Of the three Powys (POH-uhs) brothers distinguished in literature—John Cowper, Theodore Francis, and Llewelyn—the second, though not the most famous, was the one who wrote most successfully within the conventions of the mid-twentieth century novelistic form. T. F. Powys may be numbered among those writers to whose narrative talent is added a mystical insight. He had reached the age of forty-seven before his first volume of fiction appeared, but he had practiced his craft in silence for many years. He may be grouped with such writers as Violet Paget, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Kenneth Grahame, and Arthur Machen, all of whom drew inspiration from the hypothesis that nature is tenanted by animistic forces. The Edwardian decade and after was a great period of haunted literature, as much an age of tales about fauns, banshees, and goblins as it was of social-protest novels and comic-opera romances. This was the period when Powys began to write.
Unlike those of his contemporaries who, in the tradition of Celtic folklore, contrasted the normal human world with a realm of supernatural creatures, Powys depicted an inward haunting, the presence of the cosmic powers of good and evil in humankind. His human characters are almost incarnations, and hence they often have an allegorical quality: In Unclay the central figure, John Death, is Death; in Mr. Weston’s Good Wine Mr. Weston is God. However, Powys always emphasized human traits; his personages seem as homely and local as the rustic Dorset villages through which they move.
Powys’s technique arose from his acute perception of nature’s unseen powers. It would be misleading to speak of “possession” or of “immanent spirits” or to regard him as an ordinary pantheist. Such terms imply a dualism in which the material and the spiritual, however intermingled, remain distinguishable. Powys conceived rather a complete, monistic identification of all nature, human and external, with the passionate intelligence of a creator responsible alike for beauty and for pain. Powys’s insistence on the truth of matter explains the occasional elements of horror, and even of foulness, in his stories.
Powys’s interest in the uncanny and the supernatural is never doctrinaire. Though not a believing Christian in his adult life, Powys in
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