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"Natural or unnatural," one of the characters says, "it's nature. Lawrence, who compared with Powys was a reactionary about matters of the flesh. Even the shorter novels invite the description that Henry James applied to novels by Tolstoy, Thackeray, and Dumas: "loose, baggy monsters." Powys had mixed feelings about James; when asked about a writer he did like, he would often mention Homer, and sometimes Sir Walter Scott.It's mortal man's one great solace before he's annihilated." I can't imagine anyone else of Powys's generation writing those words. His own writing is epic, grandiose, often wildly rhetorical, and probably undeconstructible.He could be guilty of absurdities, as when he described the departure of Tom Barter's soul from his dead body in A Glastonbury Romance.
I started with a 1929 novel called Wolf Solent, because I thought it might be about wolves, possibly in the manner of Jack London. It concerns an extremely introverted man, Wolf Solent, and his courtship of two very different women.The supporting cast includes a lecherous sausage-maker, a peddler of antiquarian pornography, a homosexual clergyman, a voyeuristic country squire, a teenage boy who kisses trees, and a mad poet. What struck me when I reread recently was not its weirdness but its compassion for the down-and-out, the aberrant, and the misbegotten.What also struck me was its casual attitude toward polymorphous sex. Two later novels, and Porius, are well over a thousand (in hardcover they would make formidable weapons).In including just about everything, he was a maximalist writer in an increasingly minimalist age.
I can think of no equivalent to him among subsequent writers except, perhaps, Patrick White, who, like Powys, both seeks the transcendent in the ordinary and occasionally spins his wheels in trying to corner such an elusive quarry. Powys received no prizes other than a bronze plaque from the Hamburg Free Academy of the Arts, a few years before his death.
TO some readers, John Cowper Powys is a long-winded, bombastic bore and an almost pathological celebrant of oddball sex and chthonic realms. His name seldom comes up in discussions of that dreary academic figment known as The Novel, and a number of well-read people of my acquaintance have never heard of him.