search by author or title

John Cowper Powys

John Cowper Powys

John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) was the author of many novels as well as works of philosophy, criticism, and autobiography. A descendant of the poets Donne and Cowper, he was born in England, but spent twenty-five years in America, where he wrote his masterpieces. George Steiner has described him as the only English novelist to rival Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, and his novels often are compared to those of Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence.

“John Cowper Powys wrote what I have long considered to be the finest novel by an Englishman in the 20th century, but his name remains little known, even though he wrote what are widely thought to be at least three other great novels. Perhaps his anonymity persists because he has not yet been Adapted For Television, the medium by which many read books these days, and so awaits discovery by the multitude. We must live in hope. The novel to which I refer is Wolf Solent, which caused a sensation when it was published in 1929 (over the next seven years, he went on to publish the other three ‘greats’: A Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands, and Maiden Castle). Wolf Solent has many elements of autobiography; and Powys was a decidedly odd man, which makes it all the more riveting…. It is one of the truly outstanding works of English literature, demanding wider discovery and appreciation.”—Simon Heffer, The Telegraph, November 24, 2015

"The Wessex novels of John Cowper Powys—Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1933), Weymouth Sands (1935), and Maiden Castle (1937)—must rank as four of the greatest ever to be written in our language.... It should be clear that here we have a truly major figure. Every now and again there is an attempt at a revival. A brave publisher will reissue one of the novels and print on the jacket the plaudits which Powys has received: 'The only novels produced by an English writer that can fairly be compared with the fictions of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky', wrote George Steiner. 'To encounter Powys' (Henry Miller this time) 'is to arrive at the very fount of creation'. Angus Wilson, Margaret Drabble, Iris Murdoch and Simon Heffer are among the faithful. But many university students taking a course in the English literature of the 20th century could achieve their degree without so much as hearing Powys's name. And yet he is an author whom, once you have discovered him, you will go on reading for the rest of your life. He has lowered his bucket deeper than most into the mystery of things. He is able to write not only about the experience of memory, love, obsession, sex and childhood experience. More than that, he has his ear cocked to the life of the universe itself.... Central to Powys's writings, fictional and non-fictional, is that we all have what he calls a life-illusion, which, if we can cultivate it aright, will enable us to overcome all our psychological inadequacies, all our fears and angers and look upon life in a healthy, cheerful, defiant mood. Powys was bold enough to write a book called The Art of Happiness and he seems to his admirers to be someone who has mastered that art and passed it on to others. For that, and for the books he wrote, we shall always be grateful." —A. N. Wilson, The Spectator, February 13, 2008.

“Powys was heavily influenced by Thomas Hardy, and some critics have called these four novels ‘Wessex’ works. All they have in common, though, with Hardy is a landscape. Powys’s novels are more mystical, and lack the brutal reality Hardy so successfully brought in to his stories. They also deal with the mind in a far more complex way.”—Simon Heffer, The Telegraph

“The realm of John Cowper Powys is dangerous. The reader may wander for years in this parallel universe, entrapped and bewitched, and never reach its end. There is always another book to discover, another work to reread. Like Tolkien, Powys has invented another country, densely peopled, thickly forested, mountainous, erudite, strangely self-sufficient. This country is less visited than Tolkien's, but it is as compelling, and it has more air.”—Margaret Drabble, The Guardian, August 11, 2006

"I particularly admire John Cowper Powys. I particularly like Wolf Solent, A Glastonbury Romance, and Weymouth Sands."—Iris Murdoch, The Paris Review

"Homage to John Cowper Powys" by Stevie Smith
This old man is sly and wise,
He knows the truth, he tells no lies,
He is as deep as a British pool,
And Monsieur Poop may think him a fool.

“John Cowper Powys is a powerful genius, whose novels stir us deeply.”—Annie Dillard

“A great romantic writer…Powys has been compared to Hardy, Wordsworth, Dostoevsky and Sterne, and is not ridiculous in such company.”—Jeremy Brooks, Daily Telegraph

"Powys is one of the few, the very few English novelists of the last fifty years of whom it could be said that they have not talent but genius."—J.B. Priestley

“To encounter [Powys] is to arrive at the very fount of creation. He makes us witnesses of the consuming fire which rages throughout the universe entire and which gives not warmth nor enlightenment, but enduring vision, enduring strength, and enduring courage.” —Henry Miller

“We have today no more consummate stylist than Mr. Powys. I know of no living writer with so vast a vocabulary at his command, nor anything like his mastery of the long sentence.”—G. Wilson Knight

“Among those who delve into English literature, the esteem in which he is held is consistently high....Wolf Solent is slowly becoming recognized, in Powys’s own country at least, as one of the greatest English novels. His presence in English letters, so long in coming, continues to grow.”—Simon Heffer, The New Criterion

AUTOBIOGRAPHY (The Overlook Press, 2005)

A GLASTONBURY ROMANCE (The Overlook Press, 1996)

MAIDEN CASTLE (The Overlook Press, 2001)

WEYMOUTH SANDS (The Overlook Press, 1999)

WOLF SOLENT (Vintage, 1998)