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Preposterously British


Discussed in this essay:

Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time, by Hilary Spurling. Knopf. 480 pages. $35.

There are about four hundred named characters in A Dance to the Music of Time, a twelve-novel sequence that Anthony Powell, an En­glish writer who pronounced his last name “Pole,” published between 1951 and 1975. One of the most appealing is Aylmer Conyers, a retired general who’s nearly eighty when, in 1934, Powell’s narrator, Nick Jenkins, meets him at a party. Con­yers is an old friend of Jenkins’s grandparents, possibly a distant cousin, and family gossip portrays him as a colorful relic of Victorian imperialism. “Supposed to have saved the life of some native ruler in a local rumpus,” Jenkins’s uncle once explained. “Armed the palace eunuchs. . . . Fellow gave him a jewelled scimitar—semi-precious stones, of course.” But Conyers—who has been spending his retirement trying to prove that “poodles, owing to their keen natural intelligence, could profitably be trained as gun dogs”—soon disconcerts Jenkins by steering their conversation in an un-Victorian direction:

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is a contributing editor of the London Review of Books. His most recent article for Harper’s Magazine, “Likely Story,” appeared in the December 2016 issue.

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