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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A literary visitor

Friday, June 11th., Amberley, Sussex.

The novel may be good or it may be bad - but I am doing it easily, and at a great rate. It is not invention that lacks, but rather imagination. John Cowper Powys walked over the downs from Burpham today , and arrived before noon and stayed till after 5.30. He was delighted beyond measure when I spoke very highly of Dreiser's "An American Tragedy". He said Dreiser was very susceptible to praise. He said that Dreiser had sold the film rights of the novel for $50,000.

Powys is a very sentimental man in many ways. He was rather in favour of the general strike, but gave in instantly to my argument that it was right to squash it; but I expect he is in favour of it again by this time. He has very fine literary taste except when he is misled by his few prejudices. I asked him about his days (not evenings) in provincial cities in America. He said he did nothing except walk about. He wanted to work, ie. write, but couldn't work in the hotel bedroom; at least had not seriously tried to. I told him I had written lots and lots in hotel bedrooms and he said that he should try. An untidy fellow of very great charm.

John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) was born in Shirley, Derbyshire, where his father was vicar. 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 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.

For more on Powys see 'The English Degenerate'
and The Powys Society

Sometimes, and this was one of those times, when I think back to a conversation or social encounter I am ashamed by my own pomposity. I think I have gotten worse as I have grown older. Do I really feel that I have some sort of monopoly of judgement about what constitutes literary taste? Of course I wrote a book on the subject but at that time I don't think I was the dogmatist that I seem to be now. My Standard articles sometimes incline towards the didactic but I like to think that they are softened by humour; unfortunately I find humour less easy to come by in personal intercourse. 

Additionally for June 11th., see'Originality in fiction'

Writing about books in the Evening Standard, having recently attended the presentation of  the Hawthornden Prize, I was reflecting on the ability of literary panels to reward originality. My revolutionary thoughts on this matter run thus. No selection committee of nice-minded authors and bookish persons can choose a really original work. Their intentions are excellent. They have a genuine desire to serve the Lord. But in their humanity and their righteousness they are apt to forget the warning of the writer of Ecclesiasticus: "My son, if thou come to serve the lord, prepare thy soul for temptation."

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