Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Epicurean true to his philosophy, 30 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Struggle for Life (Oneworld Classics) (Paperback)
Reactions to the written word can be extraordinarily diverse and startling. Critical evaluations of literature often tell you more about the critic than the text. Judgements about irony, sarcasm, sentimentality and so forth are quite subjective.

I was interested to note in Anthony Head's excellent introduction that the poet John Wain judged one of L. Powys's books to be the `corniest' book he had ever read. I can empathise with that reaction, and had a streak of that judgement as I read some of the essays collected in the book. L. Powys tries hard to tug the heart strings, and waxes eloquent in a florid, almost Euphuistic style at times. One could easily parody and satirise his writing.

However, more strongly, I felt a closeness to the experiences of the author and the views he expresses. For one, he lived in Africa for five years, somewhat paralleling my own decade or so living in Zambia. He also has an abiding love of the culture and nature of the English countryside, which I share, though bowing to his much greater knowledge and experience. His reverse Pilgrim's progress away from what he sees as the syrupy delusions of conventional Christianity has points of contact with my own views. The debilitating and serious disease he suffered from finds a kinship in my heart. Lastly, his love of Laurence Sterne's `Tristram Shandy' and of the beauty of the stars are big recommendations.

Tony Head has made a judicious selection, covering many topics and the broad sweep of his life, in Dorset, the USA, East Africa and Switzerland. The first essay `A struggle for life' introduces us to the central tragedy of his life, his contraction of pulmonary tuberculosis, diagnosed when he was only 25 years old. This damaged the rest of his life, eventually killing him, but did not hold him back from enjoying his time on earth to the full. This admirable essay is written in an unsentimental and un-self-pitying way.

The four essays on aspects of his life in Africa are vivid, but reveal a colonial callousness. He shoots leopard and hippo without any compunction, all the more surprising given his otherwise tender nature, and the later essays `Christian Fingers' and `Barbarians', in which he criticises hunting and cruelty to animals.

The philosophical essays appealed particularly, though I find his attitude to religion inconsistent and unstable. He often refers to God, admires aspects of Christian culture and expresses sentiments close to conventional religious opinions, yet he professes himself an atheist at other points. In the essay `The Epicurean Vision', he declares his adherence to a joyful, sturdy enjoyment of the simple physical pleasures of life. He criticises `Christians at prayer' as `obsequious', `sycophantic' and `craven, unhealthy, neurotic'. Strong words! He dislikes the creed of the church in trying to discredit life upon earth, with all its talk of absurd Trinities, fables about ascensions, dead men rising from the grave and a focus on a mythical heaven. Powys follows the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, wanting us to look at the world we live in now, to make the best of it, with unfaltering loyalty to our senses. He urges us to "enjoy our hour of sunshine".

Powys's philosophy of life is expressed even more eloquently in `The Aebi Wood'. He stared at this green wood for many hours from the balcony of his sanatorium in Switzerland, and it came to symbolise the immediacy of the physical life and world we inhabit. He writes "Make no doubt of it, it is matter that matters. In all else there is mirage, man himself, for all his vaunts, being but a cheap and accidental phantom of cleaver clay. There may well be other dimensions, but in so far as we allow the suspicion of their existence to dim our worship of what is, we suffer ourselves to be entangled in a cloud-net of folly. Our paradise, our hells, are here and now, we shall see no other."

His most powerful chapter is `Reflections of a Dying Man'. Somebody suffering from worsening Tuberculosis, with no cure in sight, has a right to record such reflections, I don't find this passage `corny'. It is unblinking and objective, rejecting easy solutions, recognising mankind is blessed with self-knowledge "on a rainbow planet that is tumbling through a physical universe of inconceivable dimensions". He preaches joy in what we have, and an admirable stoicism: "It is by the rarest chance that we have ever lived, and does it then become us to grudge when the hour arrives for us to walk the way of all nature? Surely to look at the sunlight for the last time should rather be an occasion for the trembling of our marrow bones with gratitude."

Throughout the book, Llewellyn Powys displays a marvelous turn of descriptive phrase, and an infectious enthusiasm that lifts the reader. We acquire a vivid sense of the countryside in which he loved to live, walk and work.

From this excellent selection we learn a good deal about a writer who should be better known.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 


Review Details

Item

3.5 out of 5 stars (2 customer reviews)
5 star:    (0)
4 star:
 (1)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
£9.99 £8.80
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Reviewer

J. Vernon
(REAL NAME)   

Location: Surrey, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 122,829