Descents of Memory
By Morine Krissoacute
By John Cowper Powys
Almost 20 years ago, George Steiner made an arresting admission in a New Yorker essay. Having "stumbled across" John Cowper Powys's novel "Wolf Solent" in late adolescence, Mr. Steiner wrote, "I felt my inward existence to be changed, felt myself to be in the intoxicating grip of a master."
Mr. Steiner isn't the only distinguished Powys admirer. Henry Miller, Iris Murdoch, Martin Amis and Margaret Drabble have all praised his work. Writing last year, Ms. Drabble compared Powys's fictional world to J.R.R. Tolkien's, calling it "less visited than Tolkien's" but "as compelling, and it has more air." A descendant of John Donne and the poet William Cowper, John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) certainly had a distinguished literary pedigree. Still, his books remain little known. The Canadian novelist Robertson Davies blamed Powys's low profile on the fact that he was never welcomed by the academic world, which scorned his fervent literary lectures as "un-scholarly."