One of the most fascinating explorations of the work of British novelist John Cowper Powys by H.W. Fawkner, one of the foremost commentators of this neglected, completely extraordinary author.
Weymouth Sands is a wonderful novel. In a sense it is the foremost work to come from the pen of John Cowper Powys. There is a sense of aesthetic consummation saving the novel from the sprawling excessivenesses of some of its chief creative rivals. A Glastonbury Romance has the same indomitable energy, and even the same type of internal happiness; but it does not have an equal sense of measure, poise, and economy. At the same time, Weymouth Sands is not a curtailing of Powys’s genius - in the way that Great Expectations sacrifices Dickens’s marvellous capacity for nonsensical digression demonstrated as early as Pickwick Papers.
The lack of bulk and the loss of enormity do not prevent Weymouth Sands from asserting itself as mass. Weymouth is not less solid than Glastonbury. The advancing and retreating sea-tides are not conceived on a scale that is more limited than the one utilized as canvas for the grand brushstrokes of history in Owen Glendower.
In becoming John Cowper’s most aesthetically perfect work, Weymouth Sands has made no sacrifices whatsoever. Here that which is most aesthetic is by the same token that which is most Powysian, most eccentric. For some strange reason, the eccentricity of Weymouth Sands is compatible with the principles of traditional aesthetic form - something which we can say of few other works from the hand of this artist.
John Cowper’s best fiction and best philosophy is built on the idea - indeed reality - of deliciousness. Deliciousness as such vanishes from the writer’s horizon as he progressively slips from the height of his powers into old age. In this sliding, Powys drifts away not only from the astonishing precision of his material hold on the richness of his own life-receptivity but also from the idea of the work of art as a quintessentially Powysian construct. In John Cowper Powys’s best works, the idea of the presence of deliciousness is indistinguishable from the idea of the presence of amorous life. By amorous life I basically mean what the narrator means in Weymouth Sands when describes the ideal-erotic affectivity of women like Gipsy May, Marret, and Peg Frampton as “a latent passion to offer up their amorous life as mystics offer up their souls”. In this assertion, ‘amorous life’ and ‘soul’ are understood as being on a par, as somehow being each other’s possible substitutes. In other words, the ‘soul’ passes imperceptibly into ‘amorous life’ for a mystic who no longer lives in the ancient world of dogma but in the world as we know it today. In a sense, in fact, ‘amorous life’ is a refinement of ‘soul.’