UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interaction between landscape and myth in the novels of John Cowper Powys Miles, Gwyneth Frances


Powys' novels are deeply rooted in a sense of place; much of their conflict develops through the effect of a particular locality upon the characters who live there or come there. This thesis demonstrates how Powys' sense of place is compounded of both a feeling for the physical landscape, and an awareness of the historical and mythical traditions which form its human past. Powys finds correspondences between the scenery and legends of a locality and the psychological states of his personae, and thus uses landscape and myth for symbolic purposes. The interaction of myth and landscape largely creates the characteristic atmosphere of the five novels studied here. These novels illustrate Powys' development over a period of thirty-six years, and include both his first novel and his last major novel. The term "romance," as it is found to recur in their titles, is related to Powys' description of the romantic atmosphere, in his essay on Emily Bronte, as compounded of scenery and traditions of the human past. Wood and Stone is taken as representative of the early novels: A Glastonbury Romance, Maiden Castle, Owen Glendower and Porius are the four major novels in which the two "romantic" elements of landscape and myth are seen most fully developed and working together. Although this thesis does not attempt a thorough study of sources and influences, some of the more important ones are indicated — Hardy, the Kabinogion, Sir John Rhys — and suggestions made as to how Powys’ imagination operated on the material he derived from them. Similarly, brief comparisons are made with the use of myth and landscape by some of Powys' literary contemporaries, Including the regional novelists, Joyce, Yeats and Eliot. The second and third chapters consider Powys' use of landscape and myth, respectively, by a survey of all of Powys' novels in chronological orders recurrent patterns and themes are noted and it becomes apparent that there is a shift in emphasis from landscape in the early novels to myth in the late ones. In the major novels, it is argued, Powys' use of landscape helps to give actuality and coherence to his work, while his use of history and myth provides a certain basic structure for some, and confers richness on all by relating present characters' experience to a larger human past. Even in Wood and Stone the use of landscape for symbolic purposes is overt and quite complex opposition is set up between two hills, and between the substances wood and stone, and both are related to psychological and philosophical conflicts between the characters. The historical and legendary associations of a local topography are richly exploited in A Glastonbury Romance, although no key to the novel's meaning is found in its mythological allusions. Different attitudes towards the past are assumed by the characters of Maiden Castle and are all ultimately tried against the mysterious presence of the prehistoric earthwork; Powys' own historical and mythological obsessions are defensively satirized through the central characters. Owen Glendower utilizes a new and diversified Welsh landscape in studying the myth-making process through its semi-legendary national hero and his romantic young kinsman who sees his world in terms of its legendary past. Cronos, Taliessin, Nineue, Merlin, Arthur and other mythic figures who remained in the background of the previous novels are the dramatis personae of Foriusi large mythological themes are overtly the novel's concern, rather than being sublimated into the personal struggles of the characters, and are reinforced by the symbolic landscape descriptions. The general direction of Powys’ fiction is away from realism, and towards the fantastic embodiment in actual people and places of what were ideas or figures of speech in the earlier works. In the novels studied here, however, landscape and myth, realism and fantasy are held in a fine balance, where the suggestions of deep mythic significance are held in relation to the visible world through the rich and detailed evocation of landscape.

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