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Hardyan Ruins in John Cowper Powys’s A Glastonbury Romance (1932) and Maiden Castle (1936)

Ruines Hardyennes dans A Glastonbury Romance (1932) et Maiden Castle (1936) de John Cowper Powys
Florence Marie


Les ruines abondent dans ces deux ouvrages de John Cowper Powys, qu’il s’agisse de ruines réelles jonchant le paysage ou revenant à sa surface ou de fragments littéraires disséminés dans le texte. Powys propose tantôt une vision assez traditionnelle des ruines visuelles, tantôt une vision plus personnelle. Elles témoignent des cycles de naissance et de mort des cultures qui se succèdent (Spengler) et Powys les voit alors comme un signe annonciateur de l’effondrement des idéologies modernes et des innovations technologiques qu’il honnit. Elles apparaissent parfois comme de mystérieuses traces dont les qualités auratiques (W. Benjamin) soulignent les liens insoupçonnés entre un âge de l’histoire humaine et un autre. Ainsi, en dépit de certaines différences, le message des ruines dans l’œuvre de Powys présente de nombreuses similarités avec le message des ruines dans l’œuvre de Hardy.
Car si Powys considérait le Wessex comme une sédimentation de ruines, il le vivait aussi comme une sédimentation de textes. A Glastonbury Romance s’inspire de la légende arthurienne et l’incipit de Maiden Castle, situé à Dorchester, rappelle celui du Mayor of Casterbridge par Hardy. En fait, dans cette région du Wessex, les échos des textes de Hardy sont légion et les romans de Powys, qui traitent aussi de la thématique de l’héritage, montrent combien « tout texte est un dérivé d’autres textes » (J. J. Lecercle). En conséquence, tout texte en appelle à l’imagination du lecteur, de même que, devant une ruine, « celui qui la contemple est obligé de compléter ce qui manque à l’aide de son imagination » (Christopher Woodward).

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1‘The world is full of the skeletons of dead places’ (Relph 32). This is all too obvious in A Glastonbury Romance and Maiden Castle by John Cowper Powys, set in places of legendary and historical significance, Glastonbury and Dorchester, where ruins can be found everywhere. There is scarcely a chapter in A Glastonbury Romance (hereafter GR) in which the word ‘Ruins’ with a capital letter is not used. As for the second novel, its very title, Maiden Castle (hereafter MC), refers to another famous ruin, since it is the name of the largest iron age hill fort in Europe (‘this mystical City of Dunium’ [MC 230]).

  • 1 A few articles have been written about the relationship between Thomas Hardy and John Cowper Powys. (...)

2As the two novels take place in Wessex it is impossible not to think of Thomas Hardy.1 In the third chapter of A Glastonbury Romance entitled ‘Stonehenge’, the reader comes across a sentence which is likely to remind him or her of the last but one chapter of Tess of the D’Urbervilles: ‘the road seemed full of human memories. There was not a signpost or a milestone on that wayside but had gathered to itself some piteous encounter of heart-struck lovers, some long and woeful farewell, some imperishable remorse’ (GR 92). The ghost of Thomas Hardy also haunts Maiden Castle. The initials of the two words of the title (MC) are similar to the initials of the two nouns in the title of the story Hardy set in Dorchester, The Mayor of Casterbridge. Besides Dud No-man, the main character in Powys’s novel, is writing a book about a woman mentioned in Hardy’s as the ‘woman who murdered her husband’ in 1705 (Hardy 1886, 69).

  • 2 Powys’s four Wessex novels are Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1932), Weymouth Sands (19 (...)

3In fact Hardyan ruins—real ones as well as literary ones—lurk everywhere in Powys’s four Wessex novels,2 probably because, as Powys himself asserted, ‘Thomas Hardy has become identified with that portion of England where the various race-deposits in our national ‘strata’ are most clear and defined. In Wessex, the traditions of Saxon and Celt, Norman and Dane, Roman and Iberian, have grown side by side into the soil, and all the villages and towns, all the hills and streams, of this country have preserved the rumour of what they have seen’ (Powys 1915, 161).

4In this article I would like to analyse the way the two authors handle the leitmotif of ruins in their novels so as to show the echoes and also the differences between them before focusing on Hardy’s lingering footprints in Powys’s texts and the ensuing parallel that can be drawn between ruins and texts.

Ruins in Hardy and Powys

  • 3 Terence Wright distinguishes between ‘object history’ (for example cliffs studded with fossils but (...)

5As indicated in Powys’s previous quotation, Wessex is a kind of palimpsest. Its soil is composed of an accretion of ruins, of ruin on ruin, so that the human history of the area can be seen in a spatial form stretching back farther and farther into the ages. For the two novelists, history is both temporal and spatial—what a critic writing on Hardy calls ‘object history’ (Wright 43).3 The depth of the past can be found in the soil of Wessex above or beneath whose surface the traces of the previous historical periods are still visible. In A Glastonbury Romance, the narrator refers to the Roman road ‘[whose] remains lie less than a stone’s throw away from the one upon the surface of which John’s stick was now so sharply . . . tapping’ (357) and speaks of ‘Glastonbury here, layer by layer through the centuries’ (345). One of the chapters in Maiden Castle evokes the discovery made by the Archaeological Society involved in the Maiden Castle excavations, and focuses on the ‘remains of an extensive stone building [which] had been discovered, of greater antiquity than the well-known Roman Temple’ (MC 334). The past is still present in the landscape and the soil is littered with skeletons and haunted by ghosts waiting to be released. The narrator of Maiden Castle mentions ‘revenants’, ‘these entities [who] hovered still about the spot where after their long sojourn in darkness they saw the light again’ (MC 384, 383). The reader is reminded of what is written at the beginning of chapter XI in The Mayor of Casterbridge: ‘It was impossible to dig more than a foot or two deep about the town fields and gardens without coming upon some tall soldier or other of the Empire, who had lain there in his silent unobtrusive rest for a space of fifteen hundred years’ (Hardy 1886, 68). In Wessex, places are haunted by ghosts, whose murmurs can still be heard (MC 275) and whose breath can still be felt in the ruins that lie everywhere.

  • 4 ‘Peindre la ruine comme si elle était “un produit de la nature” permet d’englober l’histoire dans u (...)

6Besides, with the passing of time, human history blends with natural history, a process Hardy and Powys repeatedly stress, illustrating G. Simmel’s idea that ‘it is the main attraction of ruins to allow a human work to be perceived almost as a product of nature’ (Simmel quoted in Makarius 2007, 75) and recalling the function of Gothic ruins (Makarius 2004, 133–43).4 This is most obvious in Maiden Castle when the narrator describes the fort in the following way: ‘this object, . . . this low-lying and yet grandly rising mass of fossae and valla, this man-made promontory of earth in an expanse of natural earth, this man-made city of turf in an expanse of natural earth, this Titanic erection of the demented mould-warp man, heaved up between the roots of the grass and the highways of the wind’ (MC 230). The action of man (‘object’, ‘this man-made city’) can no longer be distinguished from that of nature (with the repetitive mention of two elements, earth and air: ‘natural earth’, ‘turf’, ‘the roots of the grass’, ‘the highways of the wind’). Maiden Castle has become a mixture of the two (‘this man-made promontory of earth’), a ‘temple of the elements’ just as Stonehenge is in A Glastonbury Romance ‘this temple of the elements’ (GR 104)—a phrase which shows how obsessed Powys was by Hardy’s words, since in Tess of the D’Urbervilles Angel Clare speaks of Stonehenge as ‘[a] very Temple of the Winds’ (Hardy 1891, 501). As a result the kinship between the creations of man (Culture) and the work of nature (Nature) is stressed: ‘A common movement pervades object, race and person, binding them all to a history before memory, even before consciousness, approximated by the landscape, with its reminders of the antiquity of man, his kinship with the earth, the rudimentary nature of his artefacts, in the shape of barrows, flints, and stone monuments. All declare that we share the fate of earth’ (Wright 50). Therefore with the passing of time what was raised by man becomes indifferent to him, whether one thinks of Stonehenge in Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Maiden Castle: ‘The Powers created by man, but now independent of man’ (MC 233).

  • 5 ‘But I expect the deepest-rooted superstition here, if you could compel Glastonbury Tor to speak, w (...)

7There are, however, slight differences in emphasis in the way the two authors handle the leitmotif of ruin. Powys is mostly concerned with religious ruins, as is explicitly the case in A Glastonbury Romance: ‘gazing out at Edgar’s Chapel, at the great Tower Arch, at St Mary’s Church, at St Thomas’ Chapel, at the rich ruins of the most sacred ecclesia vertusta in all Britain’ (GR 119). The place is so rich in religious buildings from various periods that it is saturated with ‘deepl[y]-rooted superstition’ (GR 120).5 In Maiden Castle the Archaeological society discovers a stone statue which is supposed to have been an idol in bygone days: ‘that woman’s head, that headless torso, that eyeless and earless beast-god’ (MC 383). It is often true that the ruins that have been preserved leave little room for the humdrum scene and this is quite fitting in Powys’s work. In A Glastonbury Romance, each character’s attitude towards the religious ruins that surround him or her helps the reader understand the character’s attitude towards life in general. Roughly speaking, there is an opposition between two groups of people: ‘the Enemies of the Legend and its Lovers’ (GR 747). There is the group of those who hate the ‘morbid relics’ (GR 746) of the place and see them as ‘dead ruin’ (GR 97), however widely different their reasons may be: one of them is the capitalist of the novel, others are communists and, finally, there is an agnostic. On the other hand, there is the group of those who like and need the religious ruins, mainly because they are sensitive to their ‘aura’. What Walter Benjamin calls the aura of the work of art is ‘the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be’ (Benjamin 5). He insists on its link with the ritual function of the work of art: ‘we know that earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual—first the magical, then the religious kind. It is significant that the existence of the work of art with reference to its aura is never entirely separated from its ritual function’ (Benjamin 6). This corresponds to what one of the main protagonists of the novel, Geard, who considers himself as the fifth evangelist, says: ‘Certain material objects can be charged with supernatural power . . . They can get filled with a kind of electricity that’s more than electricity, with a kind of magnetism that’s more than magnetism! . . . This is especially the case when a number of people, century after century, has believed . . . Thought is a real thing’ (GR 457). For these people, Glastonbury and Maiden Castle have acquired a personality of their own and the use of prosopopeia (GR 343, MC 385) recalls what Walter Benjamin said about the capacity of the aura of a work of art to look at those who are looking at it. This opposition between two groups of people shows that in these two polyphonic novels by Powys the attitude towards ruins illustrates the ‘multiverse’ the writer believed in, as these religious ruins give people the opportunity to articulate their approach to life, to the role of science and progress versus religion (GR 232, GR 728, MC 234), and to the influence of Rome versus Wales.

8The point of view of the narrator is just one point of view among others, but it is striking to see that at the end of A Glastonbury Romance, the flood destroys the brand new bridge built by the capitalist, underlining the idea that scientific progress is relative and that present ruins foreshadow the ruins of the future. Ruins are a welcome harbinger of the future collapse of the modern ideologies and technological inventions Powys abhorred. Here the usual function of ruins is present, as it can also be found in the works of Hardy who wrote: ‘How any community can go on building in the face of the Vanitas vanitatum reiterated by ruins is quite marvellous’ (Hardy quoted in Woodward 26).

  • 6 Cybele was the Mother Goddess of Asia Minor; she is the oldest goddess known.

9The transience of man’s imposition on the landscape and his unavoidable demise, in other words the metaphysical meaning of ruin, however, is probably not what matters most in Powys’s two works. This is made clear by the idea of the spasmodic return of the repressed which is associated with ruin and which stresses the continuity of man’s nature over a span of thousands of years. In the last chapter of A Glastonbury Romance, the narrator speaks of the ruins in Glastonbury as ‘the Towers of Cybele’:6

Towers are they, like those of Rome and Jerusalem, built to storm the Infinite, to besiege the Absolute, but subject like those others to the shocks of time and of chance. For the great goddess Cybele, whose forehead is crowned with the Turrets of the Impossible, moves through the generations from one twilight to another; and of her long journeying from cult to cult, from shrine to shrine, from revelation to revelation, there is no end . . . The powers of reason and science gather in the strong light of the Sun to beat her down. But evermore she rises again . . . The powers of reason may number the Stones of Stonehenge and guess at the origin of the Grail of Glastonbury; but they cannot explain the mystery of the one, nor ask the required magic question of the other. (GR 1118–20)

  • 7 This idea which clearly comes to the fore in Powys’s two novels was probably incipient in Hardy’s f (...)
  • 8 It would be easy to draw some parallels between the role of ruins in Powys’s works and that of the (...)
  • 9 The fish called ‘kraken’ was a legendary gigantic fish said to have dwelt off the coasts of Norway (...)

10The old religious ruins in Glastonbury testify to an everlasting yearning in man’s consciousness; they exhibit some buried feelings that cannot be erased by science and progress and that are bound to surge up occasionally so as to find an outlet in the modern world.7 They represent what endures in spite of everything and as such, however paradoxical it may sound at first sight, ‘the Ruins [will] remain’ (GR 720). In Maiden Castle the excavations of the Archaeological Society mean the bringing to the surface of a strange statue which represents the atavistic and pre-rational stratum of the unconscious beneath the veneer of civilization and exposes the latter as a fraud. As one of the characters says: ‘Certain masks of life ought to be destroyed, to make room for others, to make room sometimes for those that have lain beneath them for 10,000 years’ (MC 250). We are reminded of Freud’s emphasis on the link between his psychoanalytic work and archaeology. What these two sciences have in common is to ‘reconstruct the past from submerged artefacts and memories “which had somehow preserved their form and even their life despite their seemingly final disappearance”’ (Lowenthal 23). In such cases ruins entail the possibility of retracing our steps along the path of civilization so as to discover what modern man has in common with the so-called primitive one.8 No wonder Powys was interested in ‘that ancient heathen Grail, far older than Christianity’ (GR 807) and came to associate ruins and myths, which deal with ‘the aboriginal condition of mythopoeic man’ (Hooker 65): ‘[The great earth-monument] took the shape of an enormous seaweed-crusted shell, the shell of the fish called Kraken9, whom dim motion of monstrous male-lust had drawn up from the primeval slime of its seabed’ (MC 230). This coupling of ruins and myth leads us to the question of ruins as texts, texts as ruins.

Ruins as Texts, Texts as Ruins

  • 10 Taliesin was both a historical character—a British poet of the post-Roman period—and a mythic bard. (...)

11For Powys reality is ‘a process of continuous imaginative creation’ (Hooker 6) and fiction is on a par with what is referred to in his novels as ‘true reality’. Therefore the ruins that are present in his novels are not only objective ruins but also ruins as they have been interpreted and represented in fiction. They are real but they are also adorned with and completed by legends and stories, fiction and art and as such they are artificial: ‘[Cordelia] was certainly wrestling with a soil and with the growths of a soil that were more soaked in legends than any other hillside in Wessex’ (GR 214). Powys repeatedly emphasizes the literary associations of ruins, tapping into the Arthurian legend in A Glastonbury Romance (with the motif of the quest for the Holy Grail and the character of Merlin) and referring to the poet Taliesin and to Sir John Rhys10 in the two novels, thus using literary creations and recreations. In Maiden Castle he adds Thomas Hardy, his statue and his fictional characters, who seem to be real to Powys’s characters, almost as if they were not fictional. The difference between Hardy’s fictional world and Powys’s so-called realistic world is completely blurred. As summed up by Margaret Moran in an article on Maiden Castle: ‘References to Hardy’s statue also stress the reciprocity between art and life. Although his statue is present most palpably at an important Dorchester intersection, it also is a reminder that the place has been provided before with a collateral artistic reality as the setting for his fiction. Hardy himself, in artistic replication, is now a part of that very landscape, the perception of which he altered permanently through his Wessex fiction’ (Moran 189). It was probably impossible to write a novel taking place in Dorchester without feeling and saluting the presence of Hardy in this town. Powys explicitly acknowledges his debt to the Victorian novelist, which is quite fitting in a novel dealing with heritage and transmission—for instance, Dud No-man discovers who his father is. In the same way as he is constantly reminded of the presence of Roman ruins in the town, the reader is never meant to forget Hardy’s lingering footsteps in the city. His statue is often mentioned; one of the characters resembles ‘a figure in Hardy’ (MC 262); a curious waterspout is said to occupy a position different to that which it occupies in Hardy’s novel (MC 263) and an explicit parallel between the plots of The Mayor of Casterbridge and Maiden Castle is drawn by Dud No-man himself: ‘It’s funny how I began my life in Dorchester just as the mayor began his, only Henchard sold his woman and I bought mine’ (MC 263).

  • 11 ‘Cet héritage, il faut le réaffirmer en le transformant aussi radicalement que ce sera nécessaire. (...)

12In fact just as ruins play an active part in Powys’s novels so does the reference to Hardy, which is more than a mere tribute to Powys’s favourite author. It is effective. The aim of Powys is not to imitate or reproduce Hardy but to imitate the spirit of his message, as in Derrida’s idea of the spectre: ‘Such a heritage must be reaffirmed even if to do so you have to transform it as radically as possible. The reaffirmation . . . ought to be faithful to the concept of heritage as a whole. Heritage is never something given once and for all, it is something that has to be accomplished’ (Derrida 94, my translation).11 Maiden Castle is haunted by Thomas Hardy’s novel, which enables Powys to speak of continuity and evolution at the same time. There is continuity on the one hand in so far as the echoes of The Mayor of Casterbridge mean Powys belongs to a certain tradition in the same way as Hardy did: ‘Aeschylus and Shakespeare were Hardy’s models, and his deliberate echoes of them are to me only another convincing proof that there is in literature an undying underground stream of tradition as to the kind of subject and even to the kind of treatment of that subject which strikes deepest into the universal and unchanging such as binds all the really great writers together’ (Powys 1938, 618). There is evolution on the other hand, for Dud No-man’s buying his wife at the beginning of the novel does not imply that the story is another illustration of woman’s status as a victim as was often the case in Hardy’s fiction (‘Victor Hugo, Balzac, Thomas Hardy, and so many others, delight in hunting down their feminine victims’ [Powys 1938, 594]). On the contrary the novel ends with the wilful departure of the woman Dud No-man bought: she leaves England to become a circus-artist in America and leaves Dud No-man in charge of her daughter, who is not his. Her emancipation is a proof of the change in the moral sense of the age. The indirect citation of Hardy’s work helps the reader put into perspective the plot of Maiden Castle in the same way as ruins put the present into perspective to show either similarities or differences in the flow of time.

13The presence of Hardy among the ruins of Dorchester also indicates that if the landscape of Wessex is a sedimentation of ruins, Powys is as an author ‘a sedimentation of texts’ to quote Jean-Jacques Lecercle: ‘A sedimentation of texts—this is what the subject is’ (Lecercle 179). Other writers’ works and words dwell in Powys’s mind in the same way as the ghosts of the past haunt the landscape of Wessex. In Maiden Castle, the reader is told that pre-historic ruins were looted by the Romans to build their city. Similarly, Powys uses pieces of bygone art to write his text. The Roman ruins in Maiden Castle are derivative; so is the text of Maiden Castle, for in Lecercle’s words again ‘every text is derivative’: ‘there is no such thing as an original text, an author who is the origin of meaning, there is only imposture’ (Lecercle 142). Ruins bring into question the omnipotence of the creator of the building on account of his or her helplessness in front of time and of the following transformation his or her building undergoes but so does citation. The writer always writes on the ruins of other texts; he is not ‘the origin of meaning’ and his autonomy is fallacious. What he writes is haunted by what was written by other writers before him: he spins his words out of other writers’ words and his stories out of other writers’ stories. These writers’ works are bound to be transformed by the passing of time, by their being re-used in other works and by the role of the reader.

  • 12 I am borrowing these phrases from Cosgrove and Daniels who use them to refer to ‘the iconography of (...)

14In fact, taking into consideration the reader’s role, another parallel between ruins and texts could be drawn. Each time someone is confronted with ruins, his or her imagination is brought into play to visualise the missing parts or to interpret what is under his or her eyes. In Maiden Castle one of the characters says that he ‘can feel the chill of a great stone arch above [him]’ (MC 237) although it disappeared centuries ago. Later on three characters give three widely different interpretations of the statue which is discovered, each interpretation depending on each character’s ideology or hobbies (MC 367, 368). As Christopher Woodward neatly sums up, ‘[a] ruin is a dialogue between an incomplete reality and the imagination of the spectator’, ‘ruins do not speak; we speak for them’ (Woodward 139, 203). This idea can be found in Hardy’s texts as well as in Powys’s and in both cases the emphasis is put on the instability of meaning because as mentioned by one of Hardy’s critics, ‘[s]tones do not speak for themselves. A whole variety of voices speak for them, creating a confusing babble of contradiction’ (Otis 166). Therefore, to some extent, ruins and texts are similar. In both cases we are bound to admit ‘our ability to recycle signs and symbols in a different context and thus transform their reference’ and we are confronted with ‘the instability of meaning’ of ‘an already deeply layered text’ (Cosgrove and Daniels 8).12 Ruins and texts may be like palimpsests but their ‘authentic’ meaning, if there is one, is not likely to be thoroughly deciphered with the ‘correct’ techniques, theories or ideologies.

15In that sense if the ruins in Glastonbury, referred to as ‘The Towers of Cybele’, are simply one of the successive shrines to the Goddess, then a similar proposition could be made about literature, which testifies to an everlasting urge that cannot be fulfilled by science and reason, that is bound to journey from novel to novel, that will always endure whatever its guise and that will never be explained.

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benjamin, Walter, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’,, last accessed on 9 June 2012.

Cosgrove, Denis and Stephen Daniels, eds., The Iconography of Landscape, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

Derrida, Jacques, Spectres de Marx, Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1993.

Escuret, Annie, ‘La poétique de la pierre dans l’œuvre de Thomas Hardy: du livre de pierre au livre de vie’, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens 69 (avril 2009): 187–208.

Hardy, Thomas, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994.

Hardy, Thomas, The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997.

Hooker, Jeremy, John Cowper Powys, Cardiff: U of Wales P, 1973.

Lecerlce, Jean-Jacques, Interpretation as Pragmatics, London: Macmillan, 1999.

Lowenthal, David, ‘Past time, Present Place: Landscape and Memory’, The Geographical Review 65 (1975): 1–36.

Makarius, Michel, ‘Les pierres du temps: archéologie de la nature, géologie de la ruine’, Protée 35.2 (2007): 75–80, http://iderudit/017469ar, last accessed on 9 June 2012.

Makarius, Michel, Ruines, Paris: Flammarion, 2004.

Moran, Margaret, ‘Animating Fictions in Maiden Castle’, In the Spirit of Powys, ed. Denis Lane, London: Associated UP, 1990, 180–92.

Otis, Laura, Organic Memory, Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1994.

Powys, John Cowper, Visions and Revisions (1915), London: Macdonald, 1955.

Powys, A Glastonbury Romance (1832), New York: Overlook Press, 1996.

Powys, Maiden Castle (1936), Hamilton, NY: Colgate UP, 1994.

Powys, The Pleasures of Literature, London: Cassell, 1938.

Relph, E., Place and Placelessness (1976), London: Pion, 1986.

Woodward, Christopher, In Ruins, New York: Vintage, 2003.

Wright, Terence, ‘Space, Time, and Paradox: The Sense of History in Hardy’s Last Novels’, Essays and Studies: History and the Novel, ed. Angus Easson, Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 1991, 41–53.

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1 A few articles have been written about the relationship between Thomas Hardy and John Cowper Powys. They all insist on Powys’s debt to Hardy, whom he had met once and whose works he admired so much. A couple of articles have focused on the representation of landscape in the two authors’ novels. For example Denis Lane, ‘John Cowper Powys, Thomas Hardy, and the Faces of Nature’, The Powys Review 8 (1980–1981): 48–56: ‘Hardy deploys the reactions and relations between man and the landscape in such a way as to throw light upon the personal and the psychological life of his characters, but while this is also true of Powys, he differs from Hardy in that he is particularly inclined to direct this power upon visionary exaltations and erotic ecstasies, or to dissolve almost entirely the borderline between human consciousness and the substantial world’ (51). As far as I am aware nothing has been written, on a comparison of the leitmotif or ruins in their respective works and not much on the presence of ruins in Powys’s novels either.

2 Powys’s four Wessex novels are Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1932), Weymouth Sands (1934) and Maiden Castle (1936).

3 Terence Wright distinguishes between ‘object history’ (for example cliffs studded with fossils but also stones), ‘race history’ (the evolution of man out of lower forms) and ‘personal history’ (a placing of the self in relation to object and race history).

4 ‘Peindre la ruine comme si elle était “un produit de la nature” permet d’englober l’histoire dans un ensemble plus vaste, comme si elle en était une simple excroissance, à l’instar de l’homme qui fait partie de la Création’ (Makarius 2004, 140).

5 ‘But I expect the deepest-rooted superstition here, if you could compel Glastonbury Tor to speak, would turn out to be the religion of the people who lived before the Ancient Britons; perhaps even before the Neolithic Men’ (GR 120).

6 Cybele was the Mother Goddess of Asia Minor; she is the oldest goddess known.

7 This idea which clearly comes to the fore in Powys’s two novels was probably incipient in Hardy’s fiction as indicated by Annie Escuret: ‘Hardy savait que les pierres ont précédé les langues, que celles-ci les ont enfouies, comme les religions du Verbe détruisent à coups de pierres et de lettres les idolâtries qui les engendrèrent. La fureur des iconoclastes contre les fétiches sonne comme une colère parricide. Hardy savait que la mort revient inlassablement à la surface sous forme de statue, de menhir, de dolmen ou de pierres tombales’ (Escuret 206).

8 It would be easy to draw some parallels between the role of ruins in Powys’s works and that of the forest where the natives hide in Heart of Darkness by Conrad.

9 The fish called ‘kraken’ was a legendary gigantic fish said to have dwelt off the coasts of Norway and Iceland.

10 Taliesin was both a historical character—a British poet of the post-Roman period—and a mythic bard. Sir John Rhys (1840–1915) was a scholar who wrote Studies in the Arthurian Legend in 1891.

11 ‘Cet héritage, il faut le réaffirmer en le transformant aussi radicalement que ce sera nécessaire. Cette réaffirmation . . . serait conforme au concept de l’héritage en général. L’héritage n’est jamais un donné, c’est toujours une tâche’ (Derrida 94).

12 I am borrowing these phrases from Cosgrove and Daniels who use them to refer to ‘the iconography of landscape’ and to the typically postmodern quality of ‘landscape imagery’.

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Florence Marie, « Hardyan Ruins in John Cowper Powys’s A Glastonbury Romance (1932) and Maiden Castle (1936) »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 43 | 2012, mis en ligne le 03 octobre 2014, consulté le 09 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Florence Marie

Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour.
Florence Marie is maître de conférences at the University of Pau et les Pays de l’Adour. She defended her thesis on J. C. Powys in 2003 and since then she has published several articles on his first eight novels and on other modernist writers (Dorothy Richardson in particular).

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