John Cowper Powys

John Cowper Powys
John Cowper Powys (October 8, 1872 – June 17, 1963) was a British (English-Welsh) writer, lecturer, and philosopher.

He was born in Shirley, Derbyshire, where his father was vicar. His mother was descended from the poet William Cowper, hence his middle name. His two younger brothers, Llewelyn Powys and Theodore Francis Powys, also became well-known writers. Other brothers and sisters also became prominent in the arts. John studied at Sherborne School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and became a teacher and lecturer; as lecturer, he worked first in England, then in continental Europe and finally in the USA, where he lived in the years 1904-1934. While in the United States, his work was championed by author Theodore Dreiser. He engaged in public debate with Bertrand Russell and the philosopher and historian Will Durant: he was called for the defence in the first obscenity trial for the James Joyce novel, Ulysses, and was mentioned with approval in the autobiography of US feminist and anarchist, Emma Goldman. He made his name as a poet and essayist, moving on to produce a series of acclaimed novels distinguished by their uniquely detailed and intensely sensual recreation of time, place and character. They also describe heightened states of awareness resulting from mystic revelation, or from the experience of extreme pleasure or pain. The best known of these distinctive novels are A Glastonbury Romance and Wolf Solent. He also wrote some works of philosophy and literary criticism, including a pioneering tribute to Dorothy Richardson. Having returned to the UK, he lived in England for a brief time, then moved to Corwen in Wales, where he wrote historical romances (including two set in Wales) and magical fantasies. He later moved to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where he remained until his death in 1963.

Powys’ novels are legendary for their massive size and numerous characters. In addition to their scope Powys’ books can be difficult because of their many obscure references to Welsh culture and mythology. Other sources of difficulty for the contemporary reader are Powys’ obsession with the occult and an animist world view which, among other things, endowed inanimate objects like the sun in A Glastonbury Romance with souls and points of view. The appeal of Powys eludes some readers, while others are deeply moved. Because of this, his challenging works have never been fashionable, yet they have won a loyal following nevertheless. They have been praised by talents as diverse as novelists Henry Miller, Robertson Davies, and Margaret Drabble, as well as classical pianist Glenn Gould. Film director John Boorman wrote in his autobiography that early in his career he contemplated making a movie based on “A Glastonbury Romance.”

Powys was also one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary letter writers: his correspondence bears comparison with that of Charles Olson in its immediacy and intellectual scope. A collection of his letters to his lifelong friend and biographer Louis Wilkinson (himself best known for his close connection with Aleister Crowley) was published during his lifetime: further volumes have been issued posthumously.


  • Wood and Stone (1915)
  • Rodmoor (1916)
  • Wolf’s Bane (1916)
  • After My Fashion (written 1919, published 1980)
  • Ducdame (1925)
  • Wolf Solent (1929)
  • A Glastonbury Romance (1933)
  • Weymouth Sands (1934)
  • Jobber Skald (heavily edited version of the above for UK market – 1935)
  • Maiden Castle (1936)
  • Morwyn: or The Vengeance of God (1937)
  • Owen Glendower (1940)
  • Porius (1951, restored text 1994)
  • The Inmates (1952)
  • Atlantis (1954)
  • The Brazen Head (1956)
  • Up and Out (two novellas) (1957)
  • Homer and the Aether (1959)
  • All or Nothing (1960)
  • Real Wraiths (novella, published 1974)
  • Two and Two (novella, published 1974)
  • You and Me (novella, published 1975)


  • One Hundred Best Books (reprinted 1923)
  • The Meaning of Culture (1929)
  • In Defense of Sensuality (1930)
  • A Philosophy of Solitude (1933)
  • The Art of Happiness (1935)
  • The Pleasures of Literature (1938)
  • The Art of Growing Old (1944)
  • In Spite of: A Philosophy for Everyone (1953)

Short stories

  • The Owl, The Duck, and – Miss Rowe! Miss Rowe! (1930)
  • Romer Mowl and Other Stories (collection published 1974)
  • Three Fantasies (collection published 1985)
    • Abertackle
    • Cataclysm
    • Topsy-Turvy


  • Odes and Other Poems (1896)
  • Suspended Judgements (1916)
  • Autobiography (1934)
  • Rabelais (1948)
  • Visions and Revisions (1955)

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