‘An Undying Underground Stream’: Hardy and John Cowper Powys

  • Peter J. Casagrande
Part of the Macmillan Hardy Studies book series (MHS)


In the case of John Cowper Powys (1872–1963), novelist, as well as philosopher, poet and lecturer-extraordinaire, the decisive influence of Hardy is never in question; for Powys never tired of describing it — in poems, essays and letters, but most particularly in his novels, which appeared between 1915 and 1936. But how Hardy’s influence manifests itself, especially in the five novels of 1925–36 set in Dorest and Somerset, is a complicated question, in part because Powys himself was so determined to provide an answer. The novels of Scott, Dostoevsky and Dickens, as well as the poems of Wordsworth, were by Powys’s own admission as important as the Wessex Novels as purely literary influences. But then Hardy was much more than a purely literary influence on Powys; for, as Powys suggests in his Autobiography (1934), as well as in many other references to Hardy between 1915 and 1936, Hardy was a poetic father and mentor in an immediate and conscious sense. This can be said because in the Autobiography, as shall be seen, Powys makes repeated associations between his Dorset-born and Dorset-bred biological father, the Reverend Charles Francis Powys, from whom he was estranged for much of his life, and the Dorset-born and-bred Thomas Hardy, whom he knew personally and on whom he in large part consciously modelled himself as a novelist.


Sexual Ambivalence Great Writer Physical Feeling Literary Influence Stone Circle 
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  1. 1.
    John Cowper Powys, Autobiography (London, 1934) p. 56. All quotations from the Autobiography (cited as Auto) are from this edition. Subsequent references appear in the text. The epigraph to this chapter is from Powys’s essay ‘Thomas Hardy’, in Enjoyment of Literature (New York, 1938) p. 446.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    John Cowper Powys, Odes and Other Poems (London, 1896) pp. 11–12.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    John Cowper Powys: Letters to Nicholas Ross, ed. Llewelyn Powys (London, 1971) p. 119. See also the letters to Ross of January and November 1943 (pp. 49–55). Also the letter to Louis Wilkinson of October 1959, in which Powys wrote, ‘I am a terrific hero-worshipper and genius-worshipper and I have never felt ashamed to boast of my various encounters with Hardy or with Walter de la Mare. I feel very strongly that we all have a right to be proud of touching History or Poetry or Literature as embodied in any person. In that sense I am proud to be a Boswellian’ — Letters of John Cowper Powys to Louis Wilkinson, 1935–1956 (London, 1958) p. 383.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Powys is referring to his brothers Llewelyn and Theodore and his sister Philippa. See R. C. Churchill, The Powys Brothers (London, 1962)Google Scholar
  5. also Kenneth Hopkins, The Powys Brothers: A Biographical Appreciation (London, 1974).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    John Cowper Powys, Visions and Revisions ([1915] New York, 1955) pp. xviii-xix. Barnes, so far as is known, was never Hardy’s schoolmaster, though it is said that Hardy, while an architect’s assistant in the office of John Hicks of Dorchester in the 1850s and 1860s, occasionally consulted Barnes on questions of Greek and Latin grammar. Barnes’s school was next door to Hicks’s office at 39, South Street (see Life, pp. 27–8).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    John Cowper Powys, Wood and Stone (London, 1915) pp. x-xi. All quotations from the novel (cited as W&S) are from this edition. Subsequent references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    John Cowper Powys, Rodmoor: A Romance (New York, 1916) ch. 8. Subsequent references to the novel are to this edition and appear in the text. The letters from Powys to Hardy can be seen in the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Llewelyn Powys, ‘Glimpses of Thomas Hardy’, Dial, 72 (1922) 286–90.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Llewelyn Powys, Thirteen Worthies (New York, 1923). See also the letter from Llewelyn Powys to Hardy dated 22 April 1923, in the Dorset County Museum.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    John Cowper and Llewelyn Powys, Confessions of Two Brothers (New York, 1916) pp. 76–7.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    John Cowper Powys, Ducdame (New York, 1928).Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    John Cowper Powys, Wolf Solent ([1929] New York, 1964) ch. 15. All quotations from this novel (cited as WfS) are from the 1964 edition. Subsequent references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    John Cowper Powys, Weymouth Sands ([1963] London, 1980) ch. 11.Google Scholar
  15. All quotations from this novel are from the 1980 edition. Subsequent references appear in the text. For a striking account of the autobiographical aspects of The Well-Beloved, see Robert Gittings, Young Thomas Hardy (Boston, Mass., 1975) esp. ch. 20; also Gittings’s Thomas Hardy’s Later Years (Boston, Mass., 1978) esp. chs. 6 and 7.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance ([1932] London, 1957) pp. x-xi, xv.Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    See Malcolm Elway, ‘Prefatory Note’ to Maiden Castle (London, 1966) pp. 7–10Google Scholar
  18. See Malcolm Elway, ‘Prefatory Note’ to Maiden Castle (London, 1966) pp. 7–10; also Peter J. Casagrande, Unity in Hardy’s Novels:‘Repetitive Symmetries’ (London, 1982) pp. 183ff.Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    John Cowper Powys, Maiden Castle ([1937] London, 1966) pt I, ch. 1; pt II, ch. 5; pt III, ch.9. All quotations from this novel (cited as MC) are from the 1966 edition. Subsequent references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    After Maiden Castle Powys turned from English to Welsh materials in novels such as Owen Glendower (1940) and Porius (1951). For a helpful account of Powys’s later career as a novelist, see Glen Cavaliero, John Cowper Powys: Novelist (Oxford, 1973).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter J. Casagrande 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Casagrande
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KansasUSA

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