(The second part of this special feature will appear in our Summer edition.)
The Englishness of Nikolaus Pevsner
1. The Englishness of English Art
October 1955: Nikolaus Pevsner puts on a fresh white shirt with a bold, un-English pyjama stripe. He ties the dark tie with the small white spots in a neat knot, buttons up the dark suit with the wide, sharp lapels, and he is ready.
An hour later he is sitting at a desk, before one of those microphones with a lozenge reading 'BBC' in thin white letters. He looks like a town clerk. His head is round and high-domed, his face kind and surprisingly diffident, his brushed-back hair flattish and black, grey at the edges. His mouth is small and mild, and he wears little round glasses made of black wire. He looks permanently saddened in a disappointed, but not resentful, sort of way. He arranges his manuscript before him on the desk. The presenter announces him, the studio manager gives him the signal, and he begins to read.
Pevsner's voice is edgy and precisely phrased (as all educated voices were in 1955 and only Queen Elizabeth's still is), as if to speak were to engrave his words on glass, and his reading is calm. Yet there is something indeterminable about his voice. One moment he sounds as English as the commentary on a British Transport Films travelogue, then, quite suddenly, a German sibilance intrudes. And now he sounds faintly French, or perhaps Polish—Czech?—Hungarian? The English is beautiful, but beneath it, tingeing it with ambiguity, are the uncertain borders and unfixable geography of central Europe. (1)
When you know the outline of Pevsner's life, the voice (and the shirt) make sense. History comes through in them.
Nikolaus Bernhard Leon Pevsner was born in Leipzig in 1902 to a prosperous family, Jewish by antecedence, Lutheran by recent choice. A student of art history at Leipzig, Munich, and Frankfurt-am-Main, an employee at the Dresden Gallery and the university of Göttingen, Pevsner left Germany for England—permanently, as it turned out— in 1933, when the Nazis expelled Jews from state employment. With the help of friends in England, Pevsner got a research post at the University of Birmingham. He was interned for two months in 1939 as an enemy alien, but friends with influence got him out. After that he really began to motor. He worked at the Architectural Review, took over the editorship of the King Penguin series, and became a British citizen in 1946. By the mid 1950s Pevsner was flying high, at the heart of the English art-academic establishment. In 1951 Penguin started publishing his Buildings of England series. From 1953 on there was also the PelicanHistory of Art series, which Pevsner conceived and edited. Appointments followed as a professor at Birkbeck College and a visiting lecturer at Oxford and Cambridge. So in the first years of the Queen's reign, at the start, as many hoped, of the New Elizabethan Age, Nikolaus Pevsner emerged as one of the pre-eminent masters and arbiters of cultural scholarship in his adopted country. To mark and consolidate this position, in 1955 he was invited to give the annual BBC Reith Lectures. (2)
From this lofty eminence, Pevsner addresses the nation. The subject he chooses is The Englishness of English Art. He wants to reach a large audience, arranging for the lectures to be subsequently published. (3)
But what a troubled, obscure, inconclusive address to the nation it turns out to be. Pevsner prefaces The Englishness of English Art by questioning his qualifications to write on Englishness, "having entered England only at the age of twenty-eight and lived in the country not much longer than thirty years ... not a long time to learn to understand a country," but he needn't have worried. England—his England—is steeped in English zeitgeist, vintage 1955.
The Englishness of English Art is not a work of glad, confident New Elizabethan morning, but seems to come out of a belated, uncertain, lost and ending, five o'clock England. Pevsner's England has much in common with the ageing Shire of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (published in 1954 and 1955), stuck out on the western edge of darkling Middle Earth. The incorporeal, substanceless art and architecture that Pevsner finds in England is close to the Gormenghast of Mervyn Peake, whose trilogy Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone appeared between 1946 and 1959. Pevsner's misty, polite, moderate England stares eastwards at blackened, passionate, god-bestridden Continental blankness: Mordor. She doesn't seem to have much chance of finding a future to match her past.
Chapter 1 of the published text begins:
"The following pages are an essay in the geography of art. Whereas the history of art is concerned with what all works of art and architecture have in common because they belong to a period, in whatever country within the same civilisation they may have been made, the question asked by a geography of art is what all works of art and architecture of one people have in common, at whatever time they may have been made."
Pevsner is going to tell us about a people, the English, connected to a place, England, producing art over a long period that expresses an enduring national character, Englishness: this is what he means by the geography of art. Against this tight little thematic knot he contrasts the art-historical approach, which studies works of art and architecture produced at the same time in diverse places, linked only by happening to belong to the same civilisation.
Remember, Pevsner was born in Leipzig, a Jew from central Europe, that place which has no permanent geography. For the last thousand years, duchies, electorates, kingdoms and dictatorships have morphed, coalesced and divided like amoebae across the map of the central European plain. Armies have swept east and west, following the expediencies of rulers and the crazy programmes of demagogues, making the mass flight, expulsion, industrialised transportation and extermination of whole peoples the primary experience of twentieth century central Europe, whether under Hitler or Stalin.
It is against this background that Pevsner searches for Englishness. Uprooted and expelled himself, a refugee, Pevsner looks to England for proof of something different, something stable: a people that have been allowed to stay put in one place with secure island frontiers for a thousand years, a culture and tradition rooted in landscape and stasis. England. Englishness. English art.
Having announced his subject— "national character as it expresses itself in art"— Pevsner spends the rest of the first chapter attempting to find it. But does he succeed? No. Wherever he looks, it slips away from him. Displaying his immense learning, he piles detail upon detail and ranges across the centuries, taking in social, economic, and artistic history in his search for the essence of Englishness. Yet every fact that tells him one thing also tells him the opposite. To take one example: the English language tends to be monosyllabic (he tells us) compared to Continental European speech. This shows that the English are a business-like people, always in a hurry. But no, it also shows that they are leisurely people. And anyway, it then occurs to Pevsner, English isn't really monosyllabic after all.
The past, in the end, tells him nothing. The more he knows, the less he can say for certain. So what about the present? "No one is at a loss when it comes to enumerating the characteristics of the English today." His list of these poignantly reflects the horrors of the central European world from which he has escaped: personal liberty; freedom of expression; wise compromises; the democratic system; distrust of the sweeping statement and the demagogue; faith in honesty and fair play. But suddenly, in mid-paragraph, Pevsner shifts from the language of post-war political discourse to Dickensian urban fantasy:
"...windows that will never close, and heating that will never heat, a certain comfortable wastefulness and the demonstrative conservatism of the wig in court, the gown in school and university, the obsolete-looking shop-window in St James's Street, the Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, the Keeper of the Queen's Swans, the Portcullis poursuivant, the City Companies, and l-s-d [pounds, shillings and pence. Ed.], and yards, and acres, and Fahrenheit."
This isn't really England, 1955. This is Gormenghast, and like Gormenghast, this fine old England is not so secure and permanent as it seems. "All those things have seemed as eternal as the rock of Gibraltar," says Pevsner, then adds: "In fact they are not." When he finally gets to the essence of English art he finds that it has no body, no solidity, no weight. It is all sketchy outlines and mist:
"Decorated is the flowing line, Perpendicular is the straight line, but both are line and not body. Constable's aim is truth to nature, Turner's world is fantasmagoria, but both are concerned with an atmospheric view of the world, not with the firm physical objects in it, that is again not with bodies. It is true that in this Constable and Turner also represent a European and not merely an English development, but their specifically unsculptural, unplastic, cloudy, or steam treatment is as will be shown, English all the same."
Is this truly the characteristic style of English art? Of course not, as Pevsner himself will tell you, for he always gives the contrary fact and the counter-argument. For every John Piper there is a Henry Moore.
The Englishness of English Art is not a good book. Lists of facts and nuggets of received wisdom are interspersed with conclusions that are no sooner offered than gainsaid, entertaining only because they are so clearly potty: "To this day there are two distinct racial types recognizable in England, one tall with long head and long features, little facial display and little gesticulation, the other round-faced, more agile, and more active."
Poor mild Nikolaus, with his shifting, multi-accented, lovable voice; he so wants to have a theory. Someone somewhere has told him that he must have one, but every time he reaches for it, he shows a failure of conviction. His lectures are almost entirely devoted to letting the facts speak for themselves and to praising the 'Englishness' of live-and-let-live and queuing, yet he cannot help feeling that in the end this is just not good enough. Pevsner finishes The Englishness of English Art on a melancholy note: "England has no Michaelangelo, no Rembrandt, nor a Dürer or Grünewald, a Greco or Velazquez ... What English character gained of tolerance and fair play, she lost of that fanaticism or at least that intensity which alone can bring forth the very greatest in art."
2. The Buildings of England, A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, and The Lord of the Rings
So Pevsner in 1955 saw no prospect of English artistic greatness arising in the foreseeable future. Perhaps he was right—and yet there was to be found in fifties England a very distinctive and very English kind of creativity that was every bit as fanatical and intense as that of Michelangelo and the rest, and of which Pevsner himself was no mere scholar and camp-follower but a fine exponent: the undemonstrative, dogged and trainspotterish creativity of greying, reserved, owlish gents in overcoats.
One Sunday in the late 1940s Sir Allen Lane, the master of Penguin Books, invited Pevsner to lunch in his garden (how English is this?) Afterwards Lane asked Pevsner what he would really like to do, if he could do whatever he wanted. And so began TheBuildings of England, a series of county-by-county architectural guides and gazetteers for which Pevsner eventually wrote 32 volumes and edited a further ten. (The series reached its 46th and final volume in 1974, though companion series on Scotland, Ireland, and Wales continued to appear and are still incomplete.) Volume 1 appeared in 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain.
This was not a groundbreaking venture for 1951. County guides and handbooks had been around ever since there were enough motorists looking for places to go on weekend jaunts and tours. The first Shell Guide (to Cornwall) was published by John Betjeman in 1934, followed by others which described and illustrated towns and villages, churches, and local legends and customs. Similar series multiplied: Britain in Pictures, Visions of England, About Britain, from Shire Books, Batsford Books, King Penguin. Not just architecture, but anything characteristically English that could be covered in a uniform series of inexpensive illustrated books, was. In the thirties and forties photographers, artists and writers toured the country continually, observing and recording it. In some hands this idea took on a serious purpose. Under the threat of totalitarian destruction --there was a real fear of mass uprising in the 1930s, and then, of course, of German invasion in the 1940s-- recording England could be seen as an urgent necessity. The National Buildings Record, a response to the Blitz, sent photographers up and down the country, commissioned to photograph important buildings before they were damaged or destroyed. For John Piper it was a natural transition from illustrating Shell Guides to painting bomb-damaged England as an official war artist. Sir Kenneth Clark (long-time patron-crony of Betjeman, Piper and others) conspired with the Pilgrim Trust to dispatch hundreds of watercolorists about the land in wartime, to paint the English landscape and way of life. (6) After the war was over, such recording even became a pastime for children: the I-Spy books began to appear in 1948, privately published at first by a retired headmaster called Charles Warrell. They were hugely popular among children in the fifties and sixties, after which their popularity ebbed, though the series is still publishing.
Thus Pevsner's TheBuildings of England is in some ways simply part of a genre. Yet his series is also unique, as shown by comparison with the Shell Guides. These were quirky, arch, selective, opinionated little volumes, by Betjeman and his artistic friends (John Piper, Paul Nash, Robert Byron and the rest). Self-consciously aesthetic and unselfconsciously snobbish, Betjeman and Piper took jolly car trips about the country, mocking the accents of commercial travellers. (5) The Guides were a wheeze for funding what they really wanted to do.
Pevsner's ambition with The Buildings of England could not have been more different. He intended the books to be comprehensive, massive, and encyclopaedic. His series would cover everything and everywhere and render all others superfluous, and it was to be his; a lifetime commitment, an obsessive work. For months every year he travelled with his wife Lola, sight-seeing and taking notes by day, and writing-up late into the night. Step by step, year by year, he and Lola progressed across England with the doggedness of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Whereas the Shell Guides and others of their ilk, including the I-Spy books, are spatchcocked and rather random, small in scale and pastoral in tone, Pevsner's opus is huge. His thick tomes, full of small print, assimilate every church, college and town hall of note, and everything is orderly. Illustrations are collected and docketed, and all the counties look the same. If Betjeman's ShellGuides fit the old England of higgledy-piggledy unplanned towns, Pevsner's are a product of the post-war rebuilding and town planning era. They are complete, concrete and uniform, but also demotic, open to all: cheap, portable books produced on a large scale. Pevsner paid comparatively little attention to the architecture of country houses. He, unlike Betjeman et al, did not expect many invitations to weekend in them, and neither did his readers. Only in the later volumes, as more and more estates passed into state or National Trust ownership and became accessible to the public, did Pevsner give them more room.
In 1952, the year after the first book appeared, Alfred Wainwright (born in 1907, five years Pevsner's junior) began work on the first handwritten, hand-drawn volume of A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. Wainwright had set himself to walk all the hills and fells in Lakeland, recording and mapping as he went. His way of working was single-minded; at the very start of the project, he planned out the fell route he would follow for every single weekend over the next decade. While walking he made notes and sketches which he rewrote and redrew fair on weekday evenings. Wainwright never deviated, never fell behind, and he covered everything. Volume 1 was published in 1955, the year of Pevsner's lectures on The Englishness of English Art, and the guide appeared in seven volumes up to 1966. (7)
The same year—October, to be precise, the month of Pevsner's first lecture— also saw the publication of The Return of the King, the third and final part of J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was another obsessive completist. Since 1937, if not earlier, he had been accumulating the vast heaps of made-up legends, histories, songs, poems, maps, and invented languages that form the hinterland of The Lord of the Rings. He was cataloguing and collecting the inside of his own head. He called it Middle Earth, but it was England. Britain. Europe.8 Like Pevsner and Wainwright, he would do what he had to, and it would take as long as it took. Nikolaus Pevsner, Alfred Wainwright, and J R R Tolkien: in photographs they look oddly similar. All three were tall, gentle, inward men who had made something of themselves, rising to respected positions in public institutions, the universities or local government. Each bears a great interior hurt, one of those wounds that the twentieth century could give you: surviving the slaughter of the First World War trenches (Tolkien); enduring decades of bleak, loveless, uncommunicative, provincial lower-middle-class marriage in a small house (Wainwright); witnessing the destruction of one's native country and one's people (Pevsner). All of them, rather late in life, when they might have begun to coast and enjoy the fruits of modest achievement, made a huge creative leap. Entirely self-propelled --no-one asked for or expected it-- each set himself a huge, dull and repetitive task that he could expect would last most of the rest of his life, and which to other people would seem unrewarding to the point of idiocy or mad melancholy.
Plodding, ageing, unimaginative in many ways, they yet opened up whole new Englands of the mind by compulsively exploring and recording. Their lifeworks are monuments to thoroughness. All the paths of Lakeland. All the buildings of England. All the legend, myth, history, verse and story of Middle Earth. These are compendious pocket universes. Taken singly, the components of their works are often trivial and unremarkable, but when put together they became books that weren't read but used. Solitary souls, lost boys and girls conscious of some other England beyond the humdrum, carried them in their pockets as they, too, went to search.
Of course, Pevsner, Tolkien and Wainwright didn't do what they did for the sake of their books' users; they did it for themselves. They were artists whose labour was its own reward, because it kept them from being sad. That is the Englishness of English art, circa 1955.--Peter Higgins
Peter Higgins is a writer of fantasy fiction grounded in landscape and history. He lives in Wales.--Ed.
1. At the time of writing, a recording of Pevsner's Reith Lectures can be heard on YouTube, with a photograph of him at the microphone. Extraordinary. Thanks, MeadesShrine.
2. The lectures had been given annually since 1948. Previous speakers included Bertrand Russell, Arnold Toynbee and Robert Oppenheimer.
3. Nikolaus Pevsner, The Englishness of English Art. The text of the lectures, expanded and annotated, was published by the Architectural Press in 1956 and issued by Penguin in 1964.
5. Bevis Hillier's John Betjeman: New Fame, New Love (John Murray, 2002) captures the atmosphere of their circle. There were weekend house-parties, say at John and Myfanwy Piper's house at Fawley Bottom. Guests might include Betjeman, Osbert Lancaster, Geoffrey Grigson, John Summerson and others of that sort. Very clever games were played. Stuart Piggot has left an account of the Church Game:
the players drew, from west to east, the south elevation of a church, in sections in which the only clue to continuity were roof and ground lines; the aim was to embody as many architectural eccentricities and grotesqueries as possible. I could just get by with my amateur draughtsmanship, but what could you do with the west end of a nave, knowing that John Piper on a hidden fold had just drawn a stunning western tower, and Osbert Lancaster, eyes rolling and looking like Canon Fontwater, was waiting to pounce with an egregious transept or outrageous chancel? The porch was one's main hope, with help from crazy stove-pipes or derelict guttering if all else failed. Or if the paper hadn't run out east of the chancel there was an extra chance for a Mausoleum, perhaps in the Normano-Chinese manner.
6. Clark's motivation, in this and the Official War Artists programme which he set up and ran, was partly to preserve the lives of the artists (who were often also his friends and houseguests, or friends of friends) by protecting them from call-up or more dangerous war work. See his autobiography, The Other Half (1977).
7. For Wainwright's obsessive work regime see Hunter Davies, Wainwright: The Biography (Michael Joseph, 1995)
8. T A Shippey, The Road To Middle Earth: How Tolkien Created A New Mythology (HarperCollins, rev. ed. 1998)
John Cowper Powys' Weymouth Sands: A Personal View
Born and brought up in Weymouth, I first read Weymouth Sands when I was a teenager working as a deckchair attendant on the seafront, and I was intoxicated by the combination of sun, a landscape which I knew intimately and literature by an author of whom I had never heard, yet who had written passionately about it. Rereading the book last year, I realised just how important that familiar landscape is to understanding what is one of the finest English novels of the twentieth century. This essay will explore the role of place within the novel, integrating my personal recollections of the beautiful and powerful setting of Weymouth, Portland and the sea.
Up to the age of ten I lived in a seafront hotel. At night I used to hear the waves on the beach, becoming familiar with the moods of the sea at different times of the year, so it is unsurprising that a book which describes this particular stretch of coast should strike a chord with me. One place, however, triggered especially strong associations for me when I read the book. In the early sixties my parents moved to a new hotel in Preston, a few miles along the Beach Road from Weymouth. As you come out of Weymouth towards Preston and look over Lodmoor, on the top of a hill you see an imposing white building known locally as the White House, the 'High House' of Powys's novel. It is now surrounded by late sixties bungalows but I remember it when it stood alone, part of the town yet not really in it. This is also how it is depicted in the novel as the residence of Jerry Cobbold, the David Garrick-like character whose wife, Lucinda, brings Perdita Wane to Weymouth as her companion. Several of the novel's episodes take place in 'High House,' and much is made of its independent isolation, facing the bay almost like an inanimate observer of the town's human activity. Every time I caught the bus to school I would see this large, shining, white building, and wonder what it was like inside and who could possibly live there. I decided that whoever it was must be old, wealthy, and averse to children, particularly the exploratory type. To later find this building used as a central location in an epic novel was surprising enough, but I found it an eerie coincidence when I discovered that two elderly relatives of mine, my grandmother's brother and his wife, had lived in the house in the 1930's around the time that the book was published.
Weymouth itself is a Georgian town made popular by the visits of George III. His statue stands in the town centre near the sea-front, along with his bathing machine. (Tradition has it that as he entered the sea from this large cart, an orchestra on the beach would play God Save the King.) The beach and harbour were, and arguably still are, the focal point of the town. The sand on the beach is soft, and once the railway arrived Weymouth became popular for family holidays. Powys sets the novel firmly in the town, mentioning landmarks such as the Jubilee Clock, King George's statue, the small theatre, and the terraces of Georgian guest houses which greet the visitor on first entering the town.
Portland lies in stark contrast to Weymouth. Set at the end of Chesil Bank, a twenty-two mile long beach, it is an outcrop of rock known mainly for its naval base and large quarries. This barren landscape is so harsh that it is often claimed that until recently, no trees could grow on Portland. Many ships have been wrecked off this coast, including, most tragically, hulks containing hundreds of Napoleonic Wars prisoners; during the 1960's I read numerous reports in the local paper of how, after bad weather, bones believed to come from these hulks had washed up on the beach. Indeed, a few miles out to sea is the meeting-point of two tides called The Race, commonly regarded as one of the most dangerous places for shipping around our coastline. The contrast between the gentle family holiday resort of Weymouth and the nearby savage natural environment of Chesil and Portland is one which Powys consciously exploits within the structure of Weymouth Sands.
The novel's central characters inhabit this landscape and are shaped by it, but cannot change it in any significant way. They are like the visitors who come to Weymouth on holiday, stay for a while, and then disappear. When the book was originally published as Jobber Skald the title suggested that the Jobber was the central character, yet while he does figure prominently, it is misleading to think of the novel as a story surrounding him. Like all the main figures he comes and goes, and it is this unusual, multilayered narrative which gives the book much of its strength.
A Portland man, powerful and knowing, the Jobber is full of pride in his wild island and enjoys the respect of the whole community, who see him as wise and dependable. Before he falls in love with Perdita Wane he is in control of this world, but when she disappears after spending the night with him he loses that control, as his love comes to dominate his being. The Jobber represents an ideal that is not uncommon in English fiction, existing in Adam-like harmony with his environment yet not submissive to it, equally at home on land or sea. He is able to turn his hand to any craft or skill, and earns a living by providing services that others cannot easily manage because they lack either the expertise or the equipment. This is how Powys describes him early in the book: "What he really was was a sort of amphibious Carrier, conveying in his motor-boat, the Cormorant, and in a Ford truck, that he named the Slug, every conceivable kind of load, from cattle-dung and fresh vegetables, to flour, oil and salted fish."
The Jobber has a deep hatred of 'Dog' Cattistock, the local businessman who is the wealthiest person in town. Cattistock has bought the stone quarries on Portland, and is rumoured to be about to close them and thereby make the local men jobless. For hundreds of years the quarries have provided the island with its only land-based employment, symbolising the way in which inanimate nature can provide sustenance, yet also a reminder of its dangerous caprice. One side of my family originally came from Portland, so I know how common it once was to have relatives killed or injured while working in the quarries.
An anecdote from my father clearly demonstrates the quarries' influence on the lives of Portlanders. In the early nineteenth century there was a major accident in one of them which resulted in several deaths and many injuries. After some investigation the blame for the accident was laid on the rabbits that had dug burrows around the quarry, undermining the rock so that it collapsed. From then on Portlanders saw rabbits as unlucky, so much so that they would not mention them by name, but called them 'bunnies' instead. During the 1940's my father was a musician in a large band which played all over the West Country. One night they were travelling back in a car from north Dorset when the driver hit a rabbit on the road and killed it. As this was the time of food rationing the driver stopped the car and put the rabbit in the boot, at which one of the passengers got out and said, "I'm not riding in this car with a bunny in the boot." The irate musician began walking, though it was past midnight and they were still more than twenty miles from Weymouth. The others drove off past him but waited for him about a mile up the road, where the driver removed the offending rabbit and the musician got back in the car. The rest of the journey was completed in total silence.
The Jobber's hatred of 'Dog' Cattistock is well-known, and most expect him to follow through on his threat to murder him. Such threats are common enough plot elements, but this instance is unusual because of its link with the theme of landscape. The Jobber intends to murder Cattistock using a large stone that he picked up on Chesil Bank the evening he was told about the proposed quarry closures. He carries the stone with him throughout the whole time-frame of the book, and it is this that gives the narrative its suspenseful, compelling quality. What Powys achieves with this simple motif is quite extraordinary; it is the fact that the stone comes from Chesil Bank that makes the image so powerful. The Jobber's stone represents Chesil and Portland, and it is surely no accident that he intends to use an object from the Island to avenge the wrong being done to it.
The Weymouth that I knew was like a piece of string, with the sea on one side and the sea-front hotels on the other. To get into town from our hotel in Preston I would walk the same route as Magnus Muir in the novel: along the Beach Road, up Greenhill Terrace (where Powys stayed when he came to Weymouth for his childhood holidays), past St. John's Church and the statue of Queen Victoria, along the seafront and eventually to the harbour, the town bridge and the Church of Holy Trinity, where 'Dog' Cattistock was to marry. It is within this small strip of land that almost all the novel's action takes place. The Weymouth that Powys depicts is never more than a few yards from the edge of the sea, which, like the 'High House,' seems to be a dispassionate observer of the activities of those who temporarily inhabit this space. The philosopher, the mystic, the teacher, the clown, the cynic, the lovers, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers all play their parts, and then, as Shakespeare observed, they exit sans anything.
Weymouth Sands is a great English novel by one of our finest writers, and deserves a much wider audience. Its theme is one which only the most accomplished artist can attempt, that of human beings inhabiting a world that they think is moulded by them, but which in fact remains impervious. I am privileged to have spent my childhood within the landscape that Powys used to such monumental effect, and delighted that he could capture it so well.--Paul Flux