Authors: T. F. Powys

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Black Bryony, 1923

Mark Only, 1924

Mr. Tasker’s Gods, 1925

Mockery Gap, 1925

Innocent Birds, 1926

Mr. Weston’s Good Wine, 1927

Kindness in a Corner, 1930

Unclay, 1931

Make Thyself Many, 1935

Goat Green, 1937

Short Fiction:

The Left Leg, 1923

Feed My Swine, 1926

A Strong Girl, 1926

A Stubborn Tree, 1926

What Lack I Yet?, 1927

The Rival Pastors, 1927

The Dewpond, 1928

The House with the Echo, 1928

Fables, 1929 (reissued as No Painted Plumage in 1934)

Christ in the Cupboard, 1930

The Key of the Field, 1930

Uriah on the Hill, 1930

The White Paternoster, 1930

The Only Penitant, 1931

Uncle Dottery, 1931

When Thou Wast Naked, 1931

The Two Thieves, 1932

The Tithe Barn, 1932

Captain Patch, 1935

Bottle’s Path, and Other Stories, 1946

God’s Eyes A-Twinkle, 1947


An Interpretation of Genesis, 1908

The Soliloquy of a Hermit, 1916


Of the three Powys (POH-uhs) brothers distinguished in literature–John Cowper, Theodore Francis, and Llewelyn–the second, though not the most famous, was the one who wrote most successfully within the conventions of the mid-twentieth century novelistic form. T. F. Powys may be numbered among those writers to whose narrative talent is added a mystical insight. He had reached the age of forty-seven before his first volume of fiction appeared, but he had practiced his craft in silence for many years. He may be grouped with such writers as Violet Paget, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Kenneth Grahame, and Arthur Machen, all of whom drew inspiration from the hypothesis that nature is tenanted by animistic forces. The Edwardian decade and after was a great period of haunted literature, as much an age of tales about fauns, banshees, and goblins as it was of social-protest novels and comic-opera romances. This was the period when Powys began to write.{$I[AN]9810000095}{$I[A]Powys, T. F.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Powys, T. F.}{$I[tim]1875;Powys, T. F.}

Unlike those of his contemporaries who, in the tradition of Celtic folklore, contrasted the normal human world with a realm of supernatural creatures, Powys depicted an inward haunting, the presence of the cosmic powers of good and evil in humankind. His human characters are almost incarnations, and hence they often have an allegorical quality: In Unclay the central figure, John Death, is Death; in Mr. Weston’s Good Wine Mr. Weston is God. However, Powys always emphasized human traits; his personages seem as homely and local as the rustic Dorset villages through which they move.

Powys’s technique arose from his acute perception of nature’s unseen powers. It would be misleading to speak of “possession” or of “immanent spirits” or to regard him as an ordinary pantheist. Such terms imply a dualism in which the material and the spiritual, however intermingled, remain distinguishable. Powys conceived rather a complete, monistic identification of all nature, human and external, with the passionate intelligence of a creator responsible alike for beauty and for pain. Powys’s insistence on the truth of matter explains the occasional elements of horror, and even of foulness, in his stories.

Powys’s interest in the uncanny and the supernatural is never doctrinaire. Though not a believing Christian in his adult life, Powys in Mr. Weston’s Good Wine recognizes the human need for transcendence while at the same time postulating that, if human beings were actually to meet God, they would be more intoxicated than illuminated, more drunk with the power of God to heal pain than actually redeemed by his mercy. The brute materialism evinced by the title character in Mr. Tasker’s Gods is mocked by the novel, yet no clear alternative is given. Black Bryony is interesting because of its strong portrait of a woman character, a Salvation Army preacher who is confronted by unexpected evil. This theme, of the irresoluble conflict between the morality to which humans aspire and the evil to which they too often succumb, is a hallmark of Powys’s work.

Powys’s interest in evil fit into modernist preoccupations, and his concise and parabolic style was more pleasing to the critical consensus fostered by academics such as F. R. Leavis than were the long, sprawling narratives of John Cowper Powys. Eventually, though, John Cowper was considered to be the most significant of the Powys brothers.

Powys’s philosophical essays, An Interpretation of Genesis and The Soliloquy of a Hermit, set forth the ideas that later became visible in his fiction. Powys married Violet Dodds in 1905; his wife was eleven years his junior. The marriage, which was not untroubled, produced a son, Bertie, who was tragically murdered by tribesmen in Africa. Powys and his wife later adopted a daughter, Susan. T. F. Powys lived most of his life in Dorset, where he became friends with a community of writers that included David Garnett and Sylvia Townsend Warner. He died on November 27, 1953.

BibliographyBuning, Marius. T. F. Powys: A Modern Allegorist: The Companion Novels “Mr. Weston’s Good Wine” and “Unclay,” in the Light of Modern Allegorical Theory. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1986. Discusses allegory in Powys’s work.Coombes, H. T. F. Powys. London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1960. A biography.Gibbings, Robert. “Llewelyn and Theodore.” Matrix 6 (1986): 1-5. Describes Powys’s relationship with his brother Llewelyn.Graves, Richard Percival. The Brothers Powys. New York: Scribner, 1983. A group biography of John Cowper, T. F., and Llewelyn Powys.Hunter, William. The Novels and Stories of T. F. Powys. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1977. A thorough study.
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