A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys

A Glastonbury RomanceThis is a book about the mystery that is consciousness, a very present mystery though the book is nearly a century old. It is a book exploring consciousness in all of its vagaries. In order to succeed, the author undertakes a compendious story with so many characters that it requires a guide. There are all kinds of persons in this story, all kinds of situations, and the whole is interpenetrated by myth, reflection, and an extraordinarily compendious and persuasive, even miraculous sympathy. Because consciousness is a matter of ancestry, disposition, memories, and many other incalculable influences, the author sets himself the task of ranging through it all. Propinquity must appear to be his method, the glamor of fortuity and the contrivance of propinquity; and what he does with these is a revelation.

John Cowper Powys, to judge him from this novel, was an example of that late-flowering of romanticism which is found also in Mervyn Peake: a heathen and a heretic who deals in modernity. Coherency is the problem late-flowering romanticism faced; see Dylan Thomas and consider the difficulties C. S. Lewis overcame. Powys draws everything together in the final cataclysm of his story, emerging at last from the narration with his own consciousness displayed in the most unlikely but, as it turns out, the most satisfying character, and expanding cosmically, through the propinquity of his own design, into that mystery which is his message. All 1120 pages are required, and all the book is worth it.

Consciousness in all of its vagaries coming to a final coherent affirmation is not a recipe for the satisfaction of those who are less than compendious in their affinities and tolerations. One has to have a certain voracity for all experience and description and an ability to suspend judgment till the conclusion of the matter. Let the reader understand.

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