Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance

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First edition (publ. William Morrow) ThreeFarmersOnTheirWayToADance.jpg
First edition (publ. William Morrow)

Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance is Richard Powers' first novel written over two years and published in 1985 to critical acclaim.[ citation needed ]

Richard Powers American novelist

Richard Powers is an American novelist whose works explore the effects of modern science and technology. His novel The Echo Maker won the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction. He has also won many other awards over the course of his career, including a MacArthur Fellowship. As of 2018 Powers has published twelve novels, and has taught at the University of Illinois and Stanford Universities.

Plot summary

The novel follows the journeys of three young European boys represented in a circa 1913 or 1914 photograph by August Sander. Two parallel narratives - one in the voice suspected to be the author, whose surname, we learn, starts with P - offer contemporary perspectives and illustrate the interconnectedness of events. These voices provide contemporary perspectives on technology, the major theme of the novel. A series of rather academic essays on the nature of photography, including quotes from Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt - in the authorial narrative voice of Mr P - are interspersed with the story.

August Sander German photographer

August Sander was a German portrait and documentary photographer. Sander's first book Face of our Time was published in 1929. Sander has been described as "the most important German portrait photographer of the early twentieth century."

Walter Benjamin German literary critic, philosopher and social critic (1892-1940)

Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German Jewish philosopher, cultural critic and essayist. An eclectic thinker, combining elements of German idealism, Romanticism, Western Marxism, and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory, literary criticism, and historical materialism. He was associated with the Frankfurt School, and also maintained formative friendships with thinkers such as playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem. He was also related by law to German political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt through her first marriage to Benjamin's cousin, Günther Anders.

Hannah Arendt German-American Jewish philosopher and political theorist

Johanna "Hannah" Cohn Arendt was a German-born American philosopher and political theorist. Her many books and articles on topics ranging from totalitarianism to epistemology have had a lasting influence on political theory. Arendt is widely considered one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century.

The story begins with the authorial narrative voice of Mr P. first sighting the photograph taken in the months before the outbreak of World War I of three young boys in Germany - a photograph which is titled Three Farmers on their Way to a Dance and which is being exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The novel follows the fictional fates of these three young men in war time, as well as the stories of Peter Mays, a technical editor for a 1980s electronics magazine and Mr P - the first person narrator of sections of the novel - who is obsessed with the photograph and with concepts of photography and technology.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Powers's later novel Galatea 2.2 , published in 1995, uses the first person perspective of semifictional narrator Richard Powers to describe to a large extent the conditions under which Powers wrote Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.

<i>Galatea 2.2</i> book by Richard Powers

Galatea 2.2 is a 1995 pseudo-autobiographical novel by American writer Richard Powers and a contemporary reworking of the Pygmalion myth. The book's narrator shares the same name as Powers, with the book referencing events and books in the author's life while mentioning other events that may or may not be based upon Powers' life.

Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance attempts to balance the technological advancements that caused the large scale deaths in World War I with those that created art for the masses in the form of photography.


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