The Powys Society Archives
Newsletter No. 2, 1982
Officers and Committee
President: Professor G. R. Wilson-Knight
Chairman: Dr. Glen Cavaliero
Vice Chairman: Timothy Hyman
Secretary: T. Derrick Stephens
Treasurer: Peter J. Birtles
It is now ten years since the John Cowper Powys Centenary Conference took place at Churchill College, Cambridge. That happy and (for the organisers) surprisingly successful occasion has heralded a remarkable up-turn in the literary fortunes of the Powys brothers, of John Cowper especially; and perhaps the Society may claim some credit for this being so. Certainly the succession of weekend conferences at Swansea, Norwich, Weymouth and elsewhere, have served to bring Powys enthusiasts together and to generate ideas; and the, to date, nine numbers of the Powys Review have demonstrated through a wide variety of articles that the writings of the Powyses and their circle repay thorough investigations. We owe much in this respect to the Editor and to the Welsh Arts Council, whose support has made such an ambitious venture possible.
A great deal of dedicated and selfless work has gone into promoting the Society’s aims; and I could also write at length about the achievements of Jeff Kwintner’s Village Press of Mike Petty at Picador, and of Roger Shepperd at the National Portrait Gallery and at the Trigon Press. But details of their reprints will occupy other parts of the Newsletter. Instead I want to emphasise here what for me, after ten years as Chairman, stands out about the Society, which is quite simply that it is a society, a group of people who very speedily become friends. The essentially benign influence of the Powys family seems to have an enlivening effect. There is little or no sentimental reverence about the Society, nothing narrowly or excludingly academic. The cross-section of ages, backgrounds, occupations and perspectives at any given meeting is remarkable; and as a result it is possible for people to be completely natural. The common ground is as much personal as professional, and it is hoped that the appearance of a Newsletter will extend this friendliness to every member.
The Summer meeting of the Society was held at Dorset Institute for Further Education Weymouth between 4th and 7th September, 1981.
At the Annual General Meeting the Secretary made the following report and Mr Francis Feather (in the absence of the then Treasurer, Mr Martyn Braford) presented the accounts.
There was some discussion about the present arrangements for the annual weekend meeting. Kenneth Hopkins suggested a change to a Spring weekend. A number of people thought the weekend before August Bank Holiday might be better but it was eventually decided to leave the date as it always had been which had proved most convenient to members.
Winchester was suggested for the 1983 meeting if it could be arranged. Sherborne and Bath were other venues mentioned. Timothy Hyman proposed and Rosemary Manning seconded a motion that we return to Weymouth every other year. Gerald Pollinger suggested that the meeting might consider holding the weekend at Hotels which had conference facilities.
In the absence of the Treasurer, Francis Feather read the Treasurer’s report and analysed the present position. He suggested that the subscription be raised.to £10.00 but this was defeated and the matter left to the Committee to decide whether this was necessary.
It was suggested that the functions of Treasurer and Membership Secretary be united for a trial period since this would be administratively sensible and a saving in postage. Timothy Hyman proposed Peter Birtles for this task and Gerard Casey seconded.
The Officers and Committee were re-elected. Belinda Humfrey proposed that Peter Foss be added to the Committee and Timothy Hyman seconded.
There was a general discussion under Any Other Business about speakers for the 1982 meeting but nothing positive came out of this. It would be prudent for some thought to be given to this matter since it is usually left to the Secretary and Chairman. Since some members had taken part in a B.B.C. programme on John Cowper Powys it was hoped that this would be broadcast sometime in 1982. Up to the present nothing has happened.
The meeting closed at 3.38 p.m.
Autumn Meeting of the Powys Society
Peter Foss: "The Topography of the Dorset and Somerset Essays of Llewelyn Powys"
Liddon House, 24 South Audley Street, Mayfair, November 14, 1981.
Over the last decade members of the Society have heard and read a great deal about Llewelyn Powys, his personal life and characteristics, his intimate, autobiographical writing and his African experiences and impressions. For this reason, Peter Foss’s talk was particularly welcome. It put the finishing touches, or at least made a welcome addition, to a rich tapestry.
Anyone over 60 will be familiar with some of the names of a great number of books which appeared between the wars from E. V. Lucas, H. V. Morton and others. But Peter Foss placed his subject in an older tradition of country writers, deriving from Richard Jefferies, W. H. Hudson, Izaak Walton and Gilbert White of Selborne.
Peter Foss showed that Llewelyn Powys’s essays on these themes were not simply, belles lettres-ist, but were firmly rooted in his own past. Of 37 pieces in Somerset Essays, nine were devoted to Montacute where he spent his childhood.
Country ancients, “the melancholy of English vicarages”, and the fate of Monmouth’s rebellion linked with early memories of Sedgemoor fens, sometimes worked together to provide what the speaker called “an antidote to exile” in Africa or Switzerland.
Peter Foss saw a link between Llewelyn Powys’s writings on these country matters with his brother John’s early work, especially Wood and Stone and Ducdame. But he pointed out that many of Llewelyn’s country essays appeared first as newspaper articles - a format which imposed limits on the author’s writing.
Certainly some particularly unhappy headlines which the speaker quoted give the pieces on air of "tweeness".
Members of the Powys Society much enjoyed this talk, which bridged a gap between the purely reminiscent and the literary-philosphical.
Spring Meeting of the Powys Society
Remembering Phyllis Playter; A talk by Kenneth Hopkins on Rex Hunter
Liddon House, South Audley Street, Mayfair, 13 March 1982
The meeting started sadly with an announcement by Glen Cavaliero, the Chairman, of the death of Phyllis Playter earlier the same week. Since then an appreciation of her, written by the Chairman has appeared in The Times on the 30th March 1982.
Members of the Society who had visited Phyllis over the years at Blaenau Ffestiniog, felt a sense of shock that they would not do so again. Although her later years were overshadowed by loneliness and the death of friends, Phyllis Playter’s welcoming interest in her visitors was unflagging.
The main item of the meeting was A talk by Kenneth Hopkins on Rex Hunter, a New Zealand writer and the first husband of Gamel Woolsey, some of whose letters to Alyse Gregory, edited by Kenneth, were published
in the eighth number of The Powys Review.
Hunter, who was born in New Zealand in 1889, and died there 22 years ago, was a poet, playwright and journalist. We would like to have heard more of his poems had that been possible: from their titles they sound
very much of their period.
In the United States Hunter met John Cowper Powys and appreciated his unique quality as a lecturer, besides being, at one time, J.C.P.’s neighbour in New York.
The high point of Kenneth Hopkins’s talk was his reading from a letter to Hunter dated October 1954. John Cowper writes of the move from Corwen to Blaenau Ffestiniog, of his correspondence with Professor Ichiro Hara, and of reading the Bible in Welsh. He details the doings
of his relations in Dorset, and greets Rex Hunter himself with that enthusiastic ebullience he seems to have shown to all the visitors and correspondents of whom a record remains.
During the talk Kenneth speculated a little about Hunter’s attitude to Gamel Woolsey and vice versa. The fact emerged that Hunter
called her Elsa: much else remains a mystery.
J. N. Dawson
MISS PHYLLIS PLAYTER: OBITUARY
"The Times" of 30th March 1982
Glen Cavaliero writes:
Phyllis Playter, who died on March 10, was for over forty years the companion of John Cowper Powys.
A woman of unusual charm and intellectual distinction, she came from Kansas, where she acted as reader for Haldeman-Julius, publishers of the Little Blue Books, to which Powys was a contributor.
She combined an adventurous, pioneering spirit with a perceptive appreciation of literature and the arts, and accompanied Powys back to England in 1934, following their five years together in up-state New York, where A Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands, and Autobiography were all written.
After Powys’s death in 1963 she continued to live in their tiny house at Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, offering warm hospitality to the many scholars and devoted readers of his work who came to see her there.
Those who had the privilege of her friendship will mourn someone to whose devoted companionship of a great writer we are probably indebted for the achievement of his finest work- and who In her own right was a person it was both a pleasure and an education to have
John Sansom of Redcliffe Press Ltd has indicated that they, in Autumn of this year, will reprint a number of Llewelyn Powys’s books
Earth Memories (with an introduction by Philip Larkin), Black Laughter and Skin for Skin
These will be followed in the Spring by
Somerset & Dorset Essays and a new illustrated edition of A Baker’s Dozen
In a letter from Gerald Pollinger he gave the following information:
Amongst Phyllis Playter’s effects was the nearly complete typescript of the long-missing Life of Keats by John Cowper Powys, which is now being evaluated.
Dr. H. W. Fawkner, a Swedish Professor, is preparing a critical work on the fiction of J.C.P. to be published by Associated Universities Press, the American publishers of Advice to A Young Poet by Robert Blackmore and Kenneth Hopkins.
A contract is being concluded with the French publishers, Christian Bourgois, for a new (French) edition of Weymouth Sands influenced probably by the interest of French television in Les Sables de la Mer, as it is called in Paris.
The Brothers Powys by R. P. Graves will probably be published in February 1983 by Routledge & Kegan Paul.
The long delayed letters Powys to Knight are still not ready for publication by Cecil Woolf.
Colgate University Press will be publishing Vol II of John Cowper Powys’s Letters to Llewelyn Powys, in conjunction with Jeffrey Kwintner.
Three publishers are interested in reprinting the work of Theodore Powys, though the next books to appear will be by or about Gamel Woolsey or Rex Hunter.
Confessions of Two Brothers, John Cowper Powys & Llewelyn Powys published by Sinclair Browne Ltd 1982, price paperback ¬£3-50, hardback ¬£7.95 with an Introduction by Malcolm Elwin. First published in Hew York by the Manas Press of Rochester, this is the first English edition. If there is any difficulty in obtaining a copy at your local bookseller the address of Sinclair Browne Ltd is 10 Archway Close, London, HI9 3TD. Books which were formerly published by The Village Press, sadly no longer with us, can be obtained from Greymitre Ltd., White Ladies, The Warren, Radlett, Herts.
Kenneth Hopkins reports that he has now almost completed the copying and editing of Gamel Woolsey’s Letters to Llewelyn Powys, and hopes these may soon be in production. He also has in preparation the letters of John Cowper Powys to Hal Trovillion, the American publisher of Llewelyn’s A Baker’s Dozen. Shortly after the Summer Conference Kenneth Hopkins went off for several weeks to New Zealand to study the Rex Hunter papers in the National Library, and he is now gathering material for a memoir to be prefixed, perhaps, to Hunter’s Collected Poems in due course. In Christchurch, N.Z., he met a nephew of Hunter’s and learned some interesting family details. Mr. Allan Hunter will be in England next summer and may perhaps be able to attend the Society’s September meeting.
The Treasurer has the following tapes available for hire.
- Dr. Martin Pollock - "Llewelyn Powys - a fragment of memory from 50 years ago".
- Mr. Kenneth Hopkins - "Rex Hunter and the Powys Circle"
The cost of hire is 55p per tape plus post and packing (approx. 25p) and the tape may be kept for any period up to 2 ’weeks.
There is also available for purchase two different studies of the head of John Cowper by Oloff de Wet. The reproductions have been made by Heredities Ltd in cold cast bronze. Any member interested in purchasing either or both of these sculptures should apply to the Treasurer, P. J. Birtles, "Lammasett", Linton, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, CA17 4HL for further details.
Also available for purchase are reproductions from a number of original photographs. The photographs available are:
- An informal picture of Sir Angus Wilson, Professor G. R. Wilson Knight and Colin Wilson at the 1972 Centenary Conference.
- Several studies of Llewelyn from pictures in the private collection of Mr. E. E. Bissell.
- A study of Theodore from the National Gallery.
Further details on request, again, from the Treasurer.
The Society also has for sale a number of postcard pictures of John Cowper produced by the National Gallery. The cost of each is 10p and any member who would like a copy should send stamps to that value to either the Secretary or the Treasurer with a stamped addressed envelope at least 4" x 6".
Finally it would be deeply appreciated if every member would please check to make sure that his or her subscriptions have been paid for 1982 and previous years. Postal costs are increasing at an alarming rate and the present subscription level is just sufficient to meet postal, paper and copying costs. If any member wishes to pay by standing order please contact the Treasurer.