novelist, whose initial reputation as a satirist and light comedian rests on five pre‐war books, beginning with Afternoon Men (1931), which maps a characteristically seedy section of pleasure‐loving, party‐going London.
After the war he embarked on a more ambitious sequence of twelve novels, A Dance to the Music of Time (named after Poussin's painting). Starting with A Question of Upbringing (1951) and ending with Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975), the whole is framed and distanced through the eyes of a narrator, Nicholas Jenkins, whose generation grew up in the shadow of the First World War to find their lives dislocated by the Second. Jenkins's canvas, following the perspectives of time rather than space, is hospitable and broad, especially rich in literary and artistic hangers‐on, stiffened by a solid contingent from society, politics, and the City, enlivened and sometimes convulsed by eccentrics, derelicts, and drop‐outs of all classes and conditions. Against these looms Kenneth Widmerpool, one of the most memorable characters of 20th‐cent. fiction, whose ruthless pursuit of power,—which carries him from innately ludicrous beginnings to a position of increasingly formidable, eventually sinister, authority,—is the chief of many threads binding this panoramic view of England. Powell's memoirs were published in four vols, 1976–82, under the general title To Keep the Ball Rolling. Later works include the novels O, How the Wheel Becomes It! (1983) and The Fisher King (1986); two volumes of criticism, Miscellaneous Verdict (1990) and Under Review (1992); and Journals 1982–6 (1995).