How optimistic do you feel about the prospects for John Cowper Powys’s books? In an appropriately throwaway kind of manner, I’ve sometimes suggested that our culture of relentless digital entertainment means Powys might be “in danger of running out of readers”.
It’s heartening to see people disagree. In a response to an email, Adam Curtis, the BBC documentary-maker, said he didn’t think there was a need to worry just yet.
“I’m convinced Powys’ time is coming – the emotional radar in peoples’ heads is searching for that kind of powerful romanticism which bundles up nature and politics and inner feelings. They yearn to find something beyond that banal and dried up culture that is around at the moment. Someone clever will come along soon and turn [A Glastonbury Romance] into a TV series. It would be a total hit.”
Simon Heffer has pointed to the Faber Finds re-prints as a positive sign. Similarly, he’s also been campaigning for a TV dramatisation of his favourite, in this case Wolf Solent.
Like many other people I want to see Powys embraced by generations of new readers, taken seriously, enjoyed over the centuries in the same way that authors like Cervantes, Rabelais and Blake continue to be enjoyed (and kept in print). But there are different varieties of success. Would Powys care about mainstream popularity or even whether he was known as a literary pillar? He certainly wanted his books to sell. He needed the money. But when it came to literary fame he seemed ambivalent: wasn’t it all a matter of right place, right time (and then making a lot of noise about yourself)?
Worldly success has become a modern ‘essential’, but in itself can end up being something terminally bland. Reading Powys there’s a clear sense of how failures can be more rewarding, stimulating, bracing.