File NLW MSS 23088D, 23089-90E - John Cowper Powys letters to Laurence Pollinger

Identity area

Reference code

NLW MSS 23088D, 23089-90E


John Cowper Powys letters to Laurence Pollinger


  • 1944-1964 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

NLW MS 23088D: 242 ff.
NLW MS 23089E: 159 ff.
NLW MS 23090E: 241 ff.

Guarded and filed at NLW.

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

John Cowper Powys (1872-1963), was a prolific novelist, poet, and literary critic. He wrote one of the most remarkable autobiographies in the English language; he was the author of several works of popular philosophy; and throughout his long life he was an obsessive letter writer and diarist. Although never fully accepted as part of the ‘canon’ of English novelists, he is widely regarded as one of the great novelists of the 20th century, and his admirers include many eminent writers and critics. He was born in Shirley, Derbyshire, on 8 October 1872. In 1879 the family moved to Dorchester, Dorset, eventually settling, in 1885, in Montacute, Somerset. Powys therefore spent most of his childhood within the borders of the ancient kingdom of ‘Wessex’. Its landscape – which was also the setting for Thomas Hardy’s novels – came to dominate his imagination. He was the eldest of eleven children in a family notable for its strong-willed and individualistic characters. Two of his brothers, Theodore Francis Powys (1875-1953) and Llewelyn Powys (1884-1939), also became distinguished writers, while his sister Marian Powys (1882-1972) settled in New York, becoming a leading lace designer and a world authority on the history of lace making. Their father Charles Francis Powys (1843-1923) was a clergyman who took great pride in his Welsh ancestry, while their mother Mary Cowper Powys (1849-1914) was descended from the English poets John Donne and William Cowper. John Cowper was educated at Westbury House preparatory school, Sherborne, and Sherborne School (1883–1891), and subsequently at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In 1896 he published his first volume of verse, Odes and Other Poems, and in the same year he married Margaret Alice Lyon (1874-1947). They had one son, Littleton Alfred Powys (1902-1954), but the marriage was a failure and Powys and his wife eventually separated. After leaving Cambridge Powys had found work as a teacher at various girls' schools before becoming an extension lecturer affiliated to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Between 1909 and 1930, he earned his living as an itinerant lecturer in the USA, where he won fame as an inspired and charismatic orator. His first novel, Wood and Stone, was published in New York in 1915, and his first full length work of of popular philosophy, The Complex Vision, appeared in 1920. During a visit to Missouri, in 1921, he met Phyllis Playter (1894-1982) who became his life companion, his muse, and a powerful influence upon his literary career. While in the USA Powys also made the acquaintance of several eminent American literary figures, including the poet, Edgar Lee Masters, and the writers, Theodore Dreiser and Henry Miller. He reached his maturity as a novelist with the publication, in 1929, of his fifth novel, Wolf Solent. Its success led him give up lecturing and devote his life to writing. In 1930 he and Playter went to live in Phudd Bottom, upper New York state. There followed two other novels of immense scope and psychological subtlety: A Glastonbury Romance (1932), and Weymouth Sands (1934). In the same year he published his very frank and revealing Autobiography. Although written in America, these books are full of sensuous descriptions of the ‘Wessex’ landscapes of his youth. Like Powys himself, many of the protagonists of his novels are introspective characters who develop a personal ‘mythology’ as a means of coming to terms with the world. In 1935, while in his sixties, Powys fulfilled a long cherished ideal by moving to live in Wales. For twenty years, he and Phyllis Playter made their home in Corwen, Meirionnydd, where Powys immersed himself in the language, history and mythology of the country. He also made the acquaintance of several eminent Welsh academics and writers, including Iorwerth Peate, the founder of the Welsh Folk Museum, and Gwyn Jones, Viking scholar and translator of the Mabiniogion. Powys's two late masterpieces, Owen Glendower (1940) and Porius (1951), belong to this period. In 1955 he and Playter moved to a quarryman’s cottage at Blaenau Ffestiniog. John Cowper Powys died at the Memorial Hospital, Blaenau Ffestiniog, on 17 June 1963.

Name of creator

Biographical history

Phyllis Playter was born in 1894 in Kansas City, Missouri, to Canadian-American parents. She first met John Cowper Powys in March 1921 during a lecture tour of the United States and subsequently became Powys's long-term companion from 1923 until his death forty years later. Herself a gifted writer and poet, Playter's own career was largely subsumed in that of Powys's, upon whose work she nevertheless exerted significant influence. In his letters and diaries Powys commonly refers to Playter as 'the T.T.' (the 'Tiny Thin' or 'The Tao'). Following Powys's death in 1963, Playter continued to live in their last home at 1 Waterloo, Blaenau Ffestiniog, until her own death in 1982.

Name of creator

Biographical history

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Bertram Rota Ltd; London; Purchase; 1992

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Letters from the files of Laurence Pollinger, literary agent for John Cowper Powys, including one hundred and twenty letters, 1944-1962, from John Cowper Powys, and forty-eight letters, 1945-1964, from his companion Phyllis Playter, many of which were written after Powys's death; together with carbon copies of Pollinger's replies and letters from other members of the Powys family.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Readers consulting modern papers in the National Library of Wales are required to abide by the conditions noted on the 'Modern papers - data protection' form issued with their Readers' Tickets.

Conditions governing reproduction

Usual copyright laws apply. Information regarding the ownership of John Cowper Powys and Phyllis Playter copyright can be found at (viewed February 2016).

Language of material

Script of material

Language and script notes


Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

The contents are indexed in greater detail in Handlist of Manuscripts in the National Library of Wales, Volume 9 (Aberystwyth, 2003)

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

For other groups of John Cowper Powys papers see NLW MSS 21775-84, 21869-73, 21928-40, 21994, 22206-41, 22373-9, 22501, 22506-13, 22807-14, 23161-75, 23193-7, 23493-506, 23582-4, 23672-91, 23862.

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Notes area


Title based on contents.


Preferred citation: NLW MSS 23088D, 23089-23090E

Alternative identifier(s)

Virtua system control number


Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru = The National Library of Wales

Rules and/or conventions used

Description follows NLW guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd ed.; AACR2; and LCSH


Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

February 2009


  • English



Archivist's note

Description compiled by Bethan Ifan for the retrospective conversion project of NLW MSS.

Accession area

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Physical storage

  • Text: NLW MSS 23088D, 23089-23090E.