To earn the reputation of a literary giant within the generation of Waugh, Orwell, and Greene is no mean feat. To do so with the grace and genius that characterized Anthony Powell--whose twelve-volume "A Dance to the Music of Time" is possibly the only English-language work to match the majestic scope of Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past"--is nothing short of spectacular. Yet Powell himself remains absent from his writing; he was, said the "New York Times," "a writer of mordant succinctness who rewards the reader while revealing little of himself."
Powell did eventually reveal himself in four volumes of memoirs, published between 1976 and 1982. This edition of Anthony Powell's "Memoirs" is an abridged and revised version of those volumes, a version that has never before been published in this form in the United States. The result is not only a fascinating view of Powell as a man and an author but also a unique history of British literary society and the social elite Powell lampooned and moved within from the twenties through the eighties. From Eton and Oxford to his life as a novelist and critic, Powell observes all--the obscenity trial sparked by "Lady Chatterley's Lover"; Shirley Temple's libel suit after Graham Greene reviewed "Wee Willie Winkie" "with even more than his usual verve"--and paints vivid portraits of Kingsley Amis, V.S. Naipaul, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and countless others. Most importantly, Powell's lively memoirs banish all thought of the man as a relic of the British gentry. He was a modernist, a Tory, and more than a little interested in genealogy and peerage, but a man who, according to Ferdinand Mount, "miraculously knew what life was like."