MAIDEN CASTLE by John Cowper Powys


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Powys's (1872–1963) gargantuan novels—including Wolf Solent, A Glastonbury Romance, and this quaint and curious doorstopper (first published in 1936, now available in a "First Full Authoritative Edition")—are sprawling melodramas à la Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence, infused with odd, often frustratingly obscure pantheistic and cosmic suggestiveness. This one takes place in the village of Dorchester, nestled beneath the austere unapproachable eminence of neighboring Maiden Castle, where three obsessed characters pursue their interconnected destinies—all echoed and mocked by the earthy doings of local eccentrics like troubled virgin Jenny Dearth and Hitler-like Dunbar Wye. Powys's protagonists, the widowed novelist known as Dud No-man, the circus equestrienne (Wizzie Ravelston) whom Dud "rescues" from her employer, and Dud's putative father Enoch Quirm (a.k.a. "Uryen," in a nod to William Blake) variously embody conflicting (and conflicted) attitudes toward the historic and mythic past, and to the future Wizzie envisions in the promise of America. Their several quests prove as credibly inconclusive as they are engrossing.

A grandiose, preternaturally intuitive, frequently absurd, stunningly inventive novel, which, for all its resemblance to Dickens as well as Hardy, is unquestionably the work of an underrated and genuinely great writer.

Pub Date: March 21st, 2001
ISBN: 1-58567-115-0
Page count: 494pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2001