one go about writing a Goodreads review for a book one has read 61 times? The whole sequence: A Dance to the Music of Time, all 12 volumes, 61 times. Obviously, I enjoy the novel. Recently I read a fellow Goodreads reviewer suggesting that one really needs to be middle-aged before turning to Powell in order to enjoy the book. That was not my experience. I was introduced to Powell's novel sequence at 20 and I have read it at least once a year every year since. In the beginning, I found m How does one go about writing a Goodreads review for a book one has read 61 times? The whole sequence: A Dance to the Music of Time, all 12 volumes, 61 times. Obviously, I enjoy the novel. Recently I read a fellow Goodreads reviewer suggesting that one really needs to be middle-aged before turning to Powell in order to enjoy the book. That was not my experience. I was introduced to Powell's novel sequence at 20 and I have read it at least once a year every year since. In the beginning, I found myself drawn to Nicholas Jenkins (the narrator) in his teens and twenties. As I grew older, I found each novel deepening in its resonance. Now having reached what volume 11 (Temporary Kings) calls "one's fifties, in principle less acceptable than one's forties" I find myself still in harmony (secret or otherwise) with Nick and his musings, his "habit of mind" as he himself puts it with respect to two of his friends in the narrative, even when I don't necessarily agree with his judgments. I have wondered for over 30 years why I find myself, a man more left-leaning than right, a Canadian, and at the highest of the middle-middle class, so fascinated by the work of man of my grandfather's generation, a man far more right-leaning than left, a Briton, and married into the lower aristocracy. Still no answer, beyond the over-simplified one that regardless of obvious differences, I feel completely "sympatico" with Nick Jenkins and am prepared to overlook any minor disagreements in the service of all I share with this invented individual and, by extension, as with many such cases, his creator. Jeff Bursey suggests, simply and accurately, maybe it’s just the quality of the writing. He may be right. But I feel that there is something undefinable beyond that. I have, at last, reached the point at which I have read Dance as many times as I have been years alive. I have now returned to my usual once-a-year habit of re-reading the sequence between my birthday and Powell’s. (Or not!)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shaun Heenan

    One could look back at my history of giving mostly 3s and 3.5s to each individual volume and come to the conclusion that I wasn't particularly impressed with A Dance to the Music of Time. One could then dig a little deeper and notice that I read all twelve of these books over the course of just three months, which gives a clearer picture of my feelings. (Proust, definitely the nearest comparison, took me nearly a full year.) While no volume by itself (with perhaps the exception of The Soldier's A One could look back at my history of giving mostly 3s and 3.5s to each individual volume and come to the conclusion that I wasn't particularly impressed with A Dance to the Music of Time. One could then dig a little deeper and notice that I read all twelve of these books over the course of just three months, which gives a clearer picture of my feelings. (Proust, definitely the nearest comparison, took me nearly a full year.) While no volume by itself (with perhaps the exception of The Soldier's Art) stands out as something particularly special to me, the work as a whole is seriously impressive. I had a great time with these, and I'm a little sad to see the end of them. For what it's worth, I think this final book is among the weakest of them.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Hunter

    Whew! 12 novels, approximately 3,000 pages worth of reading behind me. I want to spend more time in Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time universe. I will miss Hugh Moreland, Uncle Giles, X. Trapnel, Charles Stringham, Peter Templer, even asshat Kenneth Widmerpool. (I’ll miss neither Pamela Flitton nor Scorpio Murtlock, though I don’t expect I’ll forget them.) Only one hour removed from turning the last page, and I’m already making plans for a reread. Not surprisingly, Narrator Nick Jenkins’ own Whew! 12 novels, approximately 3,000 pages worth of reading behind me. I want to spend more time in Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time universe. I will miss Hugh Moreland, Uncle Giles, X. Trapnel, Charles Stringham, Peter Templer, even asshat Kenneth Widmerpool. (I’ll miss neither Pamela Flitton nor Scorpio Murtlock, though I don’t expect I’ll forget them.) Only one hour removed from turning the last page, and I’m already making plans for a reread. Not surprisingly, Narrator Nick Jenkins’ own dance ends, too. Also not a surprise, Powell depicts Nick’s death elegantly:“The thudding sound from the quarry had declined now to no more than a gentle reverberation, infinitely remote. It ceased altogether at the long drawn wail of a hooter—the distant pounding of centaurs' hoofs dying away, as the last note of their conch trumpeted out over hyperborean seas. Even the formal measure of the Seasons seemed suspended in the wintry silence.”Nick leaves the dancle floor; Hearing Secret Harmonies ends where A Question of Upbringing begins. I suspect my first reread will begin sooner rather than later. By all means, read this series.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Arukiyomi

    And so it ends; the final volume in Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time is complete exactly 365 days after I started it. Was it worth it. Yes, I’d say so. Did I love it. No, not really. The book ends with some quite esoteric encounters with what can only be described as a cult. A collection of vagabond hippies have found inspiration in a collection of pagan rituals based on the life and work of the long deceased Dr Trelawney. Somewhat surprisingly, this cult enfolds one of the key characters an And so it ends; the final volume in Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time is complete exactly 365 days after I started it. Was it worth it. Yes, I’d say so. Did I love it. No, not really. The book ends with some quite esoteric encounters with what can only be described as a cult. A collection of vagabond hippies have found inspiration in a collection of pagan rituals based on the life and work of the long deceased Dr Trelawney. Somewhat surprisingly, this cult enfolds one of the key characters and leads to his demise. Nick meanwhile lives on some vast estate somewhere from which he occasionally ventures forth to provide opinion on literary prize-givings and other artistic comment. Again, we end the novel knowing little about him while discovering all sorts about everyone else. The novel as a whole is definitely a good book, but I feel that it has become dated; I found the very medium that Powell uses of the narrator Nick Jenkins to be frustrating and shallow. So, why dated? Well, Powell the book spans 50 years from the 1920s and the spirit of the age is captured marvellously along the way. There’s a real feel that Time is indeed the Music that the characters Dance to. It’s very evocative of every decade it works through and I loved the attention to this detail that Powell puts in each volume, in what are, in effect, individually relatively short novels. The problem though is with the characters themselves. I guess Powell himself was a stuck up toff and this comes through from the very first volume at a grim boarding school, right through the sequestered commissioned ranks of officers in the war through to the echelons of the literary elite in Hearing Secret Harmonies. I don’t think there was a single character that I really liked. They all seemed completely engrossed in their own petty affairs, none of which made any difference at all to the real world. Sure, some of them were artists and writers, but their books and paintings are almost deliberately obscure and aloof. Curiously, those two adjectives perfectly describe Nick Jenkins. Apparently he got married along the way and, I think, had a child or two but you’d never know it. He speaks at length about everyone he knows and even makes vast suppositions about those he has the briefest encounters with. But you learn almost nothing at all about his life. This seems a ridiculous oversight for such a talented writer. Did he do it on purpose then? Maybe. But if so, big deal. It doesn’t work for me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    And thus, it's over. It took me quite some time to work may way through Dance, as I read other books between it, but the commitment was worth it. I started it with no realization of what I was getting into, it was a mystery book that sprang up on the nook account I shared with my mom. It was a whim, really. I just needed something new to read and it was there. At the first chapter I thought there was no way I would male it through the first book, let alone the last one, but how wrong I was. It s And thus, it's over. It took me quite some time to work may way through Dance, as I read other books between it, but the commitment was worth it. I started it with no realization of what I was getting into, it was a mystery book that sprang up on the nook account I shared with my mom. It was a whim, really. I just needed something new to read and it was there. At the first chapter I thought there was no way I would male it through the first book, let alone the last one, but how wrong I was. It sucked me in and turned out to be not only the largest work I have ever read, but also one of the best. There may come a time when something comes along in a similar vein that I like better, but it seems unlikely. This final installment is among my favorites in the entire series. Like some others say, it is a bit unbelievable, but I am not looking for an altogether believable story, I am looking for a good one, and this delivers. Of course the pinnacle moments undeniably go to widmerpool, who has consistently stolen the show but many new and old characters make grand impressions as well. All characters, however, are, as always, described through the steady point of view of our narrator nick Jenkins, who's wry humor and often erroneous assumptions make what could be a lackluster narrative hugely entertaining. I will be sad to have no more Dance to read, but at the same time completing it is a point of pride. I'm happy to have made it this far and hope that my next endeavor, In Search of Lost Time, is as enjoyable. But I won't hold my breath.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Corey

    This concludes Powell's 12-novel cycle, 'A Dance to the Music of Time.' In short, it is one of the towering achievements in literature, an astonishing admixture of history and memoir in fictional form. And, Kenneth Widmerpool, the cycle's antagonist, is one of the greatest creations in fiction. Also I must give a shout-out to Hilary Spurling's 'Invitation to the Dance: A Handbook to A Dance to the Music of Time,' an indispensable guide. My thanks for my friend Tess Parker for steering me to it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    A dazzling series and a close to perfect ending.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Illiterate

    Powell's milieu is the upper middle class between the wars. He doesn't get the post-war world. Here the hippies are a cult imagined as Jacobean alchemy.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Wrapping up a twelve book series that spans a half a century is no mean feat, especially a series whose various plots are sprawling and inclusive of hundreds of named characters, and yet Anthony Powell provides a satisfying and thoughtful ending to A Dance to the Music of Time with his final volume, Hearing Secret Harmonies. The last three books of the series have been the most powerful and beautifully written, which only makes sense given that Powell’s experience as a writer, his familiarity wi Wrapping up a twelve book series that spans a half a century is no mean feat, especially a series whose various plots are sprawling and inclusive of hundreds of named characters, and yet Anthony Powell provides a satisfying and thoughtful ending to A Dance to the Music of Time with his final volume, Hearing Secret Harmonies. The last three books of the series have been the most powerful and beautifully written, which only makes sense given that Powell’s experience as a writer, his familiarity with his world, and his understanding of what he can do with that world had only deepened over the twenty-four years he had been writing the books. In addition, I think that the character of the world shifts slightly after the war. While Powell has never indulged in nostalgia, and while I have argued that the effect of covering so large a stretch of time is to show the way things don’t change rather than the way they do—in spite of those things, there is something different about these last three books, a new interest and a new focus. Characters of mesmerizing will who pit that will against others have a unique place in these concluding novels. While Pamela Flitton appeared during the war years, she takes on a much greater role in Books Do Furnish a Room and Temporary Kings. As Widmerpool’s wife and as a lover to both Trapnel and Gwinnett, her character is defined by her resistance to others and the ferocity of her actions. She and Trapnel are in direct conflict with Widmerpool, though Widmerpool rides out the storm as best he can, having faith that Pamela will return to him, even as it is unclear what either gets out of their relationship. With Trapnel’s passing, Gwinnett becomes the new rival for Pamela’s affection. The nature of his magnetism is more mysterious than Trapnel’s. Nick describes Trapnel as a man playing too many parts to decide the proper way to act, as a man who is always trying to reconstruct himself. Gwinnett, on the other hand, is fully formed, knowing precisely what he wants and seeking it with a fierce determination. Pamela is unexpectedly taken with him and gives herself to him fully. In Hearing Secret Harmonies, Gwinnett’s quiet powers arise again as he wins over Fiona while we are not looking. And while his hold over her is not as frightening as Murtlock’s hold over her, there is a parallel established between Gwinnett and Murtlock. And of course what all these powerful personalities have in common is their direct relationship, and competition, with Widmerpool. Widmerpool has been an adversary to many over the course of the novels. His maneuverings have displaced Quiggins as St. Clark’s secretary, supplanted Duport as Donners right-hand man, effected Bithel’s removal from his position, and had an adverse effect on many others. He has gone toe to toe with Sunny Farebrother in the army and in the political world afterwards. And through all these conflicts, Widmerpool has had his way and engineered his movement up the chains of power. In these final three books, that power reaches its highest point and then crumbles away beneath him, sending him on an unrecoverable fall that ends in his sad death. These issues of power and social position have been present throughout the earlier novels, but they have never taken center stage as they do in these most recent ones, especially in this final book. The counter-culture presented in Hearing Secret Harmonies is not all that different from the mainstream culture that it is reacting to. Widmerpool’s desire to “drop out” is really a desire to be king of a different realm, to become a spiritual leader as opposed to a political leader. But in the spiritual world, Widmerpool is outmatched by Murtlock. Murtlock is every bit as ruthless as Widmerpool, but he has charm and charisma in addition. The only two characters who resist Murtlock’s sway spiritually speaking are Canon Freneau and Gwinnett. The difference in these two men is that they are not competing with Murtlock for domination of anything other than themselves. Gwinnett’s ambitions are entirely his own, for his own studies, his own work, his own edification. He is independently willed, but he never forces himself on others, and I think that is part of Powell’s point. Nick, our narrator, has never been the dramatic center of the story. He is the point around which all the stars of the system rotate, but only as a matter of perspective. Nick himself is not involved in all the goings on. He is not a man of ambition, not a man out to make a name for himself or gather followers. He is a private man who keeps matters of his own life as much out of his stories as he is able. The characters who are most attractive to him are those who are equally decent to others, those whose ambitions are private, or those who are humble or good-spirited failures. There is a treatise on power and peace here, but handled with the same gentle touch that Powell handles all of his other subjects. Compassion and an ironic eye are the recurring hallmarks of Powell’s style, and they are what makes reading his books so rewarding. As a side note, I must say that I love the way that Murtlock’s cult is both specific to the late 1960s and early 1970s when this book takes place and part of the larger recurring theme of occultism as represented by Trelawney and Madam Erdleigh. This treatment is directly tied in to what I was saying in my post about Temporary Kings, in which history is shown to be constant even as the particulars change. The players and the specifics of their actions may change, but human nature and the nature of our exchanges with each other remains the same. This is a collection whose whole is greater than the individual parts would suggest. I was pretty harsh in my review of the first book and some of the earlier books, but Powell achieves something greater than I expected from those early readings. Hearing Secret Harmonies is not an explosive conclusion, but then nothing about the series is explosive. Threads are wrapped up but the sense that life continues on as it ever did is preserved as well. A Dance to the Music of Time is a study not only of dozens of characters but of the character of humanity, and it is well worth the journey to delight in Powell’s prose, insight, and wit.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David

    There must be a review tucked away somewhere in here of another edition. I have, at last, realized an ambition of about 15 years’ duration—to have read A Dance to the Music Time once for every year I’ve been alive. It has been, without serious challenge from any other quarter, the most influential novel of my life, for reasons I’ve pontificated about in other reviews, here and elsewhere, endlessly. In year 60, I have just finished reading it for the 60th time. There are still new aspects about w There must be a review tucked away somewhere in here of another edition. I have, at last, realized an ambition of about 15 years’ duration—to have read A Dance to the Music Time once for every year I’ve been alive. It has been, without serious challenge from any other quarter, the most influential novel of my life, for reasons I’ve pontificated about in other reviews, here and elsewhere, endlessly. In year 60, I have just finished reading it for the 60th time. There are still new aspects about which I had not previously thought. I have tried to explain to myself and others just what it is about this 12-volume novel, written by a man of my grandparents’ generation, chronicling a social reality of which I have no direct experience, that has so captured my undying affection. I cannot explain, beyond feeling great sympathy for and empathy with the narrator and his general approach to life. For the first time in a decade, I shelve it until 2 November returns.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

    This is a book that felt very far away when I started the Dance project. But it came faster than I expected despite the series taking a year to complete. Proust is the best comparison for lack of options; but Powell is funnier, less romantic than his French counterpart. Proust's ability to turn out deep and baroque insights every dozen pages are missing. Proust's phenomenological explorations are replaced in Powell with a steadfast focus on the vagaries of quotidian life, the rise and fall of on This is a book that felt very far away when I started the Dance project. But it came faster than I expected despite the series taking a year to complete. Proust is the best comparison for lack of options; but Powell is funnier, less romantic than his French counterpart. Proust's ability to turn out deep and baroque insights every dozen pages are missing. Proust's phenomenological explorations are replaced in Powell with a steadfast focus on the vagaries of quotidian life, the rise and fall of one's fortunes, marriages, births and deaths. This is very much the stuff of life. It would be easy to say this book isn't about much, at least in the conventional sense of what we expect from a novel, but that wouldn't be the truth. This series is a masterwork of significant depth, emotion and insight and like Proust, I ended the last line with a pit in my stomach for having known it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    George

    3.5 stars. The final book in the ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ 12 book series. This book is set in England in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This novel is not as humorous as a number of the other books in the series, dealing with a ‘hippy’ type cult and providing details of how a number of characters from earlier periods in the series have ended up.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nente

    The circle is completed, and what a saga! Other than that, I wouldn't say this entry was my favourite.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    And so the 12 novel cycle, named after Poussin's painting "A Dance To The Music of Time" and written and published over a 24 year period (1951-75), comes to an end. The Empire has fallen, Britain is somewhere around the time of the 3 Day Week in 1973, values seem to have been trampled on and debased. Widmerpool is unsurprisingly the main focus of this last novel, although in a rather gaudy, unconvincing way, seeing as he gets mixed up in a rather cartoonish cult. While this can serve to resonate And so the 12 novel cycle, named after Poussin's painting "A Dance To The Music of Time" and written and published over a 24 year period (1951-75), comes to an end. The Empire has fallen, Britain is somewhere around the time of the 3 Day Week in 1973, values seem to have been trampled on and debased. Widmerpool is unsurprisingly the main focus of this last novel, although in a rather gaudy, unconvincing way, seeing as he gets mixed up in a rather cartoonish cult. While this can serve to resonate against Dr Trelawney's (read, Aleister Crowley's) bittersweet appearance in an earlier novel (The Kindly Ones, No. 6), it seems a bit sensationalist. And that's saying something given what Widmerpool has already been forced through in the last few novels… The cycle is certainly imperfect, with a number of weak entries, including this last one, but as a whole gives a wonderful elegiac patchwork of a fallen world. It builds up a (generally) plausible setting in which connections, which were what maintained class distinctions in earlier times, now have subtler and less immediate or predictable results. Characters wander in and out, known in some way to Nick, and the threads holding together each novel tend to relate to artistic works of some description. This 12th and last novel in the cycle strives to paint the chaos of the late 1960s/early 1970s, but while there was plenty of chaos on which to focus in those years, the choices of targets fall rather flat. Nick Jenkins remains a commenter-on-others, discreet in his conversations (except for an extraordinary faux pas when he suggests that his niece is to marry her ex-landlord) and a connector for the literary, academic and political worlds. It's still highly readable, of course, and anyone still here by now is going to be keen on news of certain characters. But they are all dwarfed, still, by the boorish Widmerpool. It's just that the humiliations meted out on Widmerpool here seem to be rather unbelievable and rather overwrought. But all that aside, Jenkins puts it thus: 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 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 steps of the dance. And that, true enough, is transposed onto the messy whirlpool of Britain's 20th century, where the well-to-do are chased down by certain "interlopers" (like go-getter Odo Stevens) and pitied by themselves and aesthetes. Why read it? Because Powell found the means, rather like Richard Linklater in his film Boyhood, to link the hands of farflung years and give them a shared motive and added resonance. The clumsy elements are far outweighed by the keen eye and dry wit.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nicola

    3 1/2 stars (for the whole series) The grand finale to the rather epic 12 book series and it's suitably peculiar. I'm not particularly up with the subtle changes between the years but even I can pick out the bohemianish feel of the times now, mostly personified in the character of Scorpio Murtlock, a sexually charismatic individual who sets up his own cult and dominates his followers in very creepy ways. Almost inevitably his path crosses with Widmerpool and, drama. Of the Anthony Powell variety 3 1/2 stars (for the whole series) The grand finale to the rather epic 12 book series and it's suitably peculiar. I'm not particularly up with the subtle changes between the years but even I can pick out the bohemianish feel of the times now, mostly personified in the character of Scorpio Murtlock, a sexually charismatic individual who sets up his own cult and dominates his followers in very creepy ways. Almost inevitably his path crosses with Widmerpool and, drama. Of the Anthony Powell variety of course which means that the decidedly non charismatic Jenkins hears a bit about it through various connections and eventually gets invited to some social function which happens to provide him with the opportunity to witness it first hand. Oh Jenkins, what a disappointment you were; as bland and colourless as the waxed paper my mother used to use to wrap my school sandwiches up in. Very practical I'm sure and a lot less annoying than glad wrap but still, just plain old unexciting luncheon paper. If I had to name my major grievance with this whole series of books it would be Jenkins. Due to the vast sprawling nature of the saga, the constant stream of characters which would cross and perhaps re-cross our paths it was vitally important that the central lynchpin of the whole undertaking be someone we could all relate to. Feel interest in and be the sort of chap that it's a pleasure to spend time in company with, whether or not anything happens. Well he wasn't. In fact Mr Nicholas Jenkins was the sort of guy who said things like 'can I take your coat ma'am?' and you handed him your coat without even looking at him and would then wander off and never think of him again. In other words, luncheon paper. Leaving Jenkins to one side, which is obviously very easy to do as I've practically forgotten about him already, the conclusion to the series is pretty good. I was wondering how Powell would finish it off and he takes what I think is the correct line by (view spoiler)[. having the life of the true main character of these books (Widmerpool) come round in a perfect circle back to where he was at the start. An object of pitiable ridicule; a curious mixture of the pompous and the servile, the dominating and the slavish. Putting up with any indignity heaped on his head by those he wishes to ingratiate himself with. (hide spoiler)] And that's life - is it a comedy or a tragedy? Can we even identify which is which until looking back with a great deal of hindsight? I did enjoy this series although not as much as I hoped I would. Perhaps next time I read it will be via the audio medium. I could see myself enjoying whiling away some time in summer listening to a great narrator take me back to the events of these books. Who knows, if he's really good he might even manage to make Nicholas Jenkins entertaining.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Van Leadam

    I was unable to find how to add a review for the whole series of A Dance to the Music of Time, so I attached it to the first volume and repeat it here because of the reference to this volume: It's quite hard to summarize a reader's experience with a twelve-volume novel, even though I have to admit that I love such gigantic, epic attempts. Powell's world isn't one that fascinates me -upper class and bohemia- and most situations and actions are either insignificant or limited in scope (even with r I was unable to find how to add a review for the whole series of A Dance to the Music of Time, so I attached it to the first volume and repeat it here because of the reference to this volume: It's quite hard to summarize a reader's experience with a twelve-volume novel, even though I have to admit that I love such gigantic, epic attempts. Powell's world isn't one that fascinates me -upper class and bohemia- and most situations and actions are either insignificant or limited in scope (even with respect to all participants and observers). To start with the weak aspects, the narrator is often very lucky in that he accidentally has first-hand experience of matters and incidents at the core of each book. Still, the loose connections between the twelve themes involve quite a lot of transitions between them and, irritatingly, quite a lot of flashbacks, with characters and situations presented in dense summaries so as to explain the live action that follows. It feels too theatrically set up to glorify the narrator/author's choices and opportunities. As for the theme transitions, the new characters that appear so suddenly make it more interesting for the reader but there are few recurring elements except for Widmerpool, who's probably intended as a symbol of the changing world that amuses as well as terrifies the author. Nevertheless, a Widmerpooliad isn't fascinating enough by itself, so we get a fragmented panorama of a society over a lifetime that includes many historically critical periods. This makes it both easier and more appealing to follow all transitions and developments, and provides an overview that requires some effort but rewards it richly. Technically, the writing is quite enjoyable, especially the dialogues and descriptions (not of characters, though: too much certainty and summary conclusion). Favourite tome: The Military Philosophers, for its superb ending but also because it's not just about private, often petty matters but about their background, a world war, which constrains everything with economy and purpose. The end of the twelfth book makes me even less comfortable with the narrator: does he look down on Widmerpool and his development or is there a note of sympathy?

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lars Guthrie

    Powell comes on with full force in 'Hearing Secret Harmonies,' letting the reader run into nearly all the characters from the twelve novels of 'Dance' who are still alive, while introducing strong new ones representing the youth movement of the 70s. The nefarious Scorpio Murtlock, leader of a wiccan and satanic cult stands out. Just as 'A Dance to the Music of Time' opens with the indelible image of Widmerpool, clumsy, overbearing, yet a force of life that can't be stopped, trudging up a road, i Powell comes on with full force in 'Hearing Secret Harmonies,' letting the reader run into nearly all the characters from the twelve novels of 'Dance' who are still alive, while introducing strong new ones representing the youth movement of the 70s. The nefarious Scorpio Murtlock, leader of a wiccan and satanic cult stands out. Just as 'A Dance to the Music of Time' opens with the indelible image of Widmerpool, clumsy, overbearing, yet a force of life that can't be stopped, trudging up a road, it ends half a century and twelve books later with a vision of him, literally stripped down to no more than his cumbersome body, trudging up a road: 'I'm running, I'm running, I've got to keep it up.' The fact that he then collapses and dies doesn't diminish the persistence of that life-force, or lessen the absurd comedy of the moment. The reader is also allowed, now that narrator Nick Jenkins's presumed children are presumbably grown, glimpses of his marriage and home, perhaps a last gift in gratitude for the persistence of that reader. 'A Dance to the Music of Time' is a masterpiece of fiction that gives a picture of history more revealing than the history. To quote another unforgettable character, the profligate and Bohemian author X. Trapnel: 'People think because a novel is invented, it isn’t true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Because a novel is invented, it is true. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they can’t include every single circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that. The novelist himself lays it down. His decision is binding. The biographer, even at his best, can be only tentative, empirical. The autobiographer, for his part, is imprisoned by his own egotism. He must always be suspect. In contrast with the other two, the novelist is god, creating his man, making him breathe and walk. The man, created in his own image, provides information about the god. In a sense you know more about Balzac and Dickens from their novels, then Rousseau and Casanova from their Confessions.' Highly recommended.

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