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Maiden Castle Paperback – 10 Jun 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd (10 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0715638912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0715638910
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.8 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 180,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Powys's novels have an immensity to which only Blake could provide a parallel in English literature' --George Steiner, 'New Yorker'

'To encounter [Powys]... is to arrive at the very font of creation. He makes us witness of the consuming fire which gives not warmth or enlightenment, but enduring vision, enduring strength and enduring courage' --Henry Miller

'His sense of encompassing nature and the living, ever-present past, his power to convey curious states of mind, the beauty and grandeur of his best writing... could only come from a man possessed of a superlative talent, genius, or (the word is inescapable with Powys) demon' --Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) lived in the U.S. as well as his native England, and was the author of ten novels, including 'Porius', 'A Glastonbury Romance' and 'Weymouth Sands' (all published by Duckworth), as well as many works of criticism and philosophy.

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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By minnow on 20 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like Weymouth Sands it to me was appealing because Maiden Castle is only 25 miles from my home and again brought out all sorts of street names and dwellings that are so familiar to me . A good insight into Dorchester and surrounding areas about 80 years ago.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David P. Arnold on 13 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
so clever.....not easy, but so rewarding...
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Peacock Michael on 26 Jan. 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You either like Powys or you don't. I do. The copy of Maiden Castle I received was in first-rate condition, and excellent value for money. I always buy hardback copies if I can, because the print is usually better quality than with paperbacks, and often larger, too. It's a pity that hardbacks are in general only available new for a short time after publication.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Disturbing Dungeon 6 Aug. 2007
By Daniel Myers - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, of the four Powys novels I've now read (plus his Autobiography), is at once somehow the least polished and the most deeply disturbing. It is eerie in an exceedingly dark and profound sense that rather creeps up on one and that did not begin to affect me until I was over three hundred pages well into it. I think the reason for this quality, is that, in many ways, it is more deeply autobiographical than Powys's actual Autobiography. Powys here opens up his "Elementalism" - a sort of Wordsworthian Animism - and puts it to a severe trial by fire, from which our main character, Dud No-Man, makes a narrow, but harrowing and wounding, escape. But of more interest is the other main character, Urien, who does not escape. Both of the main characters (as anyone who has read any of Powys's other novels would expect) are based partly on Powys's himself. What so disturbs one about this novel is that Powys's puts on fierce display a part of himself, and by Powsyian inference, a part of all humans, in which that way madness lies. The notion plumbed here is that we all have our own "life illusion" or "personal mythology" as Powys, by turns, is pleased to call it, stripped of which we rapidly disintegrate. Powys portrays this disintegration so convincingly that I can safely say that it's one of the most disturbing novels I've ever read (and from Malcolm Lowry to Cormac McCarthy, I've read many).

What I find a bit irking and unpolished about the style of the prose is Powys's constant appropriation of phrases from other authors, particularly Shakespeare, particularly Hamlet. The nonpareil example here is the use of "bare bodkin" for unsheathed knife, in the phrase "Dud's words cut into her like a bare bodkin...." I venture to say that you could spend the rest of your life searching for the alliterative "bare bodkin" and would find it in only two places, this book and the most famous soliloquy in the English language. Yet, somehow again, this presumptuousness ceases to rankle after some time due to the deeply chilling nature of the narrative. There's really no way, of course, of conveying this quality in a review aside from proffering a few quotes, which I shall proceed to do:

"Every life, if the truth were known, contains experiences of monstrous grotesqueries."

"These deep conflicts aren't misunderstandings, as both sides love to affirm: they are understandings. They know each other too well!"

"Don't you see what force there is in sterile love? Why, my dear boy, it's the strongest force there is! Rampant desire unfulfilled - why, there's nothing it can't do. Stir up sex till it would put out the sun and then keep it sterile! That's the trick! That's the grand trick of all spiritual life."

"...the abominable loneliness of every person in the world, the loneliness of our pain, of our despair, of our insanity, sent a shiver through her that made her feel sick and weak."

"Does our real conscience only get roused by a madness that reduces the pleasure of life itself to cold, stale, wet ashes in comparison?"

These are the sorts of baroque insights into which this book will draw you and leave you mulling over long after you have turned the last page.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Fierce, Dark, Ancient Paganism 29 Jun. 2007
By J C E Hitchcock - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Ever since Hardy, the greatest English regional novelist (indeed, in the opinion of some of us the greatest English novelist full stop) Dorset has been a favourite setting for novels. Recent novelists who have set works in the county include John Fowles ("The French Lieutenant's Woman"), Keith Roberts ("Pavane"), Christopher Priest ("A Dream of Wessex") and Ian MacEwan ("On Chesil Beach"). The early twentieth-century novelist John Cowper Powys was originally from Derbyshire, but spent much of his life in Dorset or neighbouring Somerset, and wrote several works with a Wessex setting.

"Maiden Castle" is set in Hardy's home town of Dorchester, which he called Casterbridge in his novels. (Powys was himself living in Dorchester at the time the book was written). Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge" begins with a scene in which the hero, Michael Henchard, drunkenly sells his wife at a village fair. "Maiden Castle" quite deliberately begins with an incident which parallels, and inverts, Hardy's opening. It also starts with a woman being sold, but in this case the hero, Dud No-Man, is not the seller but the buyer. He "buys" Wizzie Ravelston, a young circus rider, from Ben Urgan, the circus owner, who has seduced Wizzie and (unknown to Dud) fathered a child by her. Wizzie becomes Dud's companion and, possibly, mistress (it is not clear whether the relationship is ever consummated or not). The remainder of the novel is concerned with the changing relationships between Dud, Wizzie and a group of their acquaintances, including Urgan (generally known by the nickname "Old Funky") Teucer Wye, a retired professor of Greek, his daughters Jenny and Thuella, the mysterious and sinister Uryen Quirm and his wife Nancy, Jenny's companion Roger Cask, a well-to-do and ascetic philanthropist with a passionate devotion to Communism, and Wye's son Dunbar, an equally committed Fascist.

The book was written in 1937 and set two years earlier, in 1935. In some respects it is a very realistic novel, firmly anchored in a real time and place. The town of Dorchester is described in detail, much of the action taking place in real streets and real buildings. Hardy similarly made use of real Dorset settings for his work, but, unlike Hardy, Powys does not disguise his settings by using fictitious place-names.

In other respects, however, the book is far from realistic, something emphasised by the eccentric names which Powys gives to his characters. This was partly done so that they could not be easily identified with real individuals (Powys had been sued for libel after some local people had taken exception to the portrait drawn of their town in his earlier novel "A Glastonbury Romance") but also for symbolic purposes. Dud No-man, a historical novelist, has deliberately adopted this pseudonym to emphasise his anonymity and his uncertainty about his identity. His original surname was Smith, but he rejected this in favour of No-man when he discovered that he was illegitimate and that his mother's husband was not his true father. We never learn his true Christian name; "Dud" is a childish nickname, not a diminutive of Dudley.

Apart from Dud, the central figure in the story is probably Uryen Quirm, who in the course of the book is revealed as Dud's true father. He also goes under an alias. Quirm is not his true surname, and his real Christian name is actually Enoch, but he has rejected this in favour of the more mystical Uryen, a name which reflects his Welsh origins and his obsession with pre-Christian Celtic religion and mythology. The "Maiden Castle" of the title is a Neolithic fortified camp just outside Dorchester, and the finding of a prehistoric statue there by a team of archaeologists plays an important part in the plot. (The name "Maiden" has nothing to do with young women, but is a corruption of the old Celtic name of the fort, Mai-dun). Uryen is particularly obsessed with Maiden Castle, which he regards as a symbol of the Old Religion he follows, and of a past time when "neither the pleasures of life were denied nor the paths to immortality discredited". He believes that it is there that he can get in touch with the gods of that lost religion.

Paralleling the story of Uryen is that of his son Dud and his relationship with Wizzie. This is not perhaps the most successful part of the book. Dud is too cold and withdrawn to make a sympathetic hero, and the moral conventions of the day meant that Powys could not treat their story with the sexual frankness that he might have wished. For example, it is implied that Dud is unable to consummate his relationship with Wizzie through impotence (and was unable to consummate his earlier marriage for the same reason), although this is never stated explicitly. Similarly, a lesbian attraction between Wizzie and Thuella Wye is implied but not made explicit.

Although his cast of characters includes both a Communist and a Fascist, and the book was written in the late thirties when the rivalry between those two totalitarian ideologies was threatening to plunge Europe into war, Powys was not particularly interested in political analysis. Dunbar is a relatively minor character, and Cask seems to have been included to provide a materialistic counterweight to Uryen's mystical spirituality. Whereas Uryen identifies with the Celts, Cask identifies with their Roman conquerors, whom he sees as having brought civilisation and order. (His nickname is Claudius, after the Roman Emperor who first conquered Britain).

Despite its realistic sense of place, the overall tone of the book is mystical. There is an even stronger sense of England's historic and prehistoric past which, in Powys's universe, seems to co-exist with the present. The plot of the book is in some ways unsatisfactory, but this is a book in which plot seems to take second place to an atmosphere of brooding spirituality, a spirituality which is not informed by Christianity, nor by a gentle modern New Ageism, but by a fierce, dark, ancient paganism.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Dud Noman's struggle to exist. 25 Nov. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is about Dud Noman. Never has there been a more appropriate name for a charachter. The book takes place in the early decades of this century and revolves around a completely pathetic soul that the reader will both relate to and sympathize with. It is the story of his struggle to survive and live and really causes the reader to reflect upon their own existence. The characters are all multi-faceted and complex, but that is one of my favorite things about Powys. Like all Powys novels this one is well worth the effort.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Another Great Read 5 May 2008
By William Thon - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like to read and are a book worm like me - this is for you. Like the Weymouth sands the author transports you to another time and another place with characters that leap from each page and discriptive writing that only a great master can do. Lines you find yourself saying aloud because they are so fantastic.
Enjoy every well put together page in this classic, master work.
My other favorite writers are E.F. Benson, P.D. James, AJ Cronin, Andrew Pepper and Peter Robinson.
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