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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jan-18 > Making of the leisured classes

Making of the leisured classes

Anthony Powell was a beady observer of his own caste, argues Fatema Ahmed

Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator of A Dance to the Music of Time, notes that “human life is largely lived at surface level.” The value of the remarkable 12-volume cycle of novels that is Anthony Powell’s monument lies not in any psychological depth, but in its social comedy and pungent insider’s analysis of the aristocratic circles in which the author moved. Those qualities have won him the admiration of Marxist historians as well as belles-lettrists. Perry Anderson has said: “There is no other work in the annals of European fiction that attempts meticulously to recreate half a century of history, decade by decade, with anything like the emotional precision or details of Powell’s 12 volumes.”

It wasn’t easy for him, though. In The Acceptance World, the third novel in the cycle, Jenkins is struggling with writing a novel. The problem, as he sees it, is that, “intricacies of social life make English habits unyielding to simplification.” He compares himself to an Oxford contemporary called Mark Members, who is making much better progress as a man of letters: “Viewed from some distance off, Members and I might reasonably be considered almost identical units of the same organism, scarcely to be differentiated even by the same sociological expert.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January 2018 issue: Five writers attempt to plot the impending advances in shopping, politics, sex, food and computing through 2018. James Plunkett looks at shopping and explains how personalised prices will hand even more power to the big companies; Theo Bertram outlines why political volatility is here to stay and what it means for us; Kate Devlin argues that sex robots are only a part of the impending sexual revolution; Stephanie Boland outlines why we’ll all end up eating lab grown food; and Jay Elwes explains the next steps in our computing quantum leap. Elsewhere in the issue: Dani Rodrik uncovers the truth behind the great globalisation lie—there were always going to be losers, Iona Craig delves into the war in Yemen—the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, Chris Tilbury explains why Britain urgently needs a plan for its failing prisons