Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Wolf Solent by John Cowper Powys (pt.2)


Somewhere on the Tipperary side of the Shannon the brother docked the boat and brought me to this nice pub which was made from the covered in ground floor of a ruined Georgian mansion. What sort of planning permission was required for that I wonder? Anyway such is the wreck of ancient glory that is Wolf Solent by John Cowper Powys; some habitable rooms, elsewhere noble desolation. But no hyper cold Bud just tea and bread and butter. Lots of it.

There are serious structural problems. First of all length: over 636 pages in 2 Volumes. Second of all, the exclusive focus on the inner workings of the said 'Wolf', his said personal mythology, his diet, his appreciation of the Dorset countryside and so forth and his obsession with the face on the Waterloo Steps.

It was an English face; and it was also a Chinese face, a Russian face, an Indian face. It had the variableness of that Protean wine of the priestess Bacbuc. It was just the face of a man, of a mortal man against whom Providence had grown as malignant as a mad dog. And the woe upon the face was of such a character that Wolf knew at once that no conceivable social adjustments or ameliorative revolutions could ever atone for it - could ever make up for the simple irremediable fact it had been as it had been!

This face is mentioned 30 times throughout the two volumes. If somehow finger by finger volume 1 could have been pried from his hands and published on its own all would have been well because that covers the ascension of Wolf and his winning of the delightful Gerda who is a bird whistler that can fool a blackbird into response. The second volume has the descent of Wolf. He loses his mythology, Gerda loses her whistle and this reader lost his interest.

Wittgenstein was right you know - an inner state stands in need of outer criteria. Loss must be established not through telling us but by the anguish of a mood that is a reflection of what was common previously. It is the fading into the light of common day that breaks the heart. An event that would have brought joy now only reminds us of our loss. The description of the event must limn the loss without underlining and highlighting. It may be that practice in the short story develops this capacity. Powys did not do short willingly. Porius his last and most obscure novel ended up as 624 pages after losing 500 pages to the editor.

The first volume has many fine things in it such as playing hide and go seek with Gerda on Babylon Hill where he first experiences her particular gift without knowing it to be her:

He listened fascinated. That particular intonation of the blackbird's note, more full of the spirits of air and of water than any sound upon earth, has always possessed a mysterious attraction for him. It seemed to hold, in the sphere of sound, what amber paved pools surrounded by hart's tongue ferns contain in the sphere of substance. It seemed to embrace in it all the sadness that is possible to experience without crossing the subtle line into the region where sadness becomes misery.

I feel that somehow all will come right for Wolf and Gerda. It ends on a high note. Tea.

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