THE BROTHERS POWYS by Richard Perceval Graves


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Graves, who did a sturdy, graceful, uninspired job with the quiet material of A. E. Housman: The Scholar Poet (1981), now tackles the rather livelier life-and-work of the three Powys brothers--John Cowper, T. F. (Theodore), and Llewelyn; but, though there's much that's intriguing in this well-researched chronicle, Graves' three-at-once approach makes for disjointed reading, with none of the individual portraits becoming especially probing or involving. John, 1872-1963, was the eldest of the three (there were eleven children in all, from a well-to-do vicar's family); as a youth he was obsessed with sado-masochism, escaped into books, would always hate ""femininity,"" but briefly married, then went on to a series of unconsummated infatuations; he lectured (on his own brand of philosophy) and lived in America, wrote six major novels (Wolf Solent, A Glastonbury Romance), and ""left behind him a body of work in which there still flames the spirit of idiosyncratic genius."" Theodore, meanwhile, stayed mostly at home--farming, wrestling with Christianity, writing dour, cryptic allegories (Mr. Weston's Good Wine); he married, was befriended by Sylvia Townsend Warner, but ""retained strong prejudices against women throughout his life."" And young Llewelyn (""Lulu""), forever fighting tuberculosis, traveled extensively, writing essays and autobiography, and carrying on the stormiest private life of all: resisting the seductions of such love-crazed women as Mrs. Reginald Marsh; succumbing to one much-younger woman (to the tune of several pregnancies) while married to a bohemian sort. . . who tried desperately to remain open-minded and liberated about it all. A panorama of Anglo-American literary eccentricity, in fact--but, while Graves' dutiful approach gives everything (including the book-by-book literary output) its proper emphasis, he doesn't bring any of the brothers to vivid life; and this worthy study will probably be limited in appeal to those already keenly interested in the Powys literature.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1983
Publisher: Scribners