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John Cowper Powys
[ ... in French   ]
⇒  Cover

⇒  Preface

⇒  Introduction

⇒  The visit

⇒  Weymouth map c.1930

⇒  Portland map c.1930

⇒  Works quoted

⇒  Postface

A visit to Weymouth with John Cowper Powys     [ ⇒ quit... ]

   The Powys Society was founded in 1967. In 1972 was held at Cambridge the very first Conference, for the centenary of the birth of John Cowper Powys. It was the first large-scale conference attended by readers and scholars from the British Isles but also from America and Europe. Among the lecturers were Glen Cavaliero, G. Wilson Knight, George Steiner and Angus Wilson. This momentous event was the theme of the first number of 'The Powys Review' (Spring 1977). It is interesting to return to the lecture Steiner gave on this occasion, entitled 'The Difficulties of Reading John Cowper Powys' (reproduced in 'The Powys Review 'n°1), and to meditate on the few facts he mentioned which explained the so-called "difficulties". Apart from the disastrously negative judgments and dismissals by dons such as Dr. Leavis, which partly explain why there was at that time no general biography, no bibliography, the main problem was that there were practically no books in print! Apparently, Penguin had agreed, with some reluctance says Steiner, to publish Powys in their Twentieth Century Classics, but a shattering review in 'The New Statesman' when Wolf Solent was published put an end to Penguin's endeavours. Steiner adds: "There's absolutely no doubt that if there had been a breakthrough with Penguin the situation would have been profoundly different throughout the reading community".
   Shortly after the Conference, a most important, a most decisive and vital event occured when Jeffrey Kwintner founded Village Press in order to ensure that Powysians should at last have access to most of JCP's books and letters at reasonable prices. And we should not forget the fine biography Richard Graves devoted to The Brothers Powys in 1983, an accomplishment which has not yet been rivalled in any way. The situation continued to improve, if one considers the new editions which came after the success of A Glastonbury Romance published in 1987 by Overlook Press in the US. In 1990 Prof. Ian Hughes brought out a carefully revised version of Maiden Castle, thus giving us the first printing of the complete text. Penguin published their edition of A Glastonbury Romance in 1999. They also published Weymouth Sands in March 2000 and Wolf Solent with a new introduction by A.N. Wilson in May 2000. Thanks to Overlook Press Owen Glendower came out in 2002 and the complete edition of Porius, edited by Judith Bond and Morine Krissdóttir, was finally published in 2007 by the combined efforts of Overlook Press and Duckworth, at the same time as the controversial1 Descents of Memory, John Cowper Powys's biography, by M. Krissdóttir. Two fine collections of letters, Powys and Emma Goldman, and Powys and Dorothy Richardson were published in 2008, both by Cecil Woolf.
   In France, almost all his work has been translated and published by different publishers, except—alas—Porius which is still waiting for someone courageous enough to attempt the venture. The small but valiant publishing firm Corti has several essays by JCP on their catalogue: L'Art de Vieillir was published January 1999, La Religion d'un Sceptique in 2004, L'Art d'Oublier le Déplaisir in 2007. Other publishers also contributed translations, such as P.U.F. which published Psychanalyse et Moralité in 2009. Some titles are also available in German, Swedish, Italian.
   On the other hand you may not have a vital interest in modern editions, but rather be one of those who haunt, as Powys writes, the most flagrant of houses "of ill-fame", a second-hand bookshop, "where all the outlawed thoughts of humanity can take refuge" and there suddenly hit upon one of his magnificent "Romances", as he called them, or find his Poems, his Letters, his Philosophical tracts, his stimulating Literary Studies...

Jacqueline Peltier, March 2012

1 See for instance A.N. Wilson's review, 'The strange experience of England', published in The Spectator, 16 February 2008.

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