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Reviewed by:
H. W. Fawkner. The Ecstatic World of John Cowper Powys. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1986. 257 pp. $32.50.

Near the beginning of his extensive and remarkable study of John Cowper Powys, H. W. Fawkner alludes to the valiant (and valid) argument of the late G. Wilson Knight "that there is some central lack in criticism, since a full and comprehensive theory of criticism ought to be able to come to terms with the richness of John Cowper Powys' literary achievement." Fawkner's view is that the necessary "theoretical supplementations" may in fact be drawn from the thought and work of Powys himself. Fawkner starts by aligning Powys with Hegel, Nietzsche, and Derrida (and also to some extent with Heidegger)—figures whom he finds to have broken "with the entire central tradition of Western metaphysics." It is within (or beyond) this framework that the author succeeds in illuminating numerous aspects of Powys' creativity and genius never touched upon before, especially Powys' seeming command of the psychological determinants of ecstatic experience. Ecstasy, says Fawkner, may be seen in terms of "ontological displacement," a fluid sliding from one ontological condition to another, a process that once comprehended provides us with the best way of seeing Powys' "special attitude to sensuality." Thus A Glastonbury Romance, Powys' "best" and longest novel (recently reissued in the U.S. by Overlook Press), is controlled by an inner'mode of awareness that is best described, to use Fawkner's phrase, as "stream-of-ecstasy."

Utilizing these insights, Fawkner proceeds to draw a completely new picture of Powys from that discerned in previous scholarship, a picture in which Powys is portrayed not solely as a humanistic writer and thinker but as an unschooled yet amazingly intuitive man of science, one whose advanced understanding of neuropsychology was nothing short of phenomenal. A variety of neuropsychological patterns—dichotomies, polarizations, antitheses, and, beyond these, such circular forms as circumferences, cycles, and spirals—form the basis and source of Powys' ecstatic world.

Once Fawkner's terms and frame of reference have been mastered, the reader is aware that he or she is being presented with a daring and original view of Powys' work. In addition to the principal insight I have been discussing, Fawkner's [End Page 284] study is meritorious in the following respects: his explanation of Powys' late maturation as a novelist is the most convincing yet provided; he makes a strong case for there being a conscious, assumed hypocrisy in Powys' autobiographical writings (a significant finding in view of the reliance previously placed upon them by critics); he shows courage in discussing Morwyn and Mortal Strife, two of Powys' least regarded works and finding in them tangible wealth; he brings to light heretofore unrevealed aspects of Powys' creation of female characters; and he examines Powys' entire political sense—an area only lightly touched upon by previous studies. In his analysis of the principal novels, especially of Weymouth Sands and Owen Glendower, H. W. Fawkner establishes a series of astonishingly perceptive connections in which he offers many fine and original readings of the scenes that Powys critics have most frequently worried over. There is little doubt in my mind that with its combination of frontier psychology and astute intelligence, this study provides important new levels in our understanding of the work of John Cowper Powys.

Denis Lane
John Jay College, CUNY
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