Posts Tagged ‘john cowper powys’

I hope to say a little more of some of these exceptional titles in due course; but let me first say quickly that as of now all are available to order in Finds:
Scenes of Childhood by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Power of the Dead and The Phoenix Generation by Henry Williamson
Lucy Carmichael and The Feast by Margaret Kennedy
Mockery Gap and Innocent Birds by T.F. Powys
The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire by Alan Palmer
Marshal Pétain by Richard Griffiths
We Come Unseen: The Untold Story of Britain’s Cold War Submariners by Jim Ring
The Memsahibs: The Women of Victorian India by Pat Barr
The Great Violinists and The Great Cellists by Margaret Campbell
The Art of Happiness by John Cowper Powys


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The Powys family, JC standing second from right, TF to his left

The union of Reverend Charles Francis Powys and his wife Mary Cowper Johnson evidently contained some rare creative power, producing as it did eleven children, seven of whom became published authors. (The Powys Society website ably chronicles and celebrates this family saga.)
The most celebrated of the offspring was, of course, John Cowper Powys (1872-1963), he of Wolf Solent (1929) and A Glastonbury Romance (1932), the latter famously rated by George Steiner as ‘the only novel produced by an English writer that can fairly be compared with the fictions of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.’
Since 2008 Finds has returned to print a selection of JC Powys’s earlier novels – Wood and Stone (1915), Rodmoor (1916), After My Fashion (1919), Ducdame (1925) – and also of those that followed his greatest successes – namely Morwyn (1937), The Inmates (1952), Atlantis (1954), and The Brazen Head (1956). Late last year this republishing plan resumed with his Autobiography (1934), in which he asserted:

‘I have tried to write my life as if I were confessing to a priest, a philosopher, and a wise old woman. I have tried to write as if I were going to be executed when it was finished. I have tried to write it as if I were both God and Devil.’

This is merely to give some flavour of what JC Powys tried that so few then or since would or could hope to emulate… We follow on this month with the reissue of his The Meaning of Culture (1929) and In Defense of Sensuality (1930).
Meantime we proceed also with the returning to print of John’s but-slightly younger brother Theodore Francis (T.F.) Powys (1875-1953), a decidedly more ascetic figure but no less of a literary powerhouse. Mr. Tasker’s Gods (1925) opened our republishing, this month we have his selected stories, God’s Eyes A-Twinkle, and to follow in coming months are Mark Only (1924), Fables (1929), Innocent Birds (1926) and Mockery Gap (1925).
For those coming fresh to the Powys’s works, back in 2001 the philosopher and critic John Gray wrote a splendid comparative appraisal of JC and TF in the New Statesman. He noted first the enduringly ‘modern’ sensibility of John Cowper:

‘His novels are studies in introspection, in which only subjective sensation has reality and the central business of life is the search for a personal mythology. Seeing human relationships as encounters between solitary consciousnesses, he has no interest in class or ambition. He writes about sex without the least trace of moralising. An inveterate sceptic, he sees religions and philosophies as works of art, to be used for their aesthetic qualities and discarded when they cease to please. Even today, these are faintly subversive attitudes…’

By comparison Theodore Francis is the sort of writer whose work might be as easily blazed in mosaics in some moss-grown temple as printed on demand and in e-book… But this deep-rooted quality is what should speak to the contemporary reader. As Gray goes on:

“By all conventional standards, T F Powys is the least modern of writers. His novels and short stories are set in a landscape as far removed as possible from anything smart or urban – a fantastical version of English village life, in which human emotions work themselves out against a backdrop of brooding countryside… He sets his tales in a grotesquely exaggerated rural landscape, not because he has any nostalgia for the way of life it may once have contained, but because, by doing so, he is free to strip human beings down to their barest elements – their lust, greed, cruelty and stupidity, and the mixture of dread and yearning with which they respond to the prospect of death… The greatest value of his work, though, is in showing that it is still possible to write about the primordial human experiences to which religion is a response. Secular writers tend to steer clear of them, and end up stuck in the shallows of politics or fashion. On the other hand, Christian writers are mostly precious and unpersuasive, like T S Eliot, or else more or less openly fraudulent, like Graham Greene. Very few 20th-century authors have the knack of writing convincingly of first and last things. A religious writer without any vestige of belief, Theodore Powys is one of them.’

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The young Elizabeth David, whose last work is reissued in Finds this month (see left)

Precisely what, you may ask, is Finds making available to readers this month? Answer, as ever: a grand assortment of outstanding fiction and non-fiction titles that deserve renewed attention, and these are they:
Margaret Kennedy, The Midas Touch
Siegfried Lenz, The Heritage
T.F. Powys, God’s Eyes A-Twinkle
William Sansom, Bed of Roses
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Winter in the Air and Other Stories
Henry Williamson, Love and the Loveless
J.D. Bernal, Science in History vol.3: The Natural Sciences in Our Time
Elizabeth David, Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices
F.W. Deakin, The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism
Amos Elon, Jerusalem: City of Mirrors
John Grigg, Lloyd George: The People’s Champion, 1902-1911
Timothy Mowl, Stylistic Cold Wars: Betjeman Versus Pevsner
John Cowper Powys, In Defence of Sensuality
Notes and perspectives on a few of these will follow.

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