Manuscripts and Book Collections relating to members of the Powys family

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The core of the Collection is based around the work of John Cowper Powys (1872-1963), Theodore Francis Powys (1875-1953) and Llewelyn Powys (1884-1939) and their immediate circle of family and friends. It consists of major bequests by Mr E E Bissell and Mr Francis Feather, each of whom bequeathed his very important collection of Powys books and manuscripts to the Powys Society. Other gifts and bequests have extended and enriched the material and are listed separately from the main gifts. In particular there is an important corpus of correspondence with their wide circle of friends, including Elizabeth Myers, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Huw Menai, Louis Wilkinson and Henry Miller. In addition, a large number of manuscripts, typescripts, publishers' proofs, letters, photographs, wood engravings and memorabilia relating to the Powys Family and their activities are included in the archive.

The collection contains books by all the major members of the Powys family as well as letters, typescripts, manuscripts, publishers' proofs, photographs and memorabilia; these include John Cowper's passport and Theodore's ration card.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Powys family is one of the most remarkable in the history of English literature. The eleven children born to Charles Francis Powys and his wife Mary Cowper Johnson were all formidable individualists yet united by their passionate love of nature and strong sense of family. C.F. Powys was for many years Rector of Montacute, Somerset, and the children would always regard the West Country as their home. Among the brothers, one became a schoolmaster, another an architect, and another a farmer in Kenya. Of the sisters, one was a poet, another a painter and one, in New York, the leading authority on lace. But it is three of the brothers, John Cowper, Theodore Francis and Llewellyn, who as writers were the best known members of the family; their books and papers form the bulk of the collections held here.

John Cowper Powys the novelist, poet, philosopher, essayist and letter writer was the eldest child and was educated at Sherborne School and Cambridge, graduating from Corpus Christi College in 1894. Powys married Margaret Lyon (a close friend's sister) in 1896; in 1902 his son and only child, Littleton Alfred, was born. Powys taught at schools in Sussex and then worked as a lecturer, all around England, for Oxford University's Extension Movement for Adult Education. In 1905 he began lecturing in the United States, where he was to remain for thirty years. He lectured across the continent and in almost every state, and became famous also as a writer, not only of novels but of essays and books of philosophy aimed at a wide readership. Powys's first publication was 'Odes and Other Poems' (1896); his first novel, 'Wood and Stone' was published in New York in 1915; this was followed by 'Rodmoor' in 1916. His third novel 'After my Fashion' was written in 1919, inspired in part by his friendship with Isadora Duncan, but found no publisher until 1980. The first of his novels to bring him critical recognition was 'Wolf Solent' (1929), set around the Dorset-Somerset border.

In 1921 Powys met Phyllis Playter with whom he would remain

for the rest of his life; retiring from the lecture circuit to a house in upstate New York, from 1930 he was a full-time writer. There he wrote two more novels set in the West Country, 'A Glastonbury Romance' (1933) and 'Weymouth Sands' (1934), as well as his 'Autobiography' (1934), regarded by many as among his best works and one of the most imposing autobiographies of the twentieth century. After returning to England in 1934, and writing 'Maiden Castle' (1937) while living in Dorchester, Powys moved to north Wales a year later and wrote his Welsh chronicles: 'Owen Glendower' (1940) and 'Porius' (1951). He received the Plaque of the Hamburg Free Academy of Arts in 1958, and was appointed honorary D.Litt. by the University of Wales in 1962, the year before his death.

Theodore Francis Powys was born in 1875 and was educated at Eaton House School in Suffolk where he met his lifelong friend Louis Wilkinson. Powys started farming in Suffolk in the 1890s, but moved to Dorset in 1901 to write. He lived for many years in Chaldon Herring, near the coast, until 1940 when he moved to Mappowder in north Dorset. He married in 1905 Violet Rosalie Dodds, and they had two sons and adopted a daughter.

Powys's first publication was 'An Interpretation of Genesis' (1907) but it was only later that he was taken up by Chatto & Windus who between 1923 and 1932 published nine titles, including 'The Left Leg' (1923), 'Black Bryony' (1923), 'Mark Only' (1924), 'Mr Tasker's Gods' (1925), 'Mockery Gap' (1925) and, most famously 'Mr Weston's Good Wine' (1927) which in 1937 would become one of the first Penguin books. Theodore Powys's work is today less well known though his still has many admirers and is thought by some to be the best writer of the three brothers. Theodore Francis Powys had a stroke in 1937, and wrote very little thereafter until his death in 1953; he is buried in Mappowder churchyard.

Llewelyn Powys was an essayist polemicist and writer of memoirs. He was born on 13th August 1884 at Rothesay House in Dorchester, educated at Sherborne School, then at Corpus Christi College. After leaving Cambridge, Powys became a schoolmaster but suffered from poor health and in December of 1909, was sent to a sanatorium at Clavadel in Switzerland for 16 months. In 1914, he travelled to South Africa to stay on his brother's farm, and when at the outbreak of war his brother joined the army, Llewelyn managed the farm for the duration of the First World War. After the War he spent some time with his brother John Cowper in New York where Llewelyn met and in 1924 married the editor and writer Alyse Gregory. Powys's first book 'Ebony and Ivory' was published in 1923 and was a memoir of his years in Kenya. Returning to Switzerland for his health in 1936, Llewelyn died on 2nd December 1939 in Clavadel; his ashes were brought back to Dorset after the Second World War and buried on the cliff above Chaldon Herring; there, at 'Chydyok' he and his wife had lived from 1931 to 1936. Llewelyn Powys's major works include 'Thirteen Worthies' (1923), 'Black Laughter' (1924), 'Skin for Skin' (1925), 'The Verdict of Bridlegoose' (1926), 'Henry Hudson' (1927), 'The Cradle of God' (1929), 'The Pathetic Fallacy' (1930), 'Apples Be Ripe' (1930), 'A Pagan's Pilgrimage' (1931), 'Impassioned Clay' (1931), 'Glory of Life' (1934), 'Earth Memories' (1934), 'Damnable Opinions' (1935), 'Dorset Essays' (1935), 'The Twelve Months' (1936), 'Rats in the Sacristy' (1937), 'Somerset Essays' (1937), 'Love and Death' (1939) and 'Swiss Essays' (1947).

Although less well known than their brothers, Gertrude Powys was a painter, Philippa Powys was a published novelist and poet, Marian Powys was an authority on lace and lace-making. Of the other brothers A. R. (Bertie) Powys was Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and published a number of books on architectural subjects; Littleton Powys became the headmaster of Sherborne Prep. School and published two volumes of autobiography ('The Joy of It' and 'Still the Joy of It'); he also edited the Letters of his second wife, the novelist Elizabeth Myers. Writings by all of these are represented in the collections.

The Powyses attracted a wide circle of friends and admirers, many of them writers themselves. Among them were the novelist Louis Wilkinson (Louis Marlow) and his first wife Frances Gregg; the novelist, poet and short story writer Sylvia Townsend Warner; and the poets Valentine Ackland and Gamel Woolsey. John Cowper Powys was friendly with the novelists Theodore Dreiser, Henry Miller; James Hanley and James Purdy, and with poets including Edgar Lee Masters, Edna St Vincent Millay and Huw Menai.

The Powys family and their friends constitute a wide-ranging spectrum of social, literary and cultural interests. The creator names given refer only to members of the family and circle with substantial material relating to them in the archive.

Please note: This collection description has been created with the assistance of the Powys Society using information taken from P. J. Foss, 'Powys, Llewelyn (1884-1939)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, online edn, Sept 2012, Wikipedia, Glen Cavaliero, Lawrence Mitchell, Charles Lock and Morine Krissdóttir.

Arrangement

This entry will be expanded as listing progresses and will include information on the books in the collection as well as archive material.

The order of items on deposit has been retained, along with the lists created for access to the collections in their former location.

The collections have been organized and listed in separate sequences, according to the stipulations of bequest and deposit of the archive. The collections generally include the following relating to each author: published books - subdivided into the writer's own work, contributions to other works and introductions to other works, reviews of the author's books, ex-libris books, books by the writer's circle. Organized by date of publication. Published works are duplicated in both sequences.

The archive collections include manuscripts, typescripts, proofs and letters and miscellaneous. Some items are not yet arranged and listed.

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL conditions apply

Acquisition Information

On loan to the University of Exeter from the Powys Society and the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society

Other Finding Aids

Lists of the books are archives are available for individual authors. The Finding aid follows the arrangement of the items as deposited at the University (see arrangement). Please contact Heritage Collections for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Rights are not held by the University of Exeter and copies may only be made in accordance with UK copyright law.

Custodial History

Bequeathed to the Powys Society in perpetuity, then loaned to the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society

Accruals

Expected

Related Material

Material relating to this collection held in the University includes:

EUL MS 423 - Malcolm Elwin, biographer of Llewelyn Powys and edited letters from John Cowper to Llewelyn, and from Llewelyn to Gamel Woolsey; EUL MS 397/450 - Gamel Woolsey, typescript copies of her poems; EUL MS 309 - Ernest Martin, writer and social historian - Llewelyn contributed to Martin's anthology Country life in England, and wrote forwards to other Martin works; EUL MS 68/PERS/1/2/9 - Letters from Monica Hutchings (a Dorset writer) in which she discusses her friends Theodore and Littleton Powys; EUL MS 68/LIT/2/5 - Jack Clemo 'The Marriage of a Rebel Manuscript', first chapter preceded by the essay 'Pilgrimage to Mappowder' which was published originally in 'Recollections of the Powys Brothers', ed. Belinda Humphrey; EUL MS 68/PERS/1/2/21 - Jack Clemo, letters from Littleton Powys; EUL MS 68/PERS/1/4/2 - Jack Clemo, letters from literary men, including Theodore F Powys; EUL MS 68/PERS/3/1/16 - Jack Clemo, photo album, containing photograph[s] of Theodore Powys; EUL MS 68/PERS/3/1/22 - Jack Clemo, photo album, containing photograph[s] of Theodore Powys; EUL MS 68/PERS/7/2 - Jack Clemo, limited edition print of 'Sonnet' by T. F. Powys commissioned by J. Lawrence for the Powys Society 1988; EUL MS 397/3 - Ronald Duncan, Carbon draft review of 'Love and Death' by Llewelyn Powys; EUL MS 397 - Ronald Duncan Archive, including articles by and about Gerald Brenan, friend of T.F. Powys - letters to/from Brenan in Powys collection.

Other archive repositories holding information on John Cowper Powys include: University of Texas at Austin: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre Library; Cambridge University Library: Department of manuscripts and University Archives; University of Conneticut Library, University of Calgary Library, Conneticut University Library; Columbia University Libraries; British Library; Leeds University Library, Special Collections; Oxford University Archives; University of Calgary Library; Huntington Library; University of Conneticut Library; National Library of Wales; Dorset County Museum. For details of collectons and other repositories please consult the National Archives.

Other archive repositories holding information relating to Theodore Powys include: University of Texas at Austin: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre Library; British Library; National Library of Wales; Universly of London: Senate House Library; Liverpool Record Office; Dorset County Museum. For details of collections and other repositories please consult the National Archives.

Other archive repositories holding information relating to Llewelyn Powys include:University of Texas at Austin: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre Library; Dorset History Centre; Huntington Library; Liverpool Record Office; British Library; Cambridge University Library: Department of m anuscripts and University Archives; University of Reading; Montecute House, Phelips MSS; Shropshire Archives; Somerset Heritage Centre. For other repositories please consult the National Archives

Please note: the Library also holds copies of the Powys Review which can be accessed via the library's online book catalogue from the library general homepage.