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The Swedish

John Cowper Powys Society

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John Cowper Powys
in Swedish


In Swedish

Newsletter no. 12 – The Autobiography – at last!

by Lars Gustaf Andersson


Finally one of the most remarkable translation projects into Swedish is fulfilled: The translation by Sven Erik Täckmark and Mikael Nydahl of the Autobiography by John Cowper Powys. Täckmark, who had translated several works of Powys, foremost Wolf Solent, worked during the 1980s with a translation of the Autobiography. It was meant to be published by legendary publisher René Coeckelbergh, but when the latter suddenly passed away the script was lost and could not be found until several years later. The worn and stained script was moreover not complete, and Mikael Nydahl, who was prepared to publish the book through his publishing house, realised that he had to turn into a second translator of the volume, filling in lacunae and revising the original interpretation. In his postscript to the recently published Swedish edition, Mikael Nydahl tells us:


The present text in Swedish has two contrivers. During the process we have tried to incorporate the knowledge and the stylistic choices of the Täckmark version into the new version. And at the same time that is really what it is: a completely new version, which has developed new ways of dealing with the syntax, vocabulary and stylistic understanding of the English original. (p. 669 – 670)


Autobiography was originally published in 1934, in a way a final account of the work of the younger Powys, and at the same time the starting point for a new part of his work, his European career. 


The sixty years old writer was not on his way to close his work, he was rather in the beginning, and we know that he was to be restlessly productive for almost another thirty years. In the Autobiography Powys deals with his childhood and early years in Weymouth and Sherborne, with his university years at Cambridge, and the peripatetic life as a lecturer and pot-boiler in Europe as well as in the United States. As Mikael Nydahl puts it, this autobiography does however break most of the rules we usually connect with the genre:


Often it seems that the author has forgotten all years and names; at the same time he has an almost photographic memory for situations, natural sceneries, smells and (not the least) personalities. In spite of his forgetfulness (obviously to some parts enacted) and in spite of his almost solipsist individualism (which also seems to be enacted for some moments) the self-portrait of the book is a texture of several emphatic and complex portraits – of the father and the brothers as well as a row of close and sometimes lifelong friends; especially the writers he met in American exile (above all Theodore Dreiser and Edgar Lee Masters). (p. 668)


One way to read the Autobiography is to avoid al the biographical and historical facts and just be overwhelmed by the enormous streams of words. Everywhere there are keys to our own lives, as when the author, towards the end of his book, claims:”In the first place what is the deepest, most secret purpose of my life?


I can answer categorically: ’To enjoy then sensations that I like enjoying, when I am most entirely and shamelessly myself’.” Or, when he describes his own universe as pluralistic: ”…like the world of Homer, where everything around you, air, water, earth, fire, is the living body of a living spirit”

                      One of his most heartrending wordings concerns the relation to the child within us all: ” The persons we have been are lost rather than fulfilled in what we become, and many who labour for their bread in a penurious manhood carry within them the ghosts of children who hade cake for the asking”.

                      The ghost of the child within John Cowper Powys lives on, free and enigmatic in his bewildered and challenging work, maybe at its most alluring in his Autobiography.



The Swedish edition can be ordered directly from the publisher:


For an extensive review in Swedish, se ”Vem är rädd för John Cowper Powys?” (’Who is afraid of John Cowper Powys?’) by Crister Enander in Tidningen Kulturen (’The Culture Journal’):




This page updated 4 April 2012.