Thursday, December 20, 2012

T.F. Powys wrote Mr Weston's Good Wine

T.F. Powys
It is the birthday of British writer T.F. Powys (1875), once called the English Tolstoy, whose best known novel, Mr Weston's Good Wine (1927), is  a lyrical allegory about a traveling wine merchant and his assistant who spend one night in a rural English village as they offer the inhabitants cures for what ails them: light wine (love) or dark wine (death). Powys' prose is populated with strange and whimsical characters, and  symbolism galore.

Powys came from a talented family of 11 children. His brothers, John Cowper Powys and Llewelyn Powys, were novelists. One sister, Philippa Powys, was a novelist and poet. His sister Marian Powys wrote an authoritative book on lace and lace-making. His sister Gertrude Powys was a painter. His brother A.R. Powys wrote books on architecture and served as secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. His father, Charles, was an Anglican priest.

T.F. Powys tried to become a farmer. He apprenticed when he was 15 and eventually ran his own farm but apparently spent more time sitting in the shade reading than he did plowing the fields. In his mid-20s, he gave up farming, moved to Dorset, a county in southwestern England, and pursued a writing career. He married a local girl, had two children and then adopted a daughter.

Critics say Powys seems to be a religious writer, and much of his work is apparently inspired by the Bible, yet there is no discernible orthodoxy in his writing. Indeed, he seems to poke fun at clergy, often the only intellectuals in his stories. Other village characters he depicts as cheeky and mischievous or unsophisticated dolts or useless sentimentalists.

Powys was enamored with the work of such diverse writers as Thomas Hardy and Friedrich Nietzsche. Perhaps the influence is seen in works in which he populates a seemingly idyllic English countryside with decidedly odd characters. In Unclay (1931), one John Death arrives in a village in search of two inhabitants he is charged with removing from human life. Trouble is, Mr. Death has misplaced the parchment upon which was written the names of his targets. Instead Mr. Death, who is depicted as sexually attractive, sleeps with many of the residents, including those he is there to "unclay."

Powys other books include Black Bryony (1923), Mark Only (1924), Mr Tasker's Gods (1925), and Mockery Gap (1925) and numerous short story collections. His previously unpublished book, The Market Bell, was published in 1991.

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