ENTRY: Powys, John Cowper
John Cowper Powys (b. October 8, 1872 - d. June 17, 1963) was a British writer, lecturer,
He was born and raised in Shirley, Derbyshire, where his father was vicar. His mother was descended from the poet
William Cowper, hence his middle name. His two younger brothers, Llewelyn Powys and Theodore Francis
Powys, also became well-known writers. Other brothers and sisters also became prominent in the
arts. John schooled at Sherborne School and went up to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
He later became a teacher and lecturer; as lecturer, he worked first in England, then in continental Europe and
finally in the USA, where he lived in the years 1904-1934. While in the United States, his work was
championed by author Theodore Dreiser. He engaged in public debate with Bertrand Russell and the
philosopher and historian Will Durant: he was called for the defence in the first obscenity trial
for the James Joyce novel, Ulysses.
He made his name as a poet and essayist, moving on to produce a series of acclaimed novels distinguished
by their uniquely detailed and intensely sensual recreation of time, place and character and sense of
the British landscape. They also describe heightened states of awareness resulting from mystic revelation.
The best known of these distinctive novels are A Glastonbury Romance and Wolf Solent.
Having returned to the UK, he lived in England for a brief time,
then moved to Corwen in Wales, where he wrote historical romances (including two set in Wales)
and magical fantasies. He later moved to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where he remained until his death in 1963.
Powys' novels are legendary for their massive size and numerous characters. In addition to their scope
Powys' books can be difficult because of their many obscure references to Welsh culture and
mythology. Other sources of difficulty for the contemporary reader are Powys' obsession with the
occult and a pagan animist world view which, among other things, endowed inanimate objects like
the sun in A Glastonbury Romance with souls and points of view. The appeal of Powys eludes
some readers, while others are deeply moved. He also wrote short stories, and autobiography, and
Wolf Solent (1929)
A Glastonbury Romance (1933)
Weymouth Sands (1934)
Maiden Castle (1936)
Made in Staffordshire, England. © 2007.
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