I’d always vaguely thought of John Cowper Powys as a Welsh Marches novelist who wrote slab-like and now-little-read 1930s novels such as A Glastonbury Romance (1932). I tried to read that in the 1980s, couldn’t get past the first 50 pages, and have never investigated him further. But LibriVox has just released a set of new recordings and the blurb for these reveals that in the 1910s and 20s Powys was in Lovecraft’s world — lecturing to rapt New York and New England audiences on the likes of Nietzsche and Poe. It seems that A Glastonbury Romance was actually written in upstate New York.
Who knew? Possibly Lovecraft did, even though Powys lectured primarily to bright youthful summer schools and keen adult-education gatherings. Because in 1924 Lovecraft noted of Frank Belknap Long that… “his favourite [is] John Cowper Powys”. Thus, one suspects that Long’s affluent family would have sent the boy to just such a summer school lecture series, and (if so) he would later have been able to recall for Lovecraft the details of Powys’s manner and ideas. Although this was many years before the famous novels such as Wolf Solent and A Glastonbury Romance, and thus Long presumably liked the poetry, philosophy and lecture-essays.
According to his diary Lovecraft “read Powys” in New York in August 1925. Perhaps this was just a volume of poetry loaned by Long, but I’d suggest it would well have been dipping into the most interesting bits of the book newly recorded by Librivox, Visions and Revisions: A Book of Literary Devotions (1915). Perhaps with its companion volume Suspended Judgments (1916).
Wolf Solent arrived in 1929. Lovecraft did not feel the need to read it, but in a letter to Galpin in 1933 he revealed he had read at least one review…
“The literary editor of the Providence Journal became especially enthusiastic about Wolf Solent when it first appeared” [in Summer 1929].
Incidentally, John Cowper Powys’s career story puts the kibosh on the notion that Lovecraft might have made a living as a public lecturer. By 1926 Powys was on his uppers, with his lecturing work having all but dried up in the face of radio, cinema, gramophone records and all the other attractions of the Jazz Age. If even such a highly experienced lecturer as Powys could not find work in New York, what chance for Lovecraft?