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The Powys Society Conference 2010

Conference DVD's 

Glastonbury Tor (2002) by Rosemary Dickens

The Conference



The Powys Society Annual Conference 2010

The Wessex Hotel, Street, Somerset

Friday 20th August to Sunday 22nd August

Powys Society Conference 2010, The view towards Glastonbury Tor



An Overview (November)

The Wessex Hotel, Street (constructed in the 1970s to host boxing matches) may not be picturesque or folkloric but it had many advantages.  Bedrooms were very comfortable, bathrooms had real baths, food was good, the young Romanian staff obliging and helpful. There was a nice small bar, a convenient shopping street and easy access to Glastonbury.  Useless to deny that the average age of the Society is rising: many of us treat the conference as a holiday, and we do like our comforts...

Two out of the four speakers were unknown quantities, at opposite ends of the Glastonbury spectrum.   On Friday evening Chris Thomas introduced Paul Weston, who lives in Glastonbury, rightly referring to his encyclopedic knowledge of the mythos and superlegends of the place. PW's most recent book is Avalonian Aeon: 'from Glastonbury Festival to 2012 – a personal occult odyssey' (others are Mysterium Artorius and on Aleister Crowley). A Glastonbury Romance, that 'astounding novel', is quoted on PW's website, with Louis Wilkinson's description of JCP's transfixing power and the vital force of his identity; also JCP's own statement of wanting to express the special myth of this place where the ancient earth goddess stirred her cauldron, the proto-Grail.

PW came to Powys originally through Colin Wilson. A special interest for him is JCP's "Gnostic" view of a dual First Cause containing both good and evil (connecting with the esoteric supreme god Abraxas/ Abrasax, both God and Devil). His informal talk mainly dealt with the chance discoveries and coincidences that guided him to reading Glastonbury three times in a year....  His favourite chapter is "Maundy Thursday", with its scene of the feast at the Vicarage, Isaac Weatherwax's song, and John Crow's moonlit walk up Wirral Hill and fatal encounter with Mad Bet.  On Saturday Paul led a group up this hill, via Pomparlès Bridge over the river Brue (site of John Crow's encounter with the dead cat, and his vision of Excalibur), and on to the end of the ridge and the Holy Thorn (its ribbon tributes decorously tidy), with Chalice Hill and the Tor ahead, and the Abbey ruins below.

On Saturday morning, Harald Fawkner was not prepared to grant that AGR deals with the truly supernatural at all. It is essentially naturalistic, about human nature.  Healing is natural, sympathy and pity are natural. Religion is supernatural, but no experience in AGR deals with the Soul – the "real thing" -- in the way that Wolf Solent's life is affected by the suffering of the face on the Waterloo steps. Mythology is not in itself supernatural, and fantasy is fantasy. In the multicultural life of AGR, the crisscrossed affectivity systems (Christianity included with the rest) are natural forces, human sensations (including visions). HF's chosen chapter was "Mark's Court".  Geard, whether as Merlin or as Christian, depends on his animal magnetism: his "Christ have mercy" is a human cry.

In the next talk ("now for something completely different"), Stephen Powys Marks described his researches into the neatly written, tireless Journals of his great-grandfather's great-grandmother, Caroline Powys (1738 -1817), now preserved in the British Library.  He has written a good deal on this ancestress already, especially in relation to Bath, where she spent much time and where Stephen now lives; and the conventional everyday life of this capable, observant, privileged woman gives a clear view of the social life of the time – clearer perhaps in its freedom from introspection and complex emotion, than the fiction of her acquaintance Jane Austen.  We heard Caroline (KK providing her voice) suggesting that women might, if allowed to be instructed, be as capable as men of understanding technical matters – possibly more capable.  We saw her marvelling at the efficiency of naval displays (hundreds of seamen manning the rigging, at lightning speed); noting the effects of an exceptionally hard winter in 1776 (ice ten inches thick, beer and cream frozen); and shedding tears at the departure to a far county of her daughter and grandchildren.

Saturday evening saw a re-showing of the screen test for JCP's debate on marriage with Bertrand Russell in 1929.  Those of us who saw it last time, at Kingston Maurward (17 years ago...) knew what to expect of JCP's surprising (indeed quite disturbing) appearance and body language: gleaming gimlet eyes, ferocious lower teeth, explosive delivery, hurling himself at the microphone like a strong fish in a net (or maybe like his lecturing performance, only with feet nailed to the floor).  He clearly disliked the experience, as indicated by his final glares at the camera.  If the Society can also acquire the half-minute surviving from the actual debate (this is probably what was shown on "News Reel") it will be interesting to see whether he toned it down.  Russell meanwhile, immobile in tweeds, against JCP already in his father's dinner jacket), delivered his argument for free love in measured monotone.  

Africa was the setting for this year's "entertainment", The Untold Privilege, a script compiled by Louise de Bruin with Chris Wilkinson, largely from letters between Will Powys and other members of the family who visited or worked with him in Kenya.  Llewelyn of course went there for several years during WWI, chronicling the challenging physical work, the wild landscape and threatening animals, often dwelling on the cruel or pitiful elements of colonial life. [see  p.xx] Theodore's son Theodore Cowper ("Dicky") came out in 1924, until his devastating murder by tribesmen in 1931.  Katie visited in 1933.  Gerard Casey came to live there in 1938, with Mary joining him in 1946 after they married. Will brought his family to England in 1947, and Lucy returned with them for two years (bringing family furniture and ornaments from Montacute). Gertrude went there in 1949-50, and in 1957 Marian, crippled with arthritis but undaunted.  The readings ended with Mary's diary describing the bells of Montacute church, tolling and ringing a full peal for Will when he died in Africa in October 1978, aged ninety. A series of screened family photographs accompanied the readings.

On Sunday, Anthony O'Hear, new to the Society, gave a packed, clearly argued and far-reaching analysis of AGR as a piece of serious mythologising.  His starting point was the concept of "romance" as quest and return, as in Wagner's Parsifal. AGR shares with that opera some typical themes of Romance -- the roles of chastity, renunciation, compassion, the hero as holy fool (Sam Dekker) -- but, unlike Wagner's synthesising, with JCP nothing is clear or straightforward.  Weaving his myths into modern life, sensitive to the variety of life forms, conceiving luck and ill luck as magnetic forces, toying with his readers' expectations, JCP's Grail – the purification of sensibility – can be found anywhere and everywhere in the pantomime of life. And Evans’ ‘crucifixion’, when in despairing solitude he has a vision of  the world as being nothing but pain and malice, 'would not then be as blasphemous as it might otherwise seem, but rather an exemplification of the Aeschylean teaching, that it is by affliction that we are schooled in things of the divinity'.

At the AGM, tributes were paid to two sad losses to the Society.  Glen Cavaliero spoke of Margaret Eaton, a supportive member from the earliest days, whose book shops were focal points of Powys studies. Charles Lock, a close friend of Richard Maxwell, reflected the shock of such a sudden and premature cutting-off of a friend and scholar.

Three Honorary Memberships were awarded, with grateful thanks and appreciation: to our retiring Chairman, John Hodgson, who has overseen five Conferences, to his predecessor Richard Graves, of the previous four, and to Stephen Powys Marks, contributor and Publications Manager over many years, Tim Hyman was welcomed as new Chairman. Michael French, stepping down as Treasurer after seven years, was thanked and applauded; John Dunn has agreed to take over 'for the time being'. Peter Foss (new vice-chair) was unable to be present, owing to a conflicting celebration of the Battle of Bosworth. Louise de Bruin will join the committee. Charles Lock will take Richard Maxwell's place as Journal editor for this year, and join the committee ex officio.  

A Glastonbury Quiz saw us off on a light note. Who wore a bowler hat? A purple bonnet? Who lived at The Elms?  At Cardiff Villa? What Greek philosopher was followed by Dr Fell? What book was Mr Evans writing? What was the name of Ned Athling's newspaper? What was JCP’s original title for A Glastonbury Romance?

Kate Kavanagh (November 2010)

See also:

Mary Simmonds

Christopher Uren

Geoffrey Winch




This year the conference returns to the West Country, and to Street only two miles from Glastonbury, and suitably concentrates on what for many is John Cowper Powys’s greatest novel, A Glastonbury RomanceGlastonbury is certainly Powys’s most populous work:

“Why I have the whole life of a community on my hands; with housewives, lawyers, doctors, chemists, innkeepers, procuresses, clergymen, servants, old-maids, beggars, madmen, children, poets, landowners, labourers, shop-keepers, an anarchist, dogs, cats, fish, and an airplane pilot … There are no less than six major love affairs, one murder, three births, two deaths and one raising from the dead.”

Philosophically, the book is equally speculative and wide-ranging, with its own home-made cosmology, the visions (or are they “creative lies”?) of Johnny Geard and Sam Dekker, the sceptical disenchantment of John Crow, and the scientific materialsm of his industrialist cousin Philip. Its conclusion, “Never or Always”, strikes the characteristic Powysian note of ambivalence.  I do not know what our speakers will say, but I suspect they will speak from very different points of view. Paul Weston is learned in the Arthurian myths of Glastonbury that Powys drew on deeply for his book, and which inform it, often in veiled ways, at every step. Paul will also lead us on a Saturday afternoon walk up Wirral Hill and to many of the sites made vivid in the imaginative world of the novel. Anthony O’Hear will bring an entirely different philosophical background to the book. Harald Fawkner’s talk on “modes of regeneration” suggests the many ways in which, as John Geard might have said, the imagination “brings new life” to a Terre Gastée – the “wasteland” of desolation that was known to the maediaeval romancers, to T.S. Eliot, and to Powys himself. Eivor Lindstedt, speaking about Myrddin Wyllt in Porius, will take forward the story of Merlin, who is present in symbolic and allegorical form in Glastonbury itself.

Glastonbury Tor (2002) by Rosemary Dickens Other Powyses will also be present: Stephen Powys Marks will talk about Caroline Powys (1738-1817), perhaps an exception among the country-bound Powyses, for when not in London, she longed to be in Bath. She was distantly related to Jane Austen, and her journals, spanning 52 years, provide vivid glimpses of upper class life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 

The Saturday evening entertainment produced by Chris Wilkinson and Louise de Bruin will also provide insight in to the lives of unjustly lesser-known Powyses. Katie (Philippa) Powys, whose novel The Blackthorn Winter was recently republished by the Sundial Press, is increasingly becoming recognised as a writer to rank alongside her more famous brothers. The startling landscapes of Kenya, where the youngest brother Will settled and farmed, inspired Llewelyn Powys to write Ebony and Ivory.

John Cowper Powys himself will also live and move and have his being: there will be a chance to see again the Fox Movietone screen test made in 1929, in which John Cowper prepares for his debate with Bertrand Russell, “Is Modern Marriage a Failure?” This extraordinary and arresting film, discovered by Antony Head, was last shown at a society conference more than fifteen years ago.


 Friday 20th


1600  Arrivals

1730  Informal reception; welcome by Chairman

1830  Dinner

2000  Paul Weston: “A Personal Approach to A Glastonbury Romance


Saturday 21st


0800  Breakfast

0930  Harald Fawkner: “Modes of Regeneration in A Glastonbury Romance

          Eivor Lindstedt: “Myrddin Wyllt in Porius: ‘The Protean Herdsman’"

followed by coffee

1115  Stephen Powys Marks  “My Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Caroline Powys and Her Journals”

1300  Lunch


Afternoon: a walk up Wirral Hill, guided by Paul Weston


1900  Dinner

2000  Presentation of John Cowper Powys’s 1929 screen test for his debate with Bertrand Russell, “Is Modern Marriage a Failure”

        Entertainment devised by Chris Wilkinson and Louise de Bruin, “The Untold Privilege: With Will in Africa”, the story, largely recounted in letters of visits made by the Powys sisters to their brother Will in Africa. Featuring Richard Graves, Cicely Hill, John Hodgson, Timothy Hyman, Kate Kavanagh, Patrick Kavanagh, Sonia Lewis, Pat Roberts.


Sunday 22nd


0800  Breakfast

0930  Anthony O’Hear: “A Philosophical Interpretation of A Glastonbury Romance”

1100  AGM  followed by a Powys Quiz

1300  Lunch

1500  End of conference and departure in afternoon  



The Venue

The Wessex Hotel is a 2 star hotel at 15 High Street, Street. It is a relatively modern purpose-built hotel. All rooms are en-suite and have been recently refurbished. They have double-glazed windows, free view television, coffee/tea making facilities and a hairdryer! The hotel has a lift, a residents bar and ample car parking.

Our lectures will take place in the Wessex Suite on the ground floor. The bookroom will be on the first floor in the Mendip Suite. Our meals will be taken in the Olive Tree restaurant adjacent to the Wessex Suite.

Please return your completed conference registration form as soon as possible.



With thanks to Kate Kavanagh and Chris Thomas

Powys Society Conference 2010, Glastonbury   Powys Society Conference 2010, Glastonbury

Powys Society Conference 2010, AnnaPawelko, Michael French, Tim Hyman, John Hodgson, Chris Thomas, John Dunn   Powys Society Conference 2010 After Dinner



Our Conference Organisers, Louise de Bruin (01258-817825) and Anna Pawelko (email: anna.pawelko@ntlworld.com), will be happy to answer members' questions.

Anna Pawelko and Louise de Bruin

Above: Conference organisers Anna Pawelko and Louise de Bruin

Further details about the venue can be found here: www.wessexhotel.com

For anyone wishing to look up the site on multimap, the postcode is BA16 0EF

If you are not yet a member you may like to consider joining us.


To visit the webpage of last year's Conference (2009) please click here.

For an impression of the 2007 Conference, please click here

DVDs are available of presentations from previous Powys Society Conferences

Conference DVD's

This website is © The Powys Society 2011.

Permission must be asked before using any material from this site.



John Cowper Powys

A Powys Society Meeting

John Cowper Powys  PORIUS


John Cowper Powys

SOMERSET ESSAYS by Llewelyn Powys


Llewelyn Powys


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