Past Conferences: 2023

The Hand Hotel, Llangollen, N. Wales

Friday 18th to Sunday 20th August 2023

the hand hotel, llangollen

  ‘Into something rich and strange’

For our conference this year we return to Llangollen and the Hand Hotel, a place and venue we have not visited since 2019 when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Powys Society. The landscape surrounding Llangollen is dominated by the ruined walls and towers of the castle of Dinas Bran constructed in the 1260s by Griffith ap Madoc, Prince of Powys Fadog and Lord of Dinas Bran. JCP gives an evocative description of this wild fortress: The ruins of Dinas Bran tower up, jagged and desolate above the romantic town of Llangollen.  Legends and mysteries, such as of Bran the Blessed, one of the most singular of the ancient gods, said JCP, swirl around the battered and broken castle and the steep eminence on which it stands. JCP was fascinated by the mythical associations of Dinas Bran, its mystic enchantment, and its place in Welsh history. JCP writes in his novel Owen Glendower about his young protagonist Rhisiart with his secret mania and irresistible mental vision of Dinas Bran lifting its mystic battlements against indescribable spiritual horizons.

The subjects of the lectures at this year’s conference range widely: JCP’s personal quest for a Welsh identity, the imaginary world of Rodmoor, with its strange images of death, destruction and madness, a discussion of Outsider characters, reflections on the meaning of eco-consciousness in JCP’s writings and the significance for JCP of genre and the form of the long modernist novel illustrated especially by the example of A Glastonbury Romance.

The title for the conference is taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Act 1, Scene ii) and suggests this year’s theme. In Autobiography JCP often alludes to this quotation using it to help illuminate his inner world. He refers to himself at the age of nine, a young neophyte in magic, embarked as if on some sort of magical quest for a half glimpsed and indefinable ideal, the magical power within us, which JCP describes as something rich and strange. Shakespeare’s words reverberate throughout Autobiography — JCP reflects on the rich workings of the unfathomable Cosmos and perceives there an underlying world of rich magic and strange romance. These insights find a resonance in our speaker’s lectures. Colin Laker, who presents a talk at our conference for the first time, will explore the rich connections between JCP and Wales and how this relationship came to influence his writing as well as how his views and attitudes towards Wales, ancient Welsh history and the Welsh people transformed his sense of identity. The idea of Wales went drumming on like an incantation through my tantalised soul, says JCP in Autobiography. Paul Cheshire will take us beyond Wales into other Powysian places. JCP’s second novel Rodmoor (1916) is set in Norfolk with its chilly, salt tasting wind…old decaying boroughs on the east coast and relentless encroachments of the sea upon the land. Paul will examine the rich and strange world of JCP’s protagonist, Adrian Sorio with his unusual thoughts and dim visions. Paul will discuss Sorio’s ideas about destruction and his belief in the burning and devouring flame that is the essence of life, as well as his vision of the possibility of something beyond human expression, something that lies beyond life and death. We welcome Kim Wheatley to the conference as a speaker for the first time. Kim explores the portrayal of Outsider figures and strange “marginalised human beings” in JCP’s fiction, as well as in his Autobiography and diaries and investigates the significance of their relationship to similar figures in the poetry of Wordsworth. We are pleased to welcome Mick Wood who also appears at our conference as a speaker for the first time. Mick’s talk will focus on JCP’s writing from the point of view of ‘green’ or eco modernism. Mick will discuss JCP’s strange relationship with “non-human forms and forces”. Ben Thomson, a regular attendee at conferences for several years, explores the aesthetic, philosophical, experimental and modernist qualities of form and length with all their rich and manifold associations especially as represented in A Glastonbury Romance. On our free Saturday afternoon, we are planning a guided tour of the region known locally as World’s End sometimes visited by JCP and Phyllis (see NL105). World’s End is situated in the mountains above Llangollen amidst impressive limestone cliffs, with extensive panoramic views, surrounded by forests, woodland, moorland, pastures and fast running streams which probably inspired Morwyn as well as JCP’s description in Porius of the misty ridge at the end of the world between the precipices leading to the mouth of Tartarus and the cavernous entrance to Hades. We plan to hire Corwen’s community bus. It may also be possible to visit Eliseg’s Pillar and Valle Crucis on the return journey. More details of arrangements will follow in due course. On Saturday evening we are arranging an event dedicated to readings from selected early works of T. F. Powys. The book room will be open as usual at selected times. We will have a good range of Powys related titles on offer but please also bring your own donations of books to the sale.  

Chris Thomas, Hon. Secretary

Conference Programme

Friday 18 August

16.00 Arrival
17.30 Reception and Chair’s welcome (Paul Cheshire)
18.30 Dinner
20.00 Colin Laker: ‘“We talked of going to Wales and I was elated!”: John Cowper Powys’s complex vision of Wales and Welsh identity’

Saturday 19 August

08.00 Breakfast
09.30 Paul Cheshire: ‘Rodmoor and the Quest for ‘what lies beyond life’’
10.45 Coffee
11.15 Kim Wheatley: ‘Wordsworthian figures of disability in JCP’
13.00 Lunch
Afternoon free – optional guided tour of World’s End a region situated amid the mountains and limestone cliffs above Llangollen and the inspiration for scenes in Morwyn and Porius. Transport to the location will be provided by community bus.
19.00 Dinner
20.30 A celebration of T. F. Powys with readings of his Selected Early Works.

Sunday 20 August

08.00-09:30 Breakfast
09.30 Mick Wood: An Image of the Whole Round Earth: Perspective and Scale in the Writing of John Cowper Powys’
10.45 Coffee
11.00 AGM
12.00 Ben Thomson: ‘A Glastonbury Romance and the long modernist novel’
13.00: Lunch
15.00 Departure   

Our Conference Organisers: Anna Rosic (l) and Louise de Bruin (r)

Anna Rosic & Louise De Bruin (powys conference organisers)