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I have tried to write my life as if I were confessing to a priest, a philosopher, and a wise old woman. I have tried to write as if I were going to be executed when it was finished. I have tried to write it as if I were both God and Devil.’ One is tempted to say only John Cowper Powys could have written that, and, beyond doubt, only John Cowper Powys could have written the idiosyncratic and spellbinding work we have here. Yes, he was influenced by Yeats and Rousseau, especially the latter’s Confessions, but there is no other work quite like this. It seems almost too pedestrian to say it covers the first sixty years of his life (he lived for another thirty years) and to say anything about them, as J. B. Priestley memorably put it, ‘would be like turning on a tap before introducing people to Niagara Falls.’ J. B. Priestley also said ‘It is a book which can be read, with pleasure and profit, over and over again. It is in fact one of the greatest autobiographies in the English language. Even if Powys had never written any novels, this one book alone would have proved him to be a writer of genius.
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