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"Things real and imagined" : the narrator-reader in Anthony Powell’s A dance to the music of time Beckett, Judith Rosalyn


Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time is a "fictional memoir" in which the narrator, Nick Jenkins, describes the events and characters he has observed throughout his life. As such, the primary focus of the novel would seem to be those characters and events, but the way in which Nick relates his story has a considerable impact on the narrative, and, therefore, on that primary focus. Powell has not only chosen to employ a first-person narrator, thereby establishing a specific, and individual, narrative voice, or point of view, but he also has that narrator consume much of novel by describing his perceptions of the world he observes, and this brings into focus the nature of that perspective. Hence, this paper examines the nature of Nick's role in the novel, both as character and narrator, and attempts to delineate the effect that that role has on the novel as a whole. Essentially, Nick can be characterized as a "reader" who, in effect, "interprets" the characters and events he describes, thereby contributing his imagination to their "construction". Whether he reads actual texts or observes human behaviour, Nick engages in an interpretative process which is analogous to that in which a reader interprets a text: interpreting "signs", constructing "causes", translating texts into images and "meaning-bearing" ideas, and subjecting his own "reading" to scrutiny, thereby effectively "rereading" previous "interpretations". As a "reader", Nick is interested in more than mere description: he not only desires to understand the nature of the people with whom he is involved, but also to appreciate the significance of the events he witnesses, so as to form a kind of pattern which would reveal the central themes of an age. In so doing, he does not merely relate "what happens", thereby "putting up a mirror" to his past; he also describes his experience of that past, so that the narrative does not so much present "reality", as it presents Nick’s perception of reality. Nick's characterization as a "reader" is founded on specific theories regarding the nature of the reading process, especially as they apply to the relationship between reader and text, and, therefore, the products of his "interpretations" are considered in relation to the creation of fiction. In essence, Nick's "reading" results in the construction of the characters and events he observes, so that ultimately he creates "fictions". In other words, because he does not present "reality", nor even a "reconstruction" of reality, but a "reconstruction" of his perception of that reality, Nick, in fact, "creates" his narrative, thereby constructing fiction. Hence, just as a reader creates the fiction of a novel by interpreting its text, so too does Nick produce fiction by "interpreting" the world he is portraying. Thus, in his "search for knowledge", in his efforts to understand the world around him, Nick "creates" that world, so that knowledge would seem to be the product of the observer's, or "reader's", construction - in essence; a fiction.

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