A Further Eight John Cowper Powys Novels
Best to start with the six great novel on the main JCP page, but — if you like his work — these titles, published by Faber Finds are all worth reading:
Wood and Stone
Wood and Stone (1915) was John Cowper Powys' first novel. It is no prentice-work however - the author was already in his forties. The novel is set in the area of south Somerset that John Cowper Powys grew up in. The village of Nevilton is based on Montacute where his father was vicar for many years. When he wrote it Powys was living in the USA and it is perhaps this absence that accounts for the heightened vividness of the descriptive writing. Powys deploys a large and wonderfully delineated cast of characters. They are loosely divided between 'the well-constituted' and 'the ill-constituted'. Characteristically Powys favours the latter.
Rodmoor Is unusually for a John Cowper Powys novel set in East Anglia, Rodmoor itself being a coastal village. The protagonist, Adrian Sorio, is a typically Powys-like hero, highly-strung with only precarious mental stability. He is in love with two women, Nance Herrick and the more unconventional Phillipa Renshaw. This was Powys' second novel published in 1916. It deploys a rich and memorable cast of characters.
After My Fashion
Although it was John Cowper Powys' third novel written in 1920, it wasn't published until 1980. It seems that when his US publisher turned it down, Powys made no effort to place it elsewhere. Indeed, when Powys had finished a book, he tended to be oddly indifferent to its fate. The novel has two other unusual features: its locations (Sussex and Greenwich Village) and Isadora Duncan being the inspiration for Elise, the dancer and mistress of the protagonist, Richard Storm (based quite largely on Powys himself). As one would expect from Powys, the writing is vivid, not least in the descriptions of the Sussex landscape and the bohemian milieu of Greenwich Village.
was John Cowper Powys' fourth novel published in 1925. It is set in Dorset. The protagonist, Rook Ashover (a wonderfully Powysian name) is an introverted young squire with a dilemma: to go on loving his mistress, Netta Page, or, make a respectable marriage and produce an heir. Of his early novels (pre Wolf Solent), this one is often considered to be the most carefully constructed and best organized. Like them all it contains a gallery of rich, complex characters and glorious writing.
First published in 1937, John Cowper Powys originally wanted to call this novel ‘Hell’. One can see why. Powys was a fervent opponent of vivisection, ‘man’s most vicious cruelty’, and here, in this strange fantasy, he gives full vent to his feelings. The main adventures are set in Hell where the narrator, not named but clearly based on Powys himself, his dog, Black Peter, Morwyn, his new love and her father, a vivisector find themselves hurled after a cataclysm on a Welsh mountain-side. The infernal adventures and encounters are virtuoso displays of Powys’s extraordinary knowledge of the mythical underworld.
Published in 1954, John Cowper Powys called this novel, a 'long romance about Odysseus in his extreme old age, hoisting sail once more from Ithaca'. As usual there is a large cast of human characters but Powys also gives life and speech to inanimates such as a stone pillar, a wooden club, and an olive shoot. The descent to the drowned world of Atlantis towards the end of the novel is memorably described, indeed, Powys himself called it 'the best part of the book'. Many of Powys's themes, such as the benefits of matriarchy, the wickedness of priests and the evils of modern science which condones vivisection are given full rein in this odd but compelling work.
The Brazen Head
In this panoramic novel of Friar Roger Bacon, John Cowper Powys displays his genius at its most fecund. First published in 1956, this novel, set in thirteenth-century Wessex, is an amalgam of all the qualities that make John Cowper Powys unique. The love-story of Lil-Umbra and Raymond de Laon, and the quest of the Mongolian giant, Peleg, for Ghosta, the girl seen, loved, and lost on the battlefield, are intermingled with the historical, theological and magical threads which form the brocade of this novel. Dominating all is the mysterious creation of Roger Bacon one of the boldest as well as most intricate of Powys' world-changing inventions. Professor G. Wilson Knight called this 'A book of wisdom and wonders'.
‘What I've tried to do in this tale is to invent a group of really mad people who have the fantastic and grotesquely humorous extravagance that, afer all, is an element in life’. So wrote John Cowper Powys himself in his prefatory note to this novel first published in 1952. In this ‘wild book’ Powys creates a ‘Philosophy of the Demented’ expressing fundamental truths about madness and sanity. Most of the novel, though, like so much of his later fiction, it is more a fantasy, takes place in Glint Hall, a lunatic asylum. The two main characters are John Hush and Tenna Sheer. They fall in love. The rapidly developing, psychologically complex narrative centres on Hush's organization of a conspiracy of revolt amongst the most fantastically crazy of the inmates. It makes for a strange, disturbing, and yet, at times, funny read.