Maiden Castle (novel)

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Maiden Castle
File:Maiden castle dorset ramparts.jpg
Maiden Castle, hill fort, Dorset, has a major role in Powys's novel.
Author John Cowper Powys
Language English
Genre Novel
Published 1936 US, 1937 UK
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Media type Print
Preceded by Weymouth Sands (1934), Autobiography (1934)
Followed by Morwyn (1937)

Maiden Castle by John Cowper Powys was first published in 1936 and is the last of Powys so-called Wessex novels, following Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1932), Weymouth Sands (1934).[1] Powys was an admirer of Thomas Hardy, and these novels are set in Somerset and Dorset, part of Hardy's mythical Wessex.[2] American scholar Richard Maxwell describes these four novels "as remarkably successful with the reading public of his time".[3] Maiden Castle is set in Dorchester, Dorset Thomas Hardy's Casterbridge, and which Powys intended to be a "rival" to Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge.[4] Glen Cavaliero describes Dorchester as "vividly present throughout the book as a symbol of the continuity of civilization.[5] The title alludes to the Iron Age, hill fort Maiden Castle that stands near to Dorchester.

Powys, along with Phyllis Playter, returned permanently to England in June 1934 and, while staying near the village of Chaldon, Dorset, Powys began Maiden Castle in late August 1934,[6] In October 1934 they moved to Dorchester but then they moved again, to Corwen North Wales, in July 1935, where Maiden Castle was completed in February 1936.[7]

Until 1990 Maiden Castle was only available in an abridged version, because Powys original typescript of Maiden Castle had been reduced by about one-fifth of its original length for the previous editions. In 1990 the University of Wales Press published "the first full authoritative edition" under the editorship of Ian Hughes.[8]


Maiden Castle is about "the difficult relationship of a historical novelist [Dud No-Man] [...] and a young circus acrobat [Wizzie Raveleston]. Another major character, the novelist's father [Uryen Quirm] believes that he is "the incarnation of a Welsh god".[9] Uryen tries "to reawake the old gods once worshipped" at Maiden Castle,[10] but he fails in this, just as his son fails in his relationship with Wizzie.[11]

Critical response

When the novel appeared in Britain in 1937 Geoffrey H. Wells, in a review in the Times Literary Supplement, wrote: The total effect is rather that of a celestial –or demonic – Punch and Judy show. All the characters are, by ordinary standards, grotesques, eccentric physically and mentally".[12] More recently, Morine Krissdottir, in her biography of Powys, describes the plot of Maiden Castle as "absurd" and "the characters over-the-top", while "the dialogue is often unintentionally comic". However, she still finds that the novel "sticks in the mind".[13] Glen Cavaliero also recognises that much of this novel is "implausible", but he suggests that "it takes on a hypnotic reality in the encounters between its leading characters", and he also comments, that though Uryen's "mad quest may have its ludicrous side", he "remains an impressive haunting figure".[14] Cavaliero also describes it as "perhaps the most Powysian of all the novels".[15]


  • Cavaliero, Glen. John Cowper Powys, Novelist. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973, pp. 93–102
  • Christensen, Peter G. The "Dark Gods" and Modern Society: Maiden Castle and The Plumed Serpent, in In the Spirit of Powys: New Essays, ed. Denis Lane. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1990, pp. 157–179.
  • Humfrey, Belinda, ed.The Powys Review. Index to critical articles and other material (including articles by Ian Hughes in nos, 12 and 15): [1]
  • Keith, W. J. "Three personal readings of Maiden Castle" [2]
  • Knight, G. Wilson. The Saturnian Quest. London: Methuen,1964, pp. 47–55, 77–80.
  • Krissdottir, Morine. Descents of Memory: The Life of John Cowper Powys. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2007, pp. 312–321
  • Lock, Charles, ed. The Powys Journal. Another source for critical articles. [3]
  • Moran, Margaret. "Animated Fictions in Maiden Castle", in In the Spirit of Powys: New Essays, ed. Denis Lane. (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1990), pp. 180–192.
  • Nodius, Janina. "I Am Myself Alone": Solitude and Transcendence in John Cowper Powys. Goteborg, Sweden, University of Goteborg, 1997, pp. 135–170.

See also

John Cowper Powys:


  1. Herbert Williams, John Cowper Powys. (Bridgend, Wales: Seren, 1997), p. 94.
  2. Powys's first novel Wood and Stone (1915) was dedicated to Thomas Hardy. It is set on the Dorset and Somerset border.
  3. "Two Canons: On the Meaning of Powys's Relation to Scott and his Turn to Historical Fiction", Western Humanities Review, vol. LVII, no. 1, Spring 2003, p. 103.
  4. Morine Krissdottir, Descents of Memory: The Life of John Cowper Powys. (New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2007), p. 312.
  5. Glen Cavaliero, John Cowper Powys: Novelist. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 94.
  6. Morine Krissdottir, Descents of Memory, pp. 307, 303.
  7. Morine Krissdottir, Descents of Memory. pp. 308, 323, 325
  8. Ian Hughes, "Introduction" to Maiden Castle. (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1990), p. vii.
  9. Information on the inside of the cover of Maiden Castle (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1990).
  10. C. A. Coates, John Cowper Powys in Search of a Landscape. (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1982), p. 132.
  11. C. A. Coates, John Cowper Powys in Search of a Landscape, p. 132.
  12. TLS, 27 March 1937, p. 239.
  13. Morine Krissdottir, "Descents of Memory, p. 313.
  14. Glen Cavaliero, John Cowper Powys: Novelist, pp, 101-2, 100..
  15. Glen Cavaliero, John Cowper Powys: Novelist, p. 93.