Dance to the Music of Time (Powell)

Discussion Questions 
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Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help you get a discussion started for A Dance to the Music of Time:

1. Talk about how the four young men we meet in the first volume suggest "types" in society, i.e., artist, romantic, cynic, and man of will. What characteristics do each of the four possess that follow "type"? Are those types still relevant today? Are there other "types" you might add?

2. Widmerpool is one of the work's most interesting, if unpleasant, characters. What do the incidents of the banana smashed in his face and, in France, his scolding of Jenkins about his poor manners reveal about Widmerpool and his future career in business and politics?

3. Take any one or number of the individual book titles and talk about its (symbolic) meaning or relevance to the events of the story. For instance, what is the "buyer's market" in the second novel? What are the "commodities" being offered at all the social gatherings Jenkins attends? Or at the work's end... who are the"military philosophers" and what philosophy gets espoused?

4. Discuss the title, A Dance to The Music of Time, and its artistic provenance from Nicholas Poussaint's painting. What does it suggest about the quality of life—does it hint at life as a series of random events or the unfolding of an orderly plan? Refer to Jenkin's thoughts about the painting and how it reflects his version of life.

5. During the first two Movements, how do the events of two world wars, one past and one on the horizon, shape the lives of the main characters? From our vantage of historical hindsight, it is hard for readers not to see characters' destinies as already charted (or fated) by the historical events that hang over them. Do you feel that way, or not?

6. Jenkins rejects a life or career based on an exertion of will (as we see in Widmerpool or Sir Magnus), preferring instead a more "romantic" inaction or passiveness. But once he meets Conyers, he recognizes a different type of willfulness—an "introverted will," which he approves. What does he mean by introverted will and how does it differ from Widmerpool's type of willfulness?

7. Talk about the role of women in A Dance—how do they reflect the men who become involved with them. Consider, for instance, Mildred and Conyer's remark that the man who marries her must be "a man with a will of his own." Or what about Jenkins' affair with with Gypsy Jones and his later marriage to Isobel. Do women have any real concrete role in this work at all...or are they merely reflections of the men who surround them?

8. Over the course of this opus, how does Nick Jenkins change? The war, in particular, changes his life, destroying many of his connections with the past. If we define ourselves by our previous experiences, the past, how does Nick learn to compensate, how does he come to redefine his identity?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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