Past Conferences: 2012

Many Voices, Many Worlds

Glastonbury Tor
Glastonbury Tor, by Rosemary Dickens
The Conference was held at the Wessex Hotel, Street, nr. Glastonbury, Friday 17 to Sunday 19 August 2012.

Conference Prospectus

The conference includes talks on JCP, Llewelyn, and T F. Powys. Our venue is the Wessex Hotel in Street where we were made to feel very welcome when we visited here in 2010.The hotel, located a short distance from Glastonbury and Wirral Hill, provides a perfect centre for an exploration of insula avalonia. Here we are close to places which have a strong Powysian resonance. The names of places had a special meaning for all the Powys brothers. ‘Names are magical powers. Names can work miracles’ said JCP. ‘Is there in very deed some occult mysterious power in names?’ asked Llewelyn. When JCP visited Glastonbury in 1929 and saw the familiar shape of the Tor, crowned with its medieval tower, he immediately fell into a state of wonderment and reverie: ‘The Tower, The Tower, The Tower. O Tower help me.’ But the myths and legends that inspired A Glastonbury Romance seemed ultimately to JCP to have an enervating effect: ‘... they are all dreams, all dreams within dreams and the underlying reality beneath them is something completely different from them all.’ Yet he also thought of Glastonbury as a place of immemorial mystery, magnetic power, and personal inner change and transformation.

This Powysian fascination with the magical potency of words and the evocative power of names and places touches on the themes and subjects of our conference — the human reality of sacred and secular experience seen from the point of view of religion and theology; the link between local places and the wider cosmopolitan world; the mystery of the multiverse, and the creative relationship between writer and publisher. The ‘Many Voices’ are the many voices of the fictional characters that fill the books of the Powys brothers. But they are also ‘our voices’ as readers and critics. The ‘Many Worlds’ are the innumerable worlds and infinite spaces of the multiverse as well as the many imaginary worlds created by JCP, Llewelyn and TFP in their literary and philosophical works.

  • Michael Kowalewski will explore JCP’s unique vision of the world and his sense of the ‘sacred’ in everyday life from the perspective of religion.
  • Arjen Mulder will survey the life and work of Llewelyn Powys and look at the interaction between local and cosmopolitan elements in his writing.
  • Marcella Henderson-Peal will explore the concept of plurality and the multiverse in the life philosophy of JCP.
  • Michael Caines will examine the relationship between T.F. Powys, Sylvia Townsend Warner and TFP’s publisher Charles Prentice.

On Saturday afternoon there will be an opportunity to take a guided tour of the Powys family home in Montacute visiting the gardens, terrace and stables as well as the interior of the old Vicarage. Our Entertainment on Saturday evening will be a reading of scenes from JCP’s unstaged play Paddock Calls. The play, written in 1922, is a far-fetched Freudian/Ibsenish family romance which still has many things for us to enjoy, including a cast of recognisably eccentric Powysian character types and a host of familiar Powysian situations.


Friday 17th August

16.00 Arrival
17.30 Reception
18.30 Dinner
20.00 Michael Kowalewski: ‘John Cowper Powys: The Sacred, the Secular and the Sexual’

Saturday 18th August

08.00 Breakfast
09.30 Arjen Mulder: ‘Into the world and back again’ (on Llewelyn Powys)
11.15 Marcella Henderson-Peal: Work in progress on John Cowper Powys, an invitation to jump into French philosopher Jean Wahl’s circle : missing links and chain reactions
12.45 Lunch
Afternoon free - visit to Montacute and guided tour of the Vicarage
19.00 Dinner
20.00 A reading of John Cowper Powys’s 1922 play Paddock Calls

Sunday 19th August

08.00 Breakfast
09.30 Michael Caines: ‘A holiday with Theo (and his publisher)’
11.00 AGM
12.00 Larry Mitchell: ‘The Powys Collection, the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M University’ , followed by discussion on TFP
13.00 Lunch
15.00 Departure

From the Conference Speakers

Michael Kowalewski: John Cowper Powys:The Sacred, the Secular and the Sexual.

JCP was not ‘only’ a great writer, he was fully engaged in the culture wars of his time, over the shape of society, the individual’s attitude to it and the apparent death of God and fading of religion. He experienced modernity as a great disaster and loathed modern science which he found incarnated in the practice of vivisection. But he could not fall back on either his father’s orthodox Anglicanism or his friend The Catholic’s faith. He was drawn to Taoism but knew he had to find his own answers - or rather questions. His solution was to create his own cult - his ‘mythology’ as it is called in Wolf Solent - out of historic memory, ancient places, natural settings and personal cultic acts and psychic obsessions. His erotic nerve he used as a source of magic power, akin to Tantrism, which propelled him into a multiverse of the imagination. Both mystic and sceptic he was traveller of the road of the magical quest, nurtured on the romances of the mediaeval period more than the bourgeois novels of the nineteenth century. We should not make a cult of him but acknowledge he did make his own cult from which he drew to create his unique world of fiction.

Arjen Mulder: Into the world and back again.

Llewelyn Powys started as a cosmopolitan writer and ended as a local writer, the opposite direction of the one every author has to take nowadays to become a success, both artistically and commercially. What did Llewelyn lose and what did he gain in this journey? And what are we losing and gaining if we follow the opposite route?

Marcella Henderson Peal: Unruliness and Synchronicity in John Cowper Powys’s multiverse.

A map of JCP’s multiverse approached through mythology, Jung, and quantum science.

Michael Caines: A holiday with Theo (and his publisher).

From the 1920s onwards, T. F. Powys enjoyed the support and friendship of his fellow writer Sylvia Townsend Warner and his publisher Charles Prentice, of Chatto & Windus, who stood by him despite his relative lack of commercial success before the publication of Mr. Weston’s Good Wine. ‘A holiday with Theo (and his publisher)’ will trace and celebrate the evolution of this artistically productive friendship between three very different people.

About the Speakers

Michael Kowalewski is the current Manager of the Powys Society Collection at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. He is a practising artist who explores Powysian themes in his paintings, with a special interest in religion and theology. He has lived in Bhutan and travelled widely in South Asia. He studied art history, archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University and Buddhism at London’s School of Oriental & African Studies. Michael says that he decided to relocate to Dorset to fulfill his obsession with Powys books and ideas. He has published articles on TFP in the Powys Society Newsletter and most recently on JCP in la lettre powysienne.

Arjen Mulder is editor at V2 Publishing in Rotterdam, teaches at the Utrecht School of Arts Master Program, and has published a series of collections of essays in both Dutch and English. His latest publication in English is From Image to Interaction: Meaning and Agency in the Arts (2011), a survey of continuities and disruptions in (mostly) twentieth-century art. This followed a biography of Constance Dowling, a Hollywood personality whose life gives a portrait of mid-twentieth-century media revolutions.

Marcella Henderson-Peal lives in Paris and teaches English at UPEC-Paris 12 University. She is currently writing a PhD dissertation on ‘SpiritualTension, Sensations and Realities in John Cowper Powys’s works’, at the Sorbonne (Paris-3) and has been a member of The Powys Society since 2005.

Michael Caines is literature and fiction editor at the Times Literary Supplement and, many years after leaving university, recently went back to pursue a PhD on a part-time basis at King’s College London. He has edited books on eighteenth-century theatre and acted as a consultant for the National Theatre on their current production of She Stoops To Conquer. Last year his review of the Faber Finds reissues of T. F. Powys appeared in the TLS (24 Oct 2011). He also helped to adapt T. F Powys’s novel Unclay for the Bagg Theatre at the Young Vic in 2010.

Professor J, Lawrence Mitchell’s T.F. Powys: Aspects of a Life was published by The Brynmill Press in 2005. The J. Lawrence Mitchell Literature Collection in the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University ‘is one of the largest and most diverse literature collections in Cushing. While its core remains English writers between the World Wars its material extends to book history and publishing, illustration, and a large grouping of books about boxing.... In addition the collection contains extensive material from two literary dynasties, the Powys and Garnett families.’