A Question of Upbringing

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A Question of Upbringing
First edition (UK)
Author Anthony Powell
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series A Dance to the Music of Time
Publisher Heinemann
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 230 pp
Followed by A Buyer's Market

A Question of Upbringing is the opening novel in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, a twelve-volume cycle spanning much of the 20th century.

Published in 1951, it begins the story of a trio of boys, Nicholas Jenkins (the narrator), Charles Stringham, and Peter Templer, who are friends at a nameless school (based upon Powell's public school Eton College) and then move on to different paths. A fourth figure, Kenneth Widmerpool, stands slightly apart from them, poised for greatness.

The novel is concerned with the flow and transience of life and the play of time upon love and friendship. Another major theme introduced in A Question of Upbringing is the consequence of living by the will.

In presenting four very different characters - "the artist, the romantic, the cynic, and the man of will" - the author sets the scene for an extended exploration of what it means to grow and mature. The language of youth, deployed with precision, is used to depict the emergence of the boys into manhood in a period when memories of the Great War overshadow many of their elders.

The title of the book had its origin in an incident in which Powell was a passenger in a car driven by his friend, the Old Etonian screenwriter, Thomas Wilton ("Tommy") Phipps. Phipps and Powell found themselves driving straight towards an oncoming vehicle. Powell later recorded, "Seizing the hand-brake as we sped towards what seemed imminent collision, Phipps muttered to himself, 'This is just going to be a question of upbringing.'"[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Dance opens with the last year or so of their school days in 1921–22. We are also introduced to their Housemaster Le Bas and Nick's Uncle Giles. Lunching at the invitation of Stringham's mother, the glamorous Mrs Foxe, Nick meets Cdr. Buster Foxe, "a chic sailor", and Miss 'Tuffy' Weedon. On leaving school Jenkins visits the Templers, setting eyes for the first time on Templer's sullen sister Jean and meeting the older Sunny Farebrother and Jimmy Stripling.

Later Nick is sent off to France to learn the language, staying at La Grenadière, where Widmerpool puts in an appearance, displaying unexpected powers of persuasion.

The final chapter sees Nick at university where he enjoys afternoon tea with Professor Sillery and meets Mark Members for the first time, JG Quiggin, and Bill Truscott. Quiggins borrows a book by Michael Arlen--The Green Hat from Nick. A car outing with Templer, Bob Duport and Jimmy Brent turns to minor disaster when Templer drives them into a ditch. The book ends in London with Nick, having had a dinner with Stringham cancelled, meeting Uncle Giles for dinner. Uncle Giles was reading Some Things that Matter by George Allardice Riddell.


  1. ^ Faces in My Time (Heinemann, London, 1980)