John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) was born in Derbyshire, brought up in the West Country (the Somerset/Dorset border area was to have a lasting influence on him), went to Cambridge University and then became a teacher and lecturer mainly in the USA where he lived for about thirty years. On returning to the UK, after a short spell in Dorset, he settled in Wales in 1935 where he lived for the rest of his long life.
Those are the bare bones of his life. In some senses they seem unimportant when set alongside his extraordinary writing career. Not only was output prodigious, it was like nothing else in English Literature.
Indeed, George Steiner has made the bold claim that his works are ‘the only novels produced by an English writer that can fairly be compared to the fictions of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky’. And even that doesn’t touch on their multifarious strangeness.
John Cowper Powys wrote compulsively: letters, diaries, short stories, fantasies, poetry, literary criticism, philosophy and, above all, novels poured out of him. He also wrote a remarkable autobiography.
In addition to his Autobiography his masterpieces are considered to be Wolf Solent, Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands and Porius. But his lesser, or less well-known, works shouldn’t be overlooked, they spring from the same weird, mystical, brilliant and obsessive imagination.
John Cowper Powys is a challenging author with an impressive list of admirers. In addition to George Steiner, these have included Robertson Davies, Margaret Drabble, Theodore Dreiser, Henry Miller, J. B. Priestley and Angus Wilson.