#1951 Club: Anthony Powell’s ‘A Question of Upbringing’

One of my reading aims for the year was to read Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time in its entirety. Alas, my plan to tackle a book a month fell at the first hurdle, and thus far I have only read the very first volume of the twelve, A Question of Upbringing. As I’d planned to blog about the books in threes, at the end of each ‘season’, I haven’t yet penned my thoughts on this volume, and as it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll finish the series this year, fortune has smiled upon me as it fits nicely into the 1951 Club hosted by Karen (Kaggsysbookishramblings) and Simon (Stuckinabook).


The book begins with Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator, and his pals Charles Stringham and Peter Templar suffering the strictures of public school life. Visits to each other’s homes during the vacation reveal startling differences in their home lives, and what seemed like eternal bonds at school, show signs of strain as they each embark upon a university degree or career. As cracks begin to appear in their friendship, it seems at times like the only thing they have left in common is their shared mockery and disdain for their bumbling school-friend, Kenneth Widmerpool. Widmerpool crops up again unexpectedly  when Jenkins takes a trip to France, the section of the novel that I enjoyed most due to Powell’s comedic character descriptions.

In many ways A Question of Upbringing feels more like an introduction to the novel as a whole, with numerous characters making an entrance, but little happening in way of plot. That said, it does catch the boys on that cusp between adulthood and Powell captures the naivety of Jenkins with great warmth and humour.

…now the extraordinary smoothness with which she glided across the polished boards, the sensation that we were holding each other close, and yet, in spite of such proximity, she remained at the same time aloof and separate, the pervading scent with which she drenched herself, and, above all, the feeling that all this offered something further, some additional and violent assertion of the will, was – almost literally – intoxicating. The revelation was something far more universal in implication than a mere sense of physical attraction towards Lady McReith. It was realisation, in a moment of time, not only of her own possibilities, far from inconsiderable ones, but also of other possibilities that life might hold; and my chief emotion was surprise.

I wanted and expected to enjoy A Question of Upbringing. I’ve read so many rave reviews, but perhaps I read it too soon after Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited which it has a lot in common with, but without Waugh’s inimitable bite. I will continue the series at some point but I think I’ll have to wait for the right mood to strike.