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An Afternoon Man

Anthony Powell has been variously called “the English Proust” and “a master of wit, paradox and social delineation”; Kingsley Amis said, “I would rather read Mr. Powell than any English novelist now writing.”  He was an admired contemporary, friend, or patron of such important 20th-century figures as Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Cyril Connolly, George Orwell, Osbert Lancaster, Sacheverell Sitwell, Constant Lambert, Cecil Beaton, John Betjeman, and Malcolm Muggeridge.  His 12-volume novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time has been dubbed “the greatest modern novel since Ulysses” (Clive James) and “one of English fiction’s few twentieth-century masterpieces” (John Lanchester).

It is unnecessary here to provide full details of Powell’s life, which are comprehensively supplied in both of the books under review, but it may be useful to sketch in the chief landmarks.  Powell (pronounced “Po-ell”) was born in London in 1905, the only child of an army captain of Welsh squirearchy antecedents who later rose to the rank of colonel, and of Maud Wells-Dymoke, distantly descended from the Lincolnshire family who were—indeed still are—hereditary King’s Champions.  (King’s Champions are supposed to be present on horseback, fully armored, whenever each new monarch is being crowned in case there are...

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