Llewelyn Powys, the youngest of three brothers to achieve literary fame, was a rather gifted and remarkable British writer. He was educated at Cambridge, worked as a stock farmer in Kenya during World War I, and then moved to New York to work as a journalist for five more years. The stories in EBONY AND IVORY, many of which were published in the best magazines of the time, were written during his stay in Kenya and New York. They present perhaps the best and most representative examples of his outlook and art.
Powys’ outlook and art are very closely related. His vision of life informs every aspect of his art, while his art is an attempt to answer that vision. This tension between outlook and art, truth and style, content and form, provides Powys’ stories with their intensity and force.
Powys’ vision of life, the spirit that informs these stories, was grounded in pain and death, cruelty and mortality, vanity and doom, for Powys was obsessed with agony and fate, which for him were the sole absolutes of life. His stories dwell overwhelmingly on the tragic soul-destroying aspects of life and have much the same spirit as ECCLESIASTES, the RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM, and much of the fiction of Joseph Conrad. They show an intimate acquaintance with the terror, cruelties, and savagery that plague men. Powys knew the futility and mortality of humanity. This was the lesson he learned in Africa.
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