A Dance to the Music of Time has been repeatedly castigated for its alleged incoherence, for its chaotic nature. Powell has not been spared the criticism he himself expressed about John Aubrey’s Brief Lives: ‘There, loosely woven together, is a kind of tapestry of the good and evil, the ingenuity and the folly, the integrity and the hypocrisy, the eccentricity, the melancholy, and the greatness of the English race.’1 This torrential description of an all-encompassing subject-matter might apply to perfection to Powell’s magnum opus which can equally easily accommodate quotations from Proust or Robert Burton, night-club songs from the 1920s, Welsh hymns or bouts of gossip, which is likewise fascinated by human oddities, which relishes gossip and collects anecdotes. If we bear in mind the long debate on the art of fiction which opposed Henry James to H. G. Wells between 1911 and 1915, there can be no doubt that Powell’s series follows the principle of ‘saturation’2 advocated by Wells rather than that of ‘selection’.3 Wells championed a novel of amplification, exhaustive, abundant, freed from too rigid and cramping requirements and capable of developing according to a ‘lax freedom of form, [a] rambling discursiveness, [a] right to roam’.4 It is indubitable that, in its panoramic scope, A Dance to the Music of Time partakes of the ‘omnibus novel’, that it is very much in the tradition of the ‘loose and baggy monster’.


Jigsaw Puzzle Involuntary Memory Human Oddity Torrential Description Gallant Behaviour 
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Copyright information

© Isabelle Joyau 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isabelle Joyau
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Paris III — Sorbonne NouvelleFrance

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