Understanding Anthony Powell
Suggesting that the literary world is just beginning to realize the extent of Anthony Powell's achievements, Nicholas Birns provides a fresh examination of the British writer's career and growing reputation in this introduction to his work. Birns takes a global view of Powell's corpus, situating his works in context and explaining his place among Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Henry Green, in the second generation of British modernists. Birns adds to the understanding of how Powell and his compatriots pioneered a next wave modernism in which experimentation and traditional narrative combined in a sustainable mode. Birns offers readings of Powell's entire oeuvre, including the novels Afternoon Men, Venusberg, and The Fisher King, and his journals, which appeared in print between 1995 and 1997. Looking especially closely at A Dance to the Music of Time, the twelve-volume sequence of novels that is Powell's masterpiece, Birns sets the series in its social and historical context, emphasizing the role that both world wars and the cold war played in Powell's life and writing. opportunistic Widmerpool, a social climber who delights in his own good fortune and gloats over the sufferings of others. While noting Widmerpool's central position, Birns illumines Powell's subtle aesthetic resistance, epitomized by minor characters and the voice of the narrator, against Widmerpool and his ilk. Birns shows that instead of setting forth a single champion against evil, Powell subtly communicates a half-melancholy, half-humorous sensibility in which he invites the reader to share.
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