Review by Glen Cavaliero (NL59, Nov 2006)

The Diary of a Reluctant Teacher

Llewelyn Powys's Diary for 1908 edited and with an introduction by Peter J. Foss. Powys Heritage Series (General Editor: Anthony Head) London: Cecil Woolf Publishers, 2006.

This is the second and, one hopes, not the last of Llewelyn Powys's diaries to be edited by Peter Foss for Anthony Head's Powys Heritage series. Those who have read its predecessor, A Sherborne Schoolboy, will recall with some affection the nineteen-year-old's account of his final term at that (by him) beloved school, and of his subsequent return to family life at Montacute. Its brevity only serves to make it more evocative and its frankness the more endearing, but even then the ‘sunny’ young Llewelyn was a troubled human being, torn between his sexual impulses and the moral teaching of his religious upbringing.

The same tension can be found in a more acute form in the diary kept five years later while he was, first, a schoolmaster at Bromsgrove in Worcestershire and then a private tutor in the Wiltshire town of Calne. The latter post was in the household of the wealthy family whose name was known all over the country as the manufacturers of Harris sausages and other porcine products -- the Pig Kings as the disrespectful Llewelyn called them. Unlike its predecessor the Diary covers an entire year; its entries are terse, being confined to a small pocket-book, one week to a page. Terse it may be, but it is none the less revealing: the twenty-four-year-old young man is discontented, sexually confused and decidedly reluctant to embark on a career in the world outside. At the year's end we find him arriving in New York for his unsuccessful lecture tour in America, and very much in the shadow of John Cowper Powys and Louis Wilkinson. Readers of Welsh Ambassadors will be amused to learn that there was indeed to be a lecture on Mrs Humphry Ward, sandwiched between ones on James and Kipling -- the very one which JCP was to send up so outrageously.

Dr Foss again provides a perceptive Introduction: he must be the most thorough and dedicated critical exponent that Powys's work has as so far found. He examines the way in which this diary was elaborated in the version to be offered as Llewelyn's contribution to Confessions of Two Brothers., ‘thrown together with John's help in this period 1914-1916 ... an exaggerated and contrived revisiting of his life in these years, composed in part for “shock” and to promote a “pose” ’. The Notes are thorough and informative; and I have only found one slip, the reference to Lexie Ashover as a character in Wood and Stone rather than in Ducdame - a point only worth making in that it was Llewelyn who, according to Malcolm Elwin, had a hand in the shaping of the latter novel.

As to the Diary itself, as in a series of flashlights it gives us a picture of country walks and games of tennis with jeunes filles en fleur that hovers on the borderline of the erotic, a picture not unlike that portrayed some thirty years earlier in the diaries of Francis Kilvert. Llewelyn's own bouts of ill humour, instinctive happiness ar physical temptations and delights are all frankly set down, albeit so briefly and allusively that a reader has frequently to deduce from between the lines what is going on. But what above all one derives from the diary is the essence of youth in all its vigour, spontaneity and troubled restlessness; other family members playing the part, the elder brothers primarily as mentors, the sisters as companions of his long walks in the Somerset countryside. There is one poignant glimpse of Weymouth, on a visit with his employers, a case of being in the right spot in the wrong company; and again and again we come across phrases indicative of the writer Llewelyn Powys was to become. ‘Walked in the Norton lanes and delighted in the warmth of air and the aroma of Sunday blouses.’ The pages of Love and Death grew out of such a observation, with its characteristic blend of poetry and sensuality, one that is very much its author's own.