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1st July 2020 - - 0 comments
A dance to the music of time

I have been thinking about Anthony Powell's series of novels A Dance to the Music of Time. For those who have not read them, or watched the excellent 1997 adaptation by Channel 4, the 12-part sequence tracks the characters in the ups and downs of their friendships, marriages, careers and lives.

Powell's inspiration for the books was Poussin's painting (now in the Wallace Collection) of the same name in which the 4 seasons dance in a ring, facing outwards, and symbolise the passage of time. In the books, the characters weave in and out of each other's lives, sometimes successful, sometimes failing, sometimes tragic but all of them inexorably getting older, hopefully wiser and connecting, separating, reconnecting as they go.

Although society has moved on from the period of the books (set between 1921 and 1971), there much relevance still to be found in them. Friendships formed in childhood that continue throughout our lives, the ups and downs of our careers, the new partnerships we make in adulthood, the triumphs and disappointments we deal with.

The characters make misjudgements - show me the person who hasn't done that. They find themselves in situations they never expected - again, we've all been there. They struggle with new social and political concepts - something that never stops. They form disastrous relationships in both romantic and business contexts - need I say more? The joy of the twelve books is the perspective the reader gets on the ups and downs of life. No one comes through unscathed but that is the thrill of it.

If you have lived a life without disappointments, successes, setbacks or joys, then you haven't lived at all. If you assume that your disappointments, successes and so on are at an end, then you are in for a shock. What matters is what we do with our experiences. Perhaps the most significant character arc of the books is that of Widmerpool, a slightly unlikeable, striving person in the beginning who's end is...well I won't spoil for those who haven't read it but his end is definitely not what you would have expected at the beginning.

Members of the Pluralists Club come from a remarkably wide range of backgrounds and have between them myriad experiences and that's what makes them such a dynamic and successful group. I don't know how their stories will pan out, any more than I know how my own will. That's the whole point; none of us do. We just have to join the dance and see where the music takes us.

 

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