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John Cooper Powys Biography

(1872–1963), Odes, Poems, Wood and Stone, Rodmoor, Ducdame, Wolf Solent, A Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands

British novelist, poet, and polemicist, born in Derbyshire, educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The son of a clergyman and brother of Llewelyn and Theodore Powys, he spent his boyhood in the West Country, which was later to feature in many of his novels. Between 1904 and 1934, he lived in the USA before settling in North Wales. He published Odes (1896) and Poems (1899), but only with his first novel Wood and Stone (1915) did he discover an appropriate form in which to express his idiosyncratic vision. Focusing on the relationships between the members of a small, rural community, the work contains many of the pre-occupations—the conflict between pagan and Christian elements, and sex and sensuality—developed in his later work. Rodmoor (1916), set in a small town, deals with the complex relationships between pairs of lovers, and is written in a highly charged, symbolic language which mirrors the disintegration into madness of the novel's main protagonist, Adrian Sorio. Ducdame (1925) counterpoints the stories of the protagonists, mirroring the struggle between death wish and life force, a theme to which Powys's fiction frequently returns. Wolf Solent (1929) follows its eponymous hero from London to Dorset, where he takes up a post as secretary to the eccentric Squire Urquhart, falls in love with the innocent Christie Malakite, but ends up marrying the sensual but faithless Gerda Torp. A Glastonbury Romance (1932), his best-known novel, was followed by Weymouth Sands (1934, NY; published in Britain as Jobber Skald, 1935, for libel reasons but later republished under its original title), which deals with the violent attraction of Jobber Skald for Perdita Wane and his equally violent hatred for Dogberry Cattistock. The novel displays characteristics associated with Powys's mature work, including subjects such as vivisection, mental illness, and sexual energy. Maiden Castle (1936), set in Wessex, concerns the ‘death quest’ of its protagonist, Dud No-Man, in order to ‘solve the meaning of death itself’. Morwyn (1937), in the form of a letter from the narrator to his son, describes a descent into Hell, where Torquemada, Socrates, and Rabelais are amongst those encountered. Owen Glendower (1940), set in fifteenth-century Wales, concerning the Welsh uprising against the English, was followed by Porius (1951), which incorporates the author's reworking of Welsh mythology, Arthurian romance, and Blakean symbolism. Other later works include The Inmates (1952); Atlantis (1954); The Brazen Head (1956); and All or Nothing (1960). Visionary, strange, and idiosyncratic, Powys's novels question orthodoxies of all kinds, offering, in place of the life-denying limitations of modern, technological society, a celebration of individual potential and cosmic wholeness. As an essayist and polemicist, he is best remembered for In Defence of Sensuality (1930) and A Philosophy of Solitude (1934). His critical works include The Enjoyment of Literature (1938), and he also published a revealing Autobiography (1934). See The Demon Within (1973) by John Brebner and The Brothers Powys (1983) by R. P. Graves.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog to Rabbit Tetralogy