Confessions of Two Brothers, 1916 (autobiography; with John Cowper Powys)
Ebony and Ivory, 1923
Thirteen Worthies, 1923
Black Laughter, 1924
Skin for Skin, 1925 (autobiography)
The Verdict of Bridlegoose, 1926 (autobiography)
Henry Hudson, 1927 (biography)
The Cradle of God, 1929
The Pathetic Fallacy: A Study of Christianity, 1930
A Pagan’s Pilgrimage, 1931 (travel writing)
Impassioned Clay, 1931
Now That the Gods Are Dead, 1932
Earth Memories, 1934
Glory of Life, 1934
Damnable Opinions, 1935
Dorset Essays, 1935
The Twelve Months, 1936
Somerset Essays, 1937
Rats in the Sacristy, 1937
A Baker’s Dozen, 1939
Swiss Essays, 1947
Apples Be Ripe, 1930
Love and Death, 1939
Llewelyn Powys (POH-uhs), born in Dorchester, England, August 13, 1884, was the eighth of eleven children of Charles Francis Powys, an Anglican clergyman. Two of Llewelyn’s older brothers, John Cowper Powys and T. F. Powys, became well-known writers.
In spite of his close relationship with his oldest brother, John Cowper, Llewelyn went through Sherborne School and Cambridge University and then began to teach school with little thought of becoming a writer. In 1909 he contracted tuberculosis and spent several years in Switzerland. In the meanwhile, he was beginning to publish short stories in England; his story “The Stunner” occasioned particular interest and was the first significant prose publication by any of the Powys brothers. After he had recovered to some extent, he went to Africa to become a stock farmer in Kenya. During his five-year stay in Africa (1914-1919) he began to write essays. He published two series of essays and sketches about his life in Africa as Ebony and Ivory and Black Laughter. The African writing of Llewelyn Powys is a significant part of the body of literature about Africa produced by European whites during the colonial period. It is observant in both naturalistic and cultural terms.
In 1920 he went to New York, writing stories, articles, and personal essays for various periodicals. While in the United States, he married Alyse Gregory, managing editor of The Dial. His relationship with Gregory enabled Powys to establish connections with the New York bohemian literary world, which further heightened the already incisive and experimental tendencies of his prose. His autobiographical observations of the United States, spiked with a sharp wit, appeared in The Verdict of Bridlegoose. Powys’s essays covered a great range of subjects, from a sensory description of a street to herbalism in the sixteenth century. Still unduly neglected, Powys’s work in the genre of the familiar essay displays a wide range of concern, knowledge, and literary allusion. He deserves recognition as one of the major essayists in the English language of the early twentieth century.
In 1928 Powys traveled to Palestine; his work thereafter demonstrated considerably more substance. The account of the trip to Palestine, A Pagan’s Pilgrimage, shows an interest in and appreciation of theology and biblical tradition from the point of view of a nonbeliever. Powys followed this book with Impassioned Clay, which attempts to survey humankind’s history and constant search for comfort in the supernatural. Powys, calling upon youth to be strong and free from the need for spiritual comfort and religious systems, referred to this book as the “Devil’s handbook.”
In his last years Powys’s tuberculosis forced him to live in Switzerland. He kept writing, ever more seriously calling for independence from religion and opposition to Nazism. His most comprehensive work, published posthumously as Love and Death, is an “imaginary autobiography” in which he attempted to get at the meaning of all his experience. After a long illness he died at Davos Platz, Switzerland, on December 2, 1939.
Powys’s work found a devoted audience, especially in the United States. For many readers, his elaborate and allusive style enriched the value of his observations. For others, his style seemed too elaborate, pretentious, and falsely poetic. Between these extremes, however, it is generally agreed that he always maintained a great range of observations and a genuinely independent sense of judgment. Because of his physical frailty, Powys never reached the potential he could have achieved; nevertheless, his essays and meditations certainly add to the reputation of the Powyses as the twentieth century’s most extraordinary literary family.