File 246. - John Cowper Powys letters to Evan Roberts

Identity area

Reference code

246.

Title

John Cowper Powys letters to Evan Roberts

Date(s)

  • 1937-1955 (Creation)

Level of description

File

Extent and medium

82 numbered items.

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.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Letters of John Cowper Powys to Evan Roberts. The following letters have been added to the original 1949 file (246/1-28) from subsequent donations: 246/29 (John C. Powys, 7 Cae Coed, Corwen, 19 Oct. 1938) from the Sept. 1951 donation; 246/30-59 (Aug. 1937-Oct. 1952) from the 1952 donation; 246/60-72 (Jan. 1941-Nov. 1953) from the Oct. 1955 donation; and 246/73-81 (Nov. 1941-Sept. 1952) and 246/82 (Phyllis Playter, 1 Waterloo, Blaenau Ffestiniog, 8 Oct. 1955) from the Aug. 1956 donation.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

Accruals

System of arrangement

Groups of letters arranged in accession order.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Usual copyright laws apply. Information regarding the ownership of John Cowper Powys and Phyllis Playter copyright can be found at http://tyler.hrc.utexas.edu/ (viewed February 2016).

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

English.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

See also NLW, John Cowper Powys and Phyllis Playter manuscripts.

Related descriptions

Notes area

Note

Preferred citation: Evan Roberts, Llandderfel, Papers 246.

Note

Title based on contents.

Alternative identifier(s)

Virtua system control number

vtls005196480

Project identifier

ISYSARCHB10

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

Status

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Language(s)

  • English

Script(s)

Sources

Accession area

Related subjects

Related genres

Related places

Physical storage

  • Text: 246.