John Cowper Powys Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Cowper Powys (POH-uhs), born in Derbyshire, England, on October 8, 1872, was a member of an extraordinarily artistic family. His father was a minister of the Church of England, his mother a descendant of the poets William Cowper and John Donne. John Cowper Powys was an exceptionally prolific writer, and his two brothers, Llewelyn and Theodore Francis, each turned out a volume of work almost equal to his own. Of the other eight Powys children, one sister became a novelist and poet, another sister a painter, another brother an architect. All shared an inheritance of English common sense and Celtic imagination.

Powys, once graduated from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, began his career as a lecturer in the United States and Britain. His approach to figures such as Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson was peculiarly romantic; he would try to intuit the essential nature of the man about whom he was speaking and would often identify himself with that person. As a result, his literary criticism is emotionally based, and his comments frequently reveal more about Powys than they do about the ostensible subject of the lecture. Despite this subjective quality, or perhaps because of it, he was a very successful lecturer.

His father having granted him an annuity of sixty pounds, Powys began the risky career of writing. He had been influenced by the pantheism of William Wordsworth and the Celtic romanticism of the early William...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Birns, Nicholas. “‘A Peculiar Blending’: Powys’s Anglo-American Synthesis.” Powys Notes 8, nos. 1-2 (1992). Sheds light on Powys’s American years.

Cavaliero, Glen. John Cowper Powys: Novelist. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1973. Critical study includes bibliography.

Churchill, R. C. The Powys Brothers. London: Longmans, Green: 1962. Brief forty-page work on Powys and his brothers.

Fawkner, H. W. The Ecstatic World of John Cowper Powys. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986. Critical study stresses Powys’s affinity with postmodernism.

Graves, Richard Percival. The Brothers Powys. New York: Scribner, 1983. Full-length biographical study includes bibliography.

Hopkins, Kenneth. The Powys Brothers: A Biographical Appreciation. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1967. Studies Powys, his family background, and related material.

Krissdóottir, Morine. Descents of Memory: The Life of John Cowper Powys. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2007. This biography provides a thorough account of Powys’ life and writing. Krissdóttir chronicles important events in his literary career and fleshes out his character through an examination of his personal relationships.

Krissdóttir, Morine. John Cowper Powys and the Magical Quest. London: Macdonald and Jane’s, 1980. Critical study emphasizes Powys’s mysticism.

Lane, Denis, ed. In the Spirit of Powys: New Essays. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1989. A good introduction to Powys studies.