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Anthony Powell (Anthony Dymoke Powell) Biography

(1905–2000), (Anthony Dymoke Powell), What's Become of Waring, Afternoon Men, Venusberg

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English novelist, born in London, educated at Balliol College, Oxford. At his prep school in Kent he met Henry Yorke (later the novelist, Henry Green) and both subsequently attended Eton and Oxford. Their chance meeting, Powell acknowledged, foreshadowed a constant theme in his fiction, the part that coincidence and chance play in life. At Eton his contemporaries included George Orwell, Harold Acton, Robert Byron, and Cyril, Connolly; at Oxford, Maurice Bowra and Evelyn Waugh. He started work for Duckworth's, the publishers, in 1926, a period evoked in What's Become of Waring (1939), which amusingly explores the belief that ‘Authorship is only impressive to those in the book business’. In 1934 he married the authoress Lady Violet Pakenham. His first novel, Afternoon Men (1931), with its background of supper dances and country houses, nightclubs, pubs, and London office life, was followed by Venusberg (1932), set in a mythic Baltic capital; From a View to a Death (1933), about village a society; and Agents and Patients (1936), a farcical work about a diffident young man of means who emerges, after experiences with a film man and a psychiatrist, as master of his fate. These works, with their distinctive black humour and laconic delivery, distinguished Powell as one of the most promising novelists of his generation. During the Second World War he served in the Welch Regiment and the Intelligence Corps while working on his biography of John Aubrey (1948). Powell's 12-volume opus, A Dance to the Music of Time (195175), is recognized as one of the great fiction achievements of the twentieth century. Its title is drawn from Poussin's painting of the same name and echoes Proust's A la recherche du temps perdus. Both roman-à-clef and Bildungsroman, the sequence is narrated by the elusive Nicholas Jenkins, whose story begins in A Question of Upbringing (1951) and ends in Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975). At the core of a cast of hundreds, drawn in the main from the upper echelons of society, is Kenneth Widmerpool, son of a liquid manure manufacturer. All the characters are carefully choreographed dancers moving ‘slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognizable shape: or (break) into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving to the pattern’. Powell has subsequently concentrated on his four-volume autobiography, To Keep the Ball Rolling (197682), a testimony to his obsession with genealogy, and which gives considerable insights into the creation of his masterpiece. His later fiction includes O, How the Wheel Becomes It! (1983) and The Fisher King (1986). Miscellaneous Verdicts: Writings on Writers, 1946–1989 (1990) and Under Review: Further Writings on Writers, 1946–1989 (1991) are collections of essays; Powell's Journals, 1982–1986 were published in 1995.

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