A Question Of Upbringing, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


The opening novel in Anthony Powell's brilliant twelve-novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time


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Sillery showed interest in this remark, in spite of his evident dissatisfaction at the manner in which Miss Weedon treated him. He seemed unable to decide upon her precise status in the household: which was, indeed, one not easy to assess. It was equally hard to guess what she knew, or thought, of Sillery; whether she appreciated the extent of his experience in such situations as that which had arisen in regard to Stringham. Sitting opposite him, she seemed to have become firmer and more masculine; while Sillery himself, more than ever, took the shape of a wizard or shaman, equipped to resist either man or woman from a bisexual vantage.I am starting a year-long re-read of A Dance to the Music of Time, having originally read them in the late 1990s, shortly after the BBC series aired. A Question of Upbringing is one of the books I remember best, as it covers the narrator's time at public school (unnamed, but obviously Eton) and University. Later in the series the books merged together in my memory, and I couldn't tell you which events happens in each book. The first time I read this book, I don' think I noticed the resemblance to Brideshead Revisited, probably because events are spread out over more than one book. but Stringham's story is story is very similar to Sebastian Flyte's, and characters talk about his mother's estate much in the same ways as people talked about Brideshead. There is a similar car crash while the characters are at university. and although Jean is Templer's sister and not Stringham's, Nicholas's relationship with her over the years reminds me of Charles Ryder's with Julia Flyte. It's a good start to the series, telling an interesting story while it introduces many of the characters who will drift in and out of the narrator's life over the years. I just wish Nicholas Jenkins wasn't such a colourless presence in the books. The way he tells us about the lives of his friends and acquaintances but leaves us guessing about important events in his own life becomes ever more irritating over the course of the series.
Review by

This is the opening volume in Anthony Powell's celebrated twelve novel, largely autobiographical sequence "A Dance to the Music of Time", recounted by Nicholas Jenkins, a barely disguised cipher for Powell himself.Let me first declare an interest. I have read this sequence many times before, and have been writing (for what seems like several years) a detailed analysis of it and other "romans fleuves" (including Proust's "A la recherche du temps perdu", C. P. Snow's "Strangers and Brothers" and Simon Raven's "Alms for Oblivion"), so I am rather biased.The first thing to say is that this is not a novel in which much actually happens, though the portrayals of characters and the observations of their interactions are acute and highly entertaining. "A Question of Upbringing" introduces us to Jenkins himself (though one of the most striking aspects of the whole sequence is how relatively little we ever seem to learn about Jenkins/Powell) along with several characters who will feature throughout the rest of the canon.It opens in the early 1920s with Jenkins attending a school (clearly Eton, though never formally identified as such) where his closest confreres are Charles Stringham and Peter Templer, with whom Jenkins strikes up close bonds. Stringham, who comes from a wealthy but broken home, leaves the school early on in the book, going off to East Africa to spend some time with his estranged father. Jenkins and Templer remain at the school a bit longer until Templer also departs. Other notable characters to whom we are introduced in this section include Le Bas, a querulous yet also long-suffering schoolmaster with aesthetic aspirations, and Widmerpool, a slightly older pupil than Jenkins and his friends, who is notable principally for his lack of conformity.As the story moves on we join Jenkins on a visit to Templer's home where he is introduced to Jean, Templer's sister, with whom he promptly falls in (unrequited) love and Sunny Farebrother, a seemingly down-at-heel ex-soldier who is trying to carve out a career in The City. After leaving Templer's home Jenkins spends a few weeks in France, ostensibly to learn the language, and re-encounters Widmerpool with whom he develops a stronger acquaintance than had been possible at school. Finally he moves on to Oxford where he studies history. Here we meet Sillery, a politically active don, Mark Members, a self-appointed aesthete, and Quiggin, a "professional" northerner with highy radical views. Stringham reappears, back from his Kenyan sojourn.The summary above completely fails to do justice to the beauty of the writing (the first four pages are among the most marvellous excerpts of prose I have encountered), the acute observation of the interaction of people of different classes, and the muted humour. This novel also sets the slightly melancholic tone that underpins much of the sequence, though Powell never allows this to become oppressive. A beautiful opening to an engrossing sequence.