Past Events

Events for 2018

1 December 2018: JCP’s The Meaning of Culture

A Discussion Led by David Goodway

The Friends Meeting House, Hampstead


The 2018 Llewelyn Powys Birthday Walk Monday 13 August

Celebrating the life, work and philosophy of Llewelyn Powys
Lleweleyn Powys birthday walkers outside the salor's Return

Due to THE SAILOR’S RETURN at East Chaldon being closed each Monday and Tuesday lunch times, and thus will not be available for our members when they gather for the annual Llewelyn Birthday Walk on Monday August 13th, we have decided to meet instead at the RED LION at Winfrith at 12 noon for the annual toast to Llewelyn's memory and some lunch.

Then to gather at The Sailor's Return in East Chaldon at 1.30pm for a reading prior to commencing the annual Birthday Walk to Llewelyn's Stone.

Llewelyn Powys birthday walk – at Llewelyn's stone

7 July 2018: The Library, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester

11.00am The Powyses and Patchin Place, New York, An illustrated talk by Ray Crozier

JCP’s relationships with Phyllis, Llewelyn, Alyse Gregory, and Gamel Woolsey during his five year residence at Patchin Place.

Patchin Place, New YorkRay will look at JCP’s relationships with Phyllis, Llewelyn, Alyse Gregory, and Gamel Woolsey during his five year residence at Patchin Place as well as the wider historical background of this locality of New York, including the social and cultural context of Patchin Place, its place in the history of New York bohemian artistic and literary life in the 1920s, and its significance in JCP’s biography as a place of refuge and retreat for writing. Ray will also refer to other neighbours, writers, friends, colleagues and relatives who either made visits to the Powyses or were residents there. There are memorable descriptions of Patchin Place in JCP’s Autobiography, An Englishman Upstate, Farewell to America, JCP’s letters to Phyllis and Llewelyn and in his short story The Owl, the Duck, and Miss Rowe, Miss Rowe! Members may also wish to consult a useful booklet in the Powys Heritage series published by Cecil Woolf in 2002, called We Lived in Patchin Place by Boyne Grainger, edited by Tony Head. See also Patrick Quigley’s article on Patchin Place in la lettre powysienne, No.19, printemps 2010.

2.00pm First Impressions A Parallel Reading of two short stories: Nor Iron Bars by T. F. Powys and A Friend in Need by W. Somerset Maugham: A talk by John Williams

“We may also discover that Powys and Maugham have more in common than we might first have thought.”

John Williams asks “Have you ever been caught out (for better or for worse) by discovering that your first impression of someone was ill-informed?” He says that “Nor Iron Bars and A Friend in Need are very different stories by two very different kinds of writer. What these stories have in common is the way they set out to surprise us with unexpected and thought-provoking aspects of the characters of their major protagonists, Joseph Turvey (TFP) and Edward Hyde Burton (Somerset Maugham). By sharing our responses to these stories we will be able to appreciate ways in which both writers are masters of the genre. We may also discover that Powys and Maugham have more in common than we might first have thought. Although you may end up with a preference for one or other of these stories, the intention is not to decide which is best, they are too different for that to be helpful!” TFP’s story Nor Iron Bars was first published in the collection called The House with the Echo in 1928. Somerset Maugham’s story has a more complicated history. It was written under the title A Friend in Need in 1924 and published in Hearst’s International Magazine combined with Cosmopolitan in April 1925 (USA) and in Nash’s Magazine (UK) in August 1925 under the title The Man Who Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly. It subsequently appeared in book form in a collection of magazine stories called Cosmopolitans in 1936 under the original title of A Friend in Need. John has compiled a list of subjects for discussion at the meeting. If you would like a copy of this list please notify Hon Secretary who will also send you a pdf file of each story. A Friend in Need is widely available in the Collected Short Stories of Somerset Maugham, Vol. 2, published by Vintage. John Williams was Professor of literary studies at the University of Greenwich from 2006 until his recent retirement. He has published numerous articles on TFP which have appeared in past issues of the Newsletter, the Powys Review and the Powys Journal. John has also written a biography of Wordsworth as well as books on English poetry. He presented talks on TFP at our conferences in 1995 and 2004 and led a TFP study day in Dorchester in 2005. John was editor of the Powys Journal between 1997 and 1999 and was Chairman of the Powys Society in 2000/2001.

28 April 2018: Aspects of A Glastonbury Romance — A Discussion led by Kevin Taylor

The Old Fire Engine House, Ely, Cambridgeshire

JCP, A Glastonbury Romance. Overlook coverCommittee member Kevin Taylor will lead a discussion of A Glastonbury Romance, Chapter 15, Mark’s Court, as well as a discussion of the character of Cordelia as she appears, in selected passages, throughout the novel.

According to his diary JCP commenced writing Chapter 15 of A Glastonbury Romance in early January 1931: “Wrote my Mark’s Moor Court chapter about Mr Geard in Merlin’s chamber and Lady Rachel and all. This is because the T.T. required a certain element of Romance which so far had not appeared among the solid bourgeois characters of this book!” (diary, 7 January 1931). This is one of JCP’s “clue” chapters providing some deep insights into Mr Geard’s complex identity and his unorthodox Christian beliefs. The chapter, which is set on Easter Day, has been called, by one critic, “one of the great climaxes of the book”. Our President, Glen Cavaliero, has also described Mr Geard as “one of JCP’s supreme creations”. This is a judgement which is perfectly demonstrated in this chapter. It is also a chapter which also demonstrates JCP’s genius for comedy and irony. Our discussion will give us an opportunity to look in detail at JCP’s ability to evoke the shifting margins of human consciousness, through an analysis of the figure of Mr Geard, and how this effects his character’s perceptions of the world. We will examine the significance of Mr Geard’s apparent encounter with the supernatural, the meaning of his “Christ supported nature”, his powers of psychic projection, his double nature - he blesses the unquiet spirit in the haunted room of King Mark: “Christ have mercy on you”, yet JCP also refers to the “diabolic intensity of his dark eyes”; we will examine Mr Geard’s sudden sense of illumination and his recognition of the Grail which occurs at the conclusion of the chapter. We will also look at how JCP realises his intention for Mr Geard as outlined in his diary: “Mr Geard must think of the secret of real life beyond the spectacular world.” Other diary entries in early January 1931(see the complete diary published by Jeffrey Kwintner in 1990) provide some very useful references to the evolution of JCP’s ideas about Mr Geard. In our discussion of Cordelia as a character, we will examine some selected passages about Cordelia throughout the whole book, referring to JCP’s psychological insights into her personality, focusing, for instance, on Chapter 7, Carbonek, in the scene on Chalice Hill and at the great oaks; on Chapter 25, Conspiracy, in the scene of Cordelia’s marriage to Owen Evans where she overhears the murder plot discussed in the ruined chantry; and Chapter 29, The Iron Bar, in the scene in which she exorcises a worm.

View Kevin's comprehensive reading list, with page references, of selected passages about Cordelia.

Events for 2017

18–20 August 2017: The Powys Society Conference

The Hand Hotel, Bridge Street, Llangollen, 18–20 August

‘Where the spirit breathes’

Speakers: Grevel Lindop, David Goodway, David Stimpson and Patrick Quigley

In 1909, Mrs Rodolph Stawell, made a journey, by car, through Wales at a time when there must have been very few other motorists. She described Llangollen in her book, Motor Tours in Wales: ‘a little town that owes its charm entirely to its is an entrancing place.’ In the eighteenth century the English naturalist, William Bingley, also toured Wales, and observed the view of Llangollen from a distance ‘with its church and elegant bridge romantically embosomed in mountains.’ When JCP arrived in Llangollen in May 1935, on the way to his new home in Corwen, he was at first unimpressed. He wrote in his diary that he thought Llangollen was: ‘a grievous disappointment...we shall not return.’ However on that first visit he was also very much impressed by the river Dee and instantly remembered, appropriately, a line from Milton’s Lycidas, 'where Deva spreads her wizard stream'. He stared, transfixed, at the ruins of Dinas Bran and prayed for the soul of Owen Glendower. JCP’s veneration for the subject of his new novel, which he was already thinking about, connects with a fragment of verse by Shelley: ‘Great Spirit whom the sea of boundless thought nurtures within its imagined caves...’ Of course JCP did return to Llangollen many times. He loved the town and its surroundings reversing his original impression. For this year’s conference we also return to Llangollen and the friendly hospitality of the Hand Hotel in its picturesque position overlooking the Dee. Famous guests who have stayed here, in the past, have included Darwin, Wordsworth, Browning, Scott and Shaw. (To be continued...)

15 June 2017: One Day Literary Symposium

Exeter University, Old Library, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter

The aim of the symposium was to identify potential for wider study of the books and documents in the Powys Society collection, present current research at Exeter University into writing about the south west region of England and show how analysis of original archival material can help broaden our understanding and appreciation of authors and their literary works. This one day symposium focused on the rich resources of the literary archives of the Heritage Collections at Exeter University where the Powys Society collection is now held.

Speakers include

  • Michael Kowalweski, Powys Society Collection Liaison Officer,
  • Christine Faunch, Head of Heritage Collections, University of Exeter;
  • Dr Chris Campbell, Lecturer at University of Exeter in Global Literatures. Dr Campbell’s research focuses on the intersections of world literature, postcolonial theory and environmental criticism and Dr Luke Thompson, writer, publisher and editor. Luke Thompson lectures at Falmouth University and is a former student at Exeter University. He has recently published a biography of Cornish poet, Jack Clemo entitled Clay Phoenix.

Introduced by Christine Flaunch the Head of the Heritage Collection who made available a comprehensive display from the archive. Weighted and nestling on cushions were books, letters, manuscripts and documents from all the brothers along with wood engravings and related publications there for us to leaf over. And how wonderful that was to read whilst experiencing the texture of the paper and colour of the ink. For visual pleasure we delighted in the letters written by JCP on engraved hotel note paper sent whilst on lecture tours in America.

Michael Kowalewski gave a comprehensive introduction outlining the very good reasons for studying the Powyses. He expressed how saddened he is by the neglect of this family of high achievers. He talked affectionately about TFP and eulogised about JCP’s ‘grand sweep of cosmic consciousness’ and his ability to seamlessly move from the everyday through nature to the cosmic and to the internal mythology of the characters. He read a passage from Wolf Solent.

Dr Luke Thompson, published author of the unusual life of Jack Clemo described Clemo's relationship with T.F. Powys. He made a sensationalist description of Clemo as syphilitic which gave the impression that he was debauched rather than suffering from the congenital condition. In fact Clemo was deeply Christian with an extraordinary will. His relationship with T F, Thompson thought, was based on his admiration, respect and longing for TF to be the father he never had.

Dr Chris Campbell grew up in Weymouth. Ideally placed to know the town intimately his paper on Weymouth Sands looked at the industrial underpinning of Portland stone. Explaining the ecological and economic changes that are charted by the lives of the characters in WS. He discussed WS as a localised optic to the commodity frontiers that operates worldwide. A very interesting and novel theoretical approach to the investigation of WS illustrating JCP’s political awareness and the subtle way that it appears in his work.

There is a full report of the Exeter Symposium in the July 2018 Society Newsletter

29 April 2017: Porius and Myrddin Wyllt — A Discussion led by John Hodgson

Old Fire Engine House, Ely

John Hodgson will lead a discussion of two chapters from JCP’s novel Porius: Chapter III The Stranger and Chapter XV Myrddin Wyllt. Both chapters provide a good opportunity to explore JCP’s conception of the deep and elusive character of Merlin. For background reading members may wish to consult a useful essay by Mark Patterson, ‘The Origin of John Cowper Powys’s Myrddin Wyllt’ in the Powys Review, No.25, 1990; also see JCP’s own comments on his ideas about Merlin in his notes on the characters of Porius published in Powys Newsletter, No.4, 1974-1975 (Colgate University Press); and JCP’s letters to Norman Denny at the Bodley Head, in 1949 and 1950, which include references to the role of Merlin in Porius, published in Powys Notes, Fall and Winter 1992. Nikolay Tolstoy sympathetically discusses JCP’s interpretation of Merlin in his The Quest for Merlin (1985).

Events for 2016

London Meeting 3 December 2016

T.F. Powys & Liam O’Flaherty — a Talk by Patrick Quigly

Friends Meeting House, 120 Heath Street, Hampstead, NW3 1DR

T F Powys and Liam O'Flaherty Pat Quigley will present a talk on the relationship between T.F. Powys, the Irish writer Liam O’Flaherty, (1896-1984), and the group of writers associated with Charles Lahr (TFP’s favourite bookseller) and David Garnett.

Liam O’Flaherty was a novelist and short story writer, with strong socialist beliefs, who in 1923, at the beginning of his writing career, escaped from the authorities in Ireland, travelled to England, toured Dorset and visited TFP at East Chaldon where, according to Judith Stinton, in Chaldon Herring: Writers in a Dorset Landscape (1988 / 2004), he camped ‘in a tent in a damp spot at the back of the old vicarage’. Here he began to write his most famous novel The Informer, published in 1925, which was later made into a successful film, directed by John Ford, in 1935, with a screenplay by Dudley Nichols. O’Flaherty was a keen admirer of TFP’s books and in 1925 he published a review, in The Irish Statesman, of Mr. Tasker’s Gods, in which he called TFP ‘a genius’, and praised the novel very highly. While staying at East Chaldon, Liam O’Flaherty had many discussions with Theodore. In a letter he wrote: ‘I have seen Powys and he looks awfully nice.’ TFP also favourably mentioned Liam O’Flaherty in a letter to David Garnett (now in the Powys Society Collection). In 1923 Gertrude Powys painted a portrait of O’Flaherty.

Pat Quigley, who is a member of the Powys Society, has previously given talks to audiences in Ireland about JCP. He is a retired public servant and the author of The Polish Irishman (2012) and Sisters Against the Empire (2016) on the Marcievitz connection and the 1916 Rising.

13 August 2016: Llewelyn Powys Birthday Walk at East Chaldon

Celebrating the life, work and philosophy of Llewelyn Powys

The Dandelion Fellowship gather annually on Llewelyn's birthday at the Sailor's Return at East Chaldon in honour of his memory and according to the terms of his Will, and after raising a glass to Llewelyn those assembled walk up to his memorial stone where his last remains are interred high on the downs overlooking the channel and here a posy of his wedding flowers consisting of dandelions, ground-ivy and yarrow are placed and a reading from his work is given.

The gathering is at 12 noon and the walk commences after lunch, around 1.30 to 2pm. Walk about two and a quarter miles, mostly uphill - but downhill on the way back!

All welcome

12–14 August 2016: The Powys Society Conference

The Wessex Hotel, Street, nr Glastonbury, 12–14 August

“Strange Matters”

Including guest speakers Angelika Reichmann, Paul Cheshire and Peter Foss. Also, novelist Lindsay Clarke (The Chymical Wedding), who will present a talk on JCP's Porius, and Frank Wintle who will introduce the screening of a documentary film he made in 1986 for South West TV about the complicated relationship between Frances Gregg (JCP’s greatest love before he met Phyllis Playter), the poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Ezra Pound, Louis Wilkinson and JCP, including the discovery, in strange circumstances, of Pound’s original manuscript of poems dedicated to H.D. (written to H.D. in the romantic manner of Swinburne, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1905 before he began experimenting with modernism).

16 July 2016: T.F. Powys’s Religious and Metaphysical Ideas

A talk by Michael Kowalewski - Dorset County Museum, Dorchester

Michael Kowalewski, the Society’s Collection Liaison Officer, will present an informal talk and lead a discussion on the theme of T.F.Powys’s religious and metaphysical ideas illustrated by an examination of passages from An Interpretation of Genesis, Father Adam and other works by TFP. In his talk Michael will explore TFP’s original ideas about religion, his visionary fantasies and religious symbolism, his dualist beliefs, love of the Bible, his mysticism, pantheism, and antinomianism. A.E. Waite, the occultist, in a discussion of TFP’s religious unorthodoxy, referred to his paradoxes, contradictions, as well as his reverence, sense of immanence and his ability to produce “brilliant epigrams”.

AN INTERPRETATION OF GENESIS, written in an archaic biblical style in the form of a dialogue, was TFP’s first published work, privately printed in 1908 with the help of Louis Wilkinson and JCP, and distributed by William Rider & Son, but was also later reprinted by Chatto and Windus in 1929. On its first publication the book was favourably reviewed in Aleister Crowley’s magazine, Equinox, in March 1910, which noted the influence of the Kabbalah and dualism and stated: “This is a most mystical interpretation of the most beautiful of the books of the Old Testament... It is a little volume which one who reads will grow fond of, and will carry about with him, and open at random in quiet places, in the woods and under the stars...”

FATHER ADAM was written in 1919 but remained unpublished during TFP’s lifetime. It did not appear until 1990 in a modern edition. In Powys Notes, Fall 1990, Anne Barbaeu Gardiner reviewed the novel and called it “a theological novel and will attract the sort of reader who would enjoy Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.”  A useful guide to the many levels of meaning and reference in Father Adam can be found in an article by L. R. Leavis, T.F.Powys in Perspective, the significance of Father Adam in the Powys Review, Nos. 29/30.

'Father Adam by T. F. Powys, edited by Ian Robinson. (The Brynmill Press Ltd, £8.40)—delightfully produced edition of Powys’s first mature tale which is a must for anyone interested in the mordant and yet sympathetically ironic vision of the English rural scene. The tragedy of innocence in the preacher of the Ten Commandments, Father Adam, looks forward to the story, “The Box of Sweets”, and the overwhelming vision of Ralph Crew, a young man who believes his calling to be “that of reforming and regenerating the people of the whole world”, is an early suggestion of Powys’s bleakly comic masterpiece, Mr Weston’s Good Wine.’ — The Use of English Vol. 54, No. 3

23 April 2016: A Discussion of JCP’s Maiden Castle, led by Sonia Lewis

Ely, Cambridge

Sonia Lewis will lead a discussion of Maiden Castle, Chapter 5, 'The Scummy Pond'. MAIDEN CASTLE was first published in the USA in 1936 (the New York Times thought it was “bewildering because of its complete lack of movement”), and in the UK in 1937 (the TLS review said that it “moves within a realm of its own”). Our President, Glen Cavaliero, has called Maiden Castle JCP’s most “Lawrentian” novel and W.J. Keith called it “the work of a literary master” although “not a fully achieved novel”. The book was drastically cut by JCP’s American editor – “he’s a snipper not a slasher” said JCP. Maiden Castle did not appear in its original unabridged form until a new edition was published by the University of Wales Press, edited by Ian Hughes in 1990. The Daily Telegraph review of the new edition called the novel “extraordinary”. JCP began writing the story in August 1934 at Rat’s Barn, on the Dorset downs, on his return to the UK from America but he found it difficult to decide on the form the story should take. It was not until after he had moved to Dorchester on 8 October 1934 and started to rewrite the novel in January 1935 that he settled on the main setting in Dorchester itself reflecting his own daily routine and meetings with people. His working title for the Dorchester novel was now “Dud No-Man’s Girl”. Maiden Castle is particularly notable for its morbidity and obsession with death – Urien Quirm has “dead eyes”, he smells of mortality and is associated with a “corpse god”.  

John Cowper Powys, Maiden Castle (front and back cover)

Maiden Castle is a very troubling novel much concerned with frustrated desire, tangled human relationships, the dark influence of family history and the ancient mythological past. But Maiden Castle is also remarkable for its wealth of realistic detail and especially naturalistic evocations. Chapter five begins with a portrait of Dud No Man’s domestic life in the flat he shares with Wizzie Ravelston in Friary Lane (a self portrait of JCP and Phyllis) and ends with an astonishing climactic scene on the approach to the ramparts of Maiden Castle, “the mystical city of Dunium”, where the ‘nameless bastard’s’ true identity and his relationship to the grotesque figure of Urien Quirm is revealed. In between these events JCP weaves his way leisurely examining the interrelationships of his characters, commenting on certain astrological influences – Dorchester is described as “a city under the sign of water”, and exploring the theme of the quest for identity, integrity and the search for inner meaning. There is comedy in the scene at the Antelope hotel and the literary luncheon hosted by Mr Comber. In the fully restored edition of the novel we may now also better appreciate JCP’s description of “the magic of flowers”. There is a good discussion of the significance of JCP’s description of cuckoo flowers in Chapter 5, in the scene set alongside the water meadows on the path to the blue bridge, in Harald Fawkner’s book, JCP & the Elements (Powys Press, 2015). The textual history of the novel has also been published in an article by Ian Hughes in Powys Review No.12, 1982/1983. The abandoned parts of the novel can be consulted at the Powys Collection at Exeter University and were printed in the Powys Review No. 15, 1984/1985. For an interesting personal response to the novel see W.J Keith’s article in la lettre Powysienne, No. 16, Autumn, 2008. 

Events for 2015

5 December 2015: The Pleasures of Literature: A Discussion led by John Hodgson

Bunhill Meeting House, London EC1Y 8QQ

Our past Chairman, John Hodgson, will lead a discussion of The Pleasures of Literature, by John Cowper Powys, published in the UK by Cassell & Co., in November 1938. The American edition was published in October 1938 under the title The Enjoyment of Literature, by Simon & Schuster. Derek Langridge in (1966) noted variations between the two editions. The American edition for instance lacks the long essay on St. Paul, which JCP's American editor, Quincey Howe, disliked. Our discussion will focus on JCP's attitude to world literature and his favourite authors, expressed especially in the Introduction and the Conclusion, comparing his choice of writers with the authors he discusses in John Cowper Powys, A Record of Achievement: Visions and Revisions (1915), 100 Best Books (1916), and Suspended Judgements (1916).

JCP's response to literature, which determined his choice of writers, can be found in summary at the end of the Introduction to The Pleasures of Literature: "Books...are man's word against the cosmic dumbness, man's life against the planetary death, man's revelation of the God within him, man's repartee to the God without him." JCP wrote most of the essays in The Pleasures of Literature in 1937 following a commission from Simon and Schuster in 1936, between the publication of Maiden Castle (1936), Morwyn (1937) and finishing Owen Glendower (first published 1940 in USA).

20 June 2015: John Cowper Powys and Wordsworth’s ‘cerebral mystical passion for young women', a talk by Paul Cheshire

At the Dorset County Museum Dorchester, Paul Cheshire will take as his theme the passage in Autobiography about JCP’s perception of Wordsworth’s “abnormally sensual sensitiveness to the elements”. In his talk Paul Cheshire will explore the relationship between JCP and Wordsworth. Paul says that “to call Wordsworth ‘my great master’ is a sure sign of JCP’s feeling of indebtedness to him. However, the ‘cerebral mystical passion’ he attributes to Wordsworth is a prominent feature in his own fiction and in his self-styling as a nympholept. This is not simply a projection on JCP’s part: if one re-reads Wordsworth’s Lucy poems while under the influence of JCP’s sensibility, those poems resonate as if he has provided a key to their secret life. Wordsworth ‘Imagining himself a girl’ may push beyond the demonstrable, but this provocative Powysian reading also beckons to be explored. The other ‘mystical passion’ these two writers share is their sense of a near-erotic pagan numinosity of the dead who lie beneath the earth. Wordsworth’s Lucy would have particular interest to JCP, who held so many dialogues with inhabitants of graves real and imaginary in his novels and in his life. Thomas Hardy’s Egdon Heath – where King Lear was stripped of all his vanities - is a fit Dorchester setting for these meditations, as Hardy too has much to say about death and sacrifice on the heath”.

Until recently Paul Cheshire served as a Trustee of the Friends of Coleridge. He has written a number of articles on Coleridge and his contemporaries, including a chapter on Coleridge’s notebooks for the Oxford Handbook of S T Coleridge. He has also written on the influence of seventeenth century hermetic philosophy on Milton. He is currently researching the life and thought of Coleridge’s little-known friend, William Gilbert, astrologer and author of an eccentric theosophical poem, The Hurricane, which shows the hermetic tradition surviving into the romantic era. He has created a website dedicated to William Gilbert:

25 April 2015: A Discussion of Wood and Stone, led by Chris Thomas

The Kings Arms, Montacute

This year marks the centenary of Wood and Stone which was first published in America by G. Arnold Shaw in November 1915 and in the UK by Heinemann in February 1917. Wood and Stone was reprinted by the Village Press in 1974 and by Faber in 2008. Wood and Stone can also be found on-line at the Internet Archive. Chris Thomas will lead a discussion of Wood and Stone in its original location and setting. The venue for the meeting is The Kings Arms located opposite St Catherine’s church. The village of Nevilton, in Wood and Stone, with its twin hills, is of course recognisably Montacute. The invented names of local places in the novel such as Leo’s Hill, Badger’s Bottom, Root Thatch Lane and Dead Man’s Lane, are clearly based on the real places JCP knew so well. JCP evokes with intense memory recall the place of his childhood and youth, its fields, lanes and orchards: “What enchantments were all around him”, says the author, “What memories! What dumb voices.” But he also knew its suffocating claustrophobia: “English vicarages are dreadful places”, he says. Wood and Stone was written during the summer of 1915 in Burpham. Apparently, according to JCP, it was his wife, Margaret, who suggested the title. She must have read the novel in manuscript and perhaps she was inspired by the passage about wood against stone, tears weeping into stone and men transformed into the elements. The book was very popular with its first readers although the reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic were divided about its qualities. Arnold Shaw, cranking up his publicity machine, ranked it alongside Dostovesky. One of the first detractors of the novel was Louis Wilkinson who lambasted it in Blasphemy and Religion (1916), and compared it unfavourably to TFP’s Soliloquy of a Hermit which he considered a work of art. JCP himself seems to have been dissatisfied with the book, and looking back called it “a silly novel”. A useful place to start a discussion of Wood and Stone is JCP’s lofty Preface, which introduces the grandiose theme of the struggle between power and love and tyranny and freedom, and includes references to Nietzsche, cosmic chaos, the “imaginative mirror of art”, the secret of the universe, a critique of the modern novel and a tribute to Thomas Hardy and his adherence to “the old ample ironic way” which JCP clearly also wants to adopt. There is hardly any plot in Wood and Stone. JCP’s intention seems to be to try and capture a sense of the panorama of life and the effect of the spirit of a particular place on the lives of his characters. Wood and Stone prefigures the great novels of his maturity, he demonstrates psychological insight into the inner world of his people, the characters have distinctive Powysian names such as Mr Wone, Mr Quincunx, Witch-Bessie, and Mrs Wotnot, the language and imagery have what we now recognise to be characteristic Powysian features, there is a powerful sense of umbrageous plenitude, of the “indolent luxuriousness” and “leafy exuberance” of nature. The novel is notable for its wealth of classical allusions (sometimes he hardly seem to advanced beyond the poem To Montacute in Odes and Other Poems, 1896), as well as for JCP’s ability to evoke effects of light and colour, the changing seasons, and his ability to recreate the minute particulars of things such as “oozy stalks”, and “moist adhesive tendrils”. We are made to experience the breathing of the earth itself as if everything is alive. Yet there is also a sense of the dark downward pull of the earth suggesting a sinister and unpleasant atmosphere. This kind of writing reaches its apogee in chapters IX, X, and XII. Because Wood and Stone stands at the beginning of JCP’s career as a published novelist this makes it very well worth our study and attention. Our discussion will also consider Wood and Stone in the context of other contemporary novels.

For helpful background reading to Wood and Stone see articles by W J Keith in Powys Notes, Winter 1998, Paul Roberts in the Powys Journal, vol. IX, 1999, Arjen Mulder, in the Powys Journal, vol. XIX, 2009, Penny Smith in the Powys Review, No.11,1982/1983 and by Margaret Moran in the Powys Review, No.17, 1985. In the afternoon members may wish to explore Montacute and visit places mentioned in the novel such as St Catherine’s church and churchyard, the Priory Farm, take a tour of Montacute House, gardens and the parklands or walk to Montacute Hill and the “thyrsus” shaped tower or walk to Ham Hill Country Park (Leo’s Hill) from where there are fine views of the surrounding countryside.

Events in 2014

6 December 2014: John Cowper Powys's essay, Pair Dadeni or The Cauldron of Rebirth

A discussion led by John Hodgson, Bunhill Meeting House, London

The Society's past Chairman John Hodgson will lead a discussion of John Cowper Powys's essay, Pair Dadeni or The Cauldron of Rebirth (included in JCP's book Obstinate Cymric, published by the Druid Press in 1947).

19 July 2014: The Life, Career and Writings of John Meade Falkner

A Talk by Kenneth Hillier, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester

At the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, a talk on the life, career and writings of John Meade Falkner (1858-1932) presented by Kenneth Hillier, the founder and Secretary of the John Meade Falkner Society. The meeting commences at 10.30am for 11.00am start. Coffee and refreshments will be available. Lunch will be from 13.00 to 14.00 at a local restaurant. The author, poet, businessman and teacher, John Meade Falkner, spent his childhood in Dorchester and Weymouth and was closely acquainted with many of the locations associated with the Powys family, such as the South and West Walks in Dorchester, and Chesil beach, Portland, and the village of Fleet near Weymouth. Falkner’s most famous novel, Moonfleet (1898), is set around Chesil and Fleet. Falkner was a friend of Hardy and a keen collector of medieval books and manuscripts. After a long business career in the armaments industry he was appointed senior reader in palaeography at Durham University. John Meade Falkner was also a poet and author of topographical guides to Oxford, Berkshire and Bath. Falkner’s first novel, The Lost Stradivarius (1895) reveals an interest in the supernatural, the occult and psychological themes that mirror many of JCP’s own interests as well as popular literary tastes of the 1890s. For more information about John Meade Falkner please visit: The talk will be followed by discussion, lunch and a visit to places associated with Falkner and the Powys family in Weymouth, Chesil and Abbotsbury. 

26 April 2014: The Norfolk Chapters of A Glastonbury Romance

A discussion led by Sonia Lewis, Brandon, Norfolk

Sonia Lewis will lead a discussion of the Norfolk chapters of A Glastonbury Romance: The Will and The River. The meeting will be held in the function room of the Brandon House Hotel, which has pleasant views on to the garden, and is conveniently located just around the corner from Brandon railway station. Brandon is an old market town on the edge of Thetford Forest and Brandon Heath. Discussion will be followed by lunch and a visit to the village of Northwold situated a few miles to the north of Brandon. Northwold has strong Powys family associations - JCP’s maternal grandfather, William Cowper Johnson (1813-1893), the model for Canon Crow in A Glastonbury Romance, was Rector of Northwold from 1880 to 1892, and JCP, Littleton and Theodore often spent their summer holidays at the rectory. There are very evocative descriptions of Northwold in Littleton’s The Joy of It and in JCP’s Autobiography. In his diary, for 3 to 9 August 1929, JCP also recorded a visit to his old childhood haunts in Northwold (helping to provide material for A Glastonbury Romance). Littleton called Northwold “my boyhood’s Earthly Paradise”. JCP recalled summer holidays in Northwold and said: “...what a life that was & how beautiful that house was.” Our visit to Northwold will provide an opportunity to rediscover the places described by Littleton and JCP including the rectory, the round pond in the rose garden, the Wissey, Foulden Bridge, Harrod’s Mill pond, Dye’s Hole and Oxborough Ferry as well as other places of local interest such as the church of St. Andrew’s (which has a memorial to William Cowper Johnson) and the old Manor House. If time permits some members may wish to visit nearby Methwold or Yaxham (where William Cowper Johnson is buried).