Placing John Cowper Powys
The Conference was held at the Hand Hotel, Llangollen Friday 16 to Sunday 18 August 2013.
How do we place or ‘situate’ John Cowper Powys in World Literature? In recent conferences we've aimed to balance our programme between the several Powys writers. Our President, Glen Cavaliero, will in his opening lecture be reminding us that we read all three Powys brothers above all for Pleasure and Enjoyment; and we are grateful to P. J. Kavanagh — possessor of the most musical performing voice in the Society — for agreeing to lead a reading and discussion of Theodore’s Fables on Saturday night. But as it has turned out in 2013 — the fiftieth anniversary of his death — we are focusing chiefly on John Cowper. He was by far the most cosmopolitan and intellectually fluent of the family, though he often played this down. As his critical essays make evident, he wrote from an awareness of world literature, rather than 'The English Novel', and his aspiration was to link his own art to that canon of wayward ‘Worldbooks’. It was Rabelais and Homer, Mignon and Prince Myshkin, who most nourished his fiction. Charles Lock has already helped us see John Cowper Powys as a kind of post-modern (linking him to Bakhtin, for example) and now he wants to bring Wolf Solent into relation with Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, as well as with his other European contemporaries. Robert Caserio will be considering the Autobiography in the context of early twentieth-century Memoirs and Confessions. Kate Nash will explore the shift in voice as John Cowper moves away from the lecture platform persona and into the ‘Serpentine Narrator’ of the Romances.
The Hand Hotel is beautifully sited, surrounded by the mythic landscape of JCP’s late Welsh Narratives. Craning our necks, we can see the broken towers of Dinas Bran high above us, while the purple-black River Dee rushes at our feet. Corwen, the small town where he and Phyllis sat out the Second World War, is close by. John Cowper did ‘withdraw’ here — perhaps as much from his family as from the world of literary contacts and careers. But in this Conference our quest is to view him not as an isolated figure, but as a writer who may be better understood when integrated within the wider panorama of his generation.
Friday 16th August
20.00 Glen Cavaliero: ‘Endurance and Enjoyment: the Pleasures of Powys’
Saturday 17th August
09.30 Robert Caserio: ‘Powys amid English and American Autobiographies of the 1930s’
11.15 Charles Lock: ‘Wolf Solent and World Literature’
Afternoon free — guided walk to place of local Powys interest
20.00 Readings from T. F. Powys’s Fables, followed by discussion with members, led by P. J. Kavanagh
Sunday 18th August
09.30 Katherine Saunders Nash: ‘The Serpentine Narrator: John Cowper Powys's Turn from Lecturer to Novelist’
11.00 AGM followed by discussion
From the Conference speakers
Glen Cavaliero: Endurance and Enjoyment: The Pleasures of Powys.
The difficulties and pleasures experienced in a reading of the writings of the Powyses.
Robert L. Caserio jr: Powys amid English and American autobiographies of the 1930s.
There is a remarkable constellation of autobiographical writing that environs Powys’s own. The autobiographers include Winston Churchill, Christopher Isherwood, Louis MacNeice, H. G. Wells, Cyril Connolly, W. E. B. DuBois, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Henry Miller. My hope is that a situation of Powys's Autobiography among the others can better establish the form and the force of Powys, and the claims of his text on general readers and, indeed, on all literary historians.
Charles Lock: Wolf Solent and World Literature
A consideration of Wolf Solent in context and in competition with other ambitious novels of the 1920s, notably Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, Joyce's Ulysses, Robert Musil's Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften [The Man Without Qualities] and Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. JCP was well aware of his literary rivals and thought of himself as one among the avant-garde, and not the least ambitious of them. Other hardly less ambitious novels of the decade would include Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, and the continuing episodes of Dorothy M. Richardson's Pilgrimage. Proust, Joyce, Musil and Mann clearly belong to ‘world literature’; the others do not. This lecture will consider why Wolf Solent in particular has been rendered critically ‘provincial’ rather than ‘global’, and ask whether these categories and evaluations might be subject to revision.
Katherine Saunders Nash: The Serpentine Narrator: John Cowper Powys's Turn from Lecturer to Novelist.
A study of JCP's transition from the role of public speaker and lecturer to major novelist.
About the Speakers
Glen Cavaliero is President of The Powys Society, Fellow Commoner of St Catherine's College, Cambridge University, and a member of the Royal Society of Literature. Glen's latest volume of poetry is Towards the Waiting Sun, published in 2011.
Robert L. Caserio jr is Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, USA and editor of The Journal of Modern Literature. Publications include: Plot, Story, and the Novel: from Dickens and Poe to the Modern Period, and The Novel in England, 1900-1950: History and Theory. Recently he was appointed the editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Twentieth Century English Novel (2009), and co-editor of The Cambridge History of the English Novel (2012).
Charles Lock is editor of The Powys Journal and Professor of English Literature at the University of Copenhagen. Recent publications include essays on the poets Geoffrey Hill and Roy Fisher. In 2012 Charles delivered a plenary lecture on JCP and Iris Murdoch at the 6th International Iris Murdoch Conference at the University of Kingston in Surrey.
Kate Nash is an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, USA. She teaches courses on the history of the novel, narrative theory, feminist thought and criticism, and British fiction since 1660. She received her PhD from the University of Virginia in 2006 after completing a dissertation on John Cowper Powys under the guidance of Stephen Arata and Jerome McGann. She has published on JCP in Narrative (2007 — on his narrative form) and in The Powys Journal xviii (2008) — on intermental influences in his lecture career. Her first book, Feminist Narrative Ethics: Tacit Persuasion in Modernist Form (forthcoming in 2014) includes a chapter on JCP. The chapter, while acknowledging freely that Powys was neither modernist nor feminist, examines the narrative ethics of young-girl-like receptivity in A Glastonbury Romance. She has recently begun researching potential relationships between historical bibliography and theories of authorship.
P. J. Kavanagh is a poet and Powys fellow-traveller. He has been novelist, editor, anthologist, columnist, actor and frequent broadcaster.