SORREL BARN & THE TRAGEDY OF BUDVALE
Two previously unpublished novellas by PHILIPPA POWYS
With an Introduction by
With an Introduction by CICELY HILL
and Editorial Note by Louise de Bruin
and Editorial Note by Louise de Bruin
A Limited Edition Hardback with endpapers, silk ribbon, gold foil blocking on front & spine of boards, in dustjacket
Front cover image by Peter Ursem
Price: £29.50 ISBN-13: 978-1-908274-02-1 Number of pages: 304
Book Dimensions: 234 × 156 mm x 21.3 mm Weight: 460 grams
Publication date: 16 August 2011 (Available here)
‘IT WAS again a lovely morning. All life was awake to the joy of spring. The wind had dropped and the air was warm, as the sun with radiance covered the land. The rooks cawed incessantly above the cottages. They vied with one another in their eagerness to build their nests. Their voices appeared ever as an accompaniment to the distant sounds in the valley below, the bleating of lambs and the blearing of young calves and the barking of a dog.
No one felt more conscious of the spring air than Zola as she stepped through her open door, with her husband’s rush basket slung over her shoulder. All the annoyance of her existence faded away like the snow clouds of the past months, causing her neighbour’s blunt remarks to fall as harmlessly as the crumbs from her apron.’ (From Chapter IV of SORREL BARN)
SORREL BARN Chapter titles: Death in the Fields; Sorrel Down; The Water Carriers; The Stone Worshipper; The New Impression; The Cider Cellar; Sheep-washing; Returning Home; The Nether End of the Farm; The Treacherous Hoofs of Love; A Game of Draughts; The Lunch Hour; The Dawn of the Festival; The Night of the Festival; Turning Hay; The Hour of Sunset; Below the Beeches; The Drive Home; Love Unrequited; In the Tower; When the Cat Leapt out of the Bag; Gathering Apples; A Wild Night; The Breakfast.
In these two West Country novellas, never before published, Philippa Powys pursued a theme that was central to all her fiction - the entanglement of human passions caused by unrestrained desire.
In The Tragedy of Budvale, written in the 1920s, the love of Christopher Cary for his cousin Mary is set against her own attachment to her curious suitor, the mild-mannered artist Wilfred Wurton, as well as the unreciprocated feelings of the milk-maid Hazel Lee for the broody and impulsive Cary himself, whose jealousy culminates in acts of violence that seal the fate of all concerned.
Sorrel Barn is the tale of an outsider – the vivacious Romanian Zola – and her struggle to adapt to English country life with her boorish husband Frank and the initially unnerving attentions of his employer, the farmer John Marsh, himself the object of desire of a shy local girl. This more mature work, finished at some point in the 1930s, centres on the anguish of a passionate woman trapped in a passionless life, depicting loves denied, embraced and lost.
In both stories, against the backdrop of vividly realised rural scenes and landscapes, Philippa Powys paints some memorably unsentimental portraits of individuals isolated in their private sufferings.
Back, Spine & Front cover
by John Hodgson
Recalling his meeting with Philippa (‘Katie’) Powys shortly before her death, Glen Cavaliero writes, ‘she was, if one may say so, ultra-Powys. With her cropped hair, weatherbeaten face, stooped figure and corduroy trousers, she resembled an old countryman; her voice was vibrant and emphatic’. The Blackthorn Winter, recently republished by The Sundial Press, was the only one of her novels to appear in her lifetime. Several more remain in manuscript, and here we have two of them, The Tragedy of Budvale, written in the 1920s, and Sorrel Barn from about ten years later.
Katie’s life was tragically scarred by unrequited love, and it is the violence of frustrated passion ‘nearly beyond the control of the mind’ and its concomitant jealousies that propel her stories. In Budvale, Kit Cary is driven to rape and murder by his ungovernable passion for his cousin May. In Sorrel Barn, the Romanian Zola, unhappily married to the boorish ex-soldier Frank, is in love with the farmer John Marsh. Although her love is reciprocated, the impossibility of this relationship unhinges the farmer’s brain. The authentic ferocity of the anguish in these stark stories commands respect, but it must be admitted that Philippa’s psychological range is narrow, and in each story the only way out of hopelessness is in melodrama. In her sensitive introduction, Cicely Hill quotes Llewelyn Powys writing of Philippa, ‘… if only the gods had given her the mastery of language that she has of imagination, the world would have welcomed more of her novels’. But the truth might be the other way round, for it is their evocation of the Wessex countryside that makes these stories memorable.
Philippa writes with an unmistakeably Powysian voice which is yet entirely different from any of her brothers. Philippa’s countryside is a place of work, and she writes vividly of agricultural tasks, milking cows, making cheese, washing sheep. Philippa’s cows and horses live and breathe with a vivid presence that recalls her beloved Whitman – ‘I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d’ – and they are everywhere. Even a mat on the floor is ‘dog-lain’. Her ‘bird haunted’ landscapes are precise, beautifully spatial, economical, punctuated by sounds: ‘The weather for the last two weeks had broken up, and there had been a spell of rainy days, with winds that made the leaves rustle and laid low the coming corn.’
Philippa’s natural world offers no assuagement or philosophical consolation: her cabbages ‘sleep a vegetable sleep’ without becoming symbolic or metaphysical. Her descriptions of village life are also busy and populated. Her villagers are not comic rustics, but are gossipy and intrusive and express themselves in a version of Dorset dialect that is more fluent and less mannered than we are used to in John Cowper or T. F. Powys.
Philippa’s writing is most successful when it makes least effort. Her narrative climaxes are cries of despair, but besides ‘the frustrations of impossible longings’ that are Philippa’s theme, there is still an indomitability of spirit and steadiness of vision that give these stories life.
The book has been published by The Sundial Press, with evident love and dedication, as a handsome and opulent hardback. This limited edition of 100 copies is not aimed at a wide audience, but no Powysian advanced motorist will want to be without it.
The Powys Society Newsletter No., 74 (Nov 2011)
THE BLACKTHORN WINTER
by PHILIPPA POWYS
With an Introduction by
With an Introduction by GLEN CAVALIERO
A 'strange, wild, passionate novel – and deeply engaging.'
In The Blackthorn Winter a band of gipsy travellers in the West Country catch the eye of a restless, young woman, Nancy Mead, in particular the seductive Mike. Leaving behind her dull blacksmith lover, Walter Westmacott, she elopes with him for a life of adventure on the road. Soon enough the powers of desire and passion set off bitter conflicts that bring remorse, revenge and death in their wake. The Blackthorn Winter is an ardent and uncompromising portrayal of life in rural England in the 1920s, and of one woman’s battle with her own emotions.
‘A sense of immediacy informs The Blackthorn Winter … The prose swerves from the abrupt to the naive; it is full of inversions, as though the author were quite unaware of the kind of language employed by her literary contemporaries. But she is not writing for a conventional novel-reading public … The book is alive with textures and smells; it is not written about country life but out of direct experience of it, the kind of life a rural readership would recognise.’ – From the Introduction by Glen Cavaliero
REVIEWS: ‘There is a distinctive energy and wildness to this work; its scenes of the harsh and peripatetic Gypsy life of the period are compelling and memorable.’ – The Times Literary Supplement (March 2007)
‘The charm of the book lies in its atmosphere – a heavy, slow, earthy atmosphere – and in the power of the author to conjure up country sounds and scents and scenes to such an extent that we almost cease to be readers and become participants in the story.’ - Spectator
* * * * *
Catharine Edith Philippa Powys (1886-1963) was born at Montacute in Somerset, the ninth of eleven children in a multi-talented family. She had no formal education and much of the knowledge she acquired in youth was self-discovered. Her early adult life was spent farming, but in a family of prodigious writers – notably John Cowper Powys, T. F. Powys and Llewelyn Powys, but also Littleton Powys, headmaster of Sherborne Prep School, and the architect A. R. Powys – it was no surprise that her own creative energies were channelled into literature from an early age.
Despite never achieving the success of her literary brothers, she produced a large body of work. In the 1920s she wrote at least two novels that were never published – The Tragedy of Budvale and Joan Callais – as well as a play, The Quick and the Dead. Subsequent novels included The Path of the Gale and Further West, but these too never saw the light of day. In 1930, she had a collection of poems published titled Driftwood. That year also saw her only success as a novelist with The Blackthorn Winter, published by Constable in London and by Richard R. Smith in New York, and now reissued for the first time.
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