The Inmates – John Cowper Powys


This 1952 novel is the start of my next RTRcausal – a book that begins with you having to be ‘Certified’ to read its first chapter entitled ‘Certified’ where John Hush is himself ‘Certified’ and is admitted to an institution called Glint Hall run by Doctor Echetus, a cross between Poe’s Tarr & Fether, I guess, and Aickman’s ‘Hospice’ with doll-fetishisms and dog-pearls and Thomas Mann’s ‘Berghof’, whereby we are taken into a world madder than ‘Finnegans Wake’, with other patients called Squeeze and Cuddle and so forth … cross-sectioning modern-literature’s todash doors of Dark Tower Stephen-Kingisms – and more… I cannot vouch for myself retaining any reviewer’s sanity enough to cope with this read… but we seem a million miles away from my recent reading of the same author’s ‘The Glastonbury Romance’…

Into The Wood … The dog-pit … “and a dog’s eyes answered his stare with a look of such unutterable loneliness…”

This RTRcausal will continue in the comments below as and when I read each chapter…

9 responses to “*

  1. 1952 Novel: I am reading the Village Press edition of 1974

    2. The First Glance – pages 25 – 33
    John Hush is somewhat similar to Hans Castorp who, in the Aickman-like sanatorium of Mann’s Magic Mountain, first glances Clavdia Chauchat in the restaurant, sees her with an unrequited Proustian obsession of passion. Here, Hush, at the sound of ‘the tea-time bugle’, has his first glance, through the window into the garden, of the charming curves of Tenna Sheer….
    “An onlooker would certainly have been induced to feel that the wavering channel of destiny and the fluttering trail of fate and the indecipherably scrawled map of chance, not to mention the sealed orders of necessity, were worthy of John’s simplest and purest gratitude, if only for the fact that they had given him an extremely long-sighted pair of eyes.”
    The prose is as textured as the heady dimensions of the points of view of Hush and of the other fulsomely described ‘loonie’ characters.
    “His nose was as shapeless as fungus on a willow-stump.”

  2. 2. The First Glance – pages 33 – 43
    This is absolutely wonderful stuff. Just up my street, particularly because, with surprising serendipity, my recent comparison of Mann’s Magic Mountain and the works of Aickman appears now factored into by a panoply of mental disease that is worrying and/or hilarious, of which three emotional polarities I’m not sure yet the identity of the stronger, i.e. either one of ‘worrying’ or ‘hilarious’, or both of them at once….
    The language matches this trilemma with a complexity that simply skims through your reading-mind with ease, but only as long as you pretend you’re mad, too! Each character is known, at this early stage of the novel, by his or her predominant ‘madness’, like the man who reeks of disinfectant. Meanwhile, I suspect that Hush will soon be more forthright in his initial pursuit of Tenna Sheer than Castorp was vis-a-vis Clavdia Chauchat.
    This book, so far, is Aickman-distilled. Why on earth has not this novel been reviewed RTRcausally before now, instead of commented on by a few people when they gave it ‘a couple of stars’ on Goodreads…? 😐

  3. into17
    3. The First Encounter
    “But beyond all this, he was an endlessly winding path that she could follow at ease and leisure, not caring in the least where it led but free to trim the branches and dig round the tree-roots and look at the newts in the forest pools.
    She was an old inmate. He was a new inmate. But they fitted into each other as naturally as the shadow of a tree fits into the ups and downs of a stretch of grass.”

    The intellectual and emotional and stylistic tenor of this novel is already growing exponentially…
    As the equivalent to the Hans Castorp and Clavdia Chauchat’s ‘pencil’-post-‘slamming door’ meeting in Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ and to the Lucas Maybury and Cécile Céliména ‘ear-rings and silver shoes’ meeting in Aickman’s ‘The Hospice’, here John Hush and Antenna Sheer have many more ‘objective correlatives’ or disarming strangenesses to shape this their first undelayed mutual obsession-clinching encounter: her chain-smoked cigarettes and handbag unlike any other cigarettes or handbag, her face explicitly a palimpsest, Hush’s view of the silhouette of her small head against the window, their dual points of view breaking the rules of ‘sane’ fiction, her copy of ‘Daisy Miller’ by Henry James, the family hinterlands of their respective madnesses certifying residence at Glint Hall, the potential inability of Dr Echetus to fathom their ‘madnesses’. Hush becoming her man-doll. She the quenching of his lifelong mania for girls and curls. It’s just that the sleeping quarters at Glint Hall are strictly divided ‘men only’ and ‘ladies only’ and bedtime enforced by others…

    “And I love to think of the nights all black and white and full of things that don’t matter and things that don’t count, and you just following things, and things just following you, and him, the great devil, never there at all, and they stretching out and out; and no hurry about anything!”

  4. inmates3

    4. Father Toby
    “But John had been led to understand that only a small number of patients partook even of this light supper; most of them preferring to retire to their solitary bedrooms where they all discovered awaiting them on their toilet-table quite a substantial stick of chocolate.”

    Appropriate that this is Chapter 4 where we travel with John (along with the well-characterised Reverend Toby and his wife) to the vantage point of the tower-room and see the ‘four horizons’ surrounding Glint Hall, which horizons are traced by Toby’s ‘obsessing river’ and the mysterious building called Halfway House. Also, John’s ‘enjoyment-circle’ is foiled by details of a Rembrandt painting on the wall and considerations of the Astrological or Cosmic or Mystic aspects of the view from the tower and man’s lot within it, mad or not.
    Having been given ‘the hang of things’ (‘shown the ropes’, with Ligottian knots or not?) by Toby, it only remains for John to discover the windows have bars…
    [And, astonishingly, the Stephen-Kingian Dark Tower that I mentioned earlier in this RTRcausal review (as a sort of wild-card instinct rather than having any evidence to support my mentioning it) comes home to roost with a quoted tail-piece to this chapter: “Childe Roland to the dark tower came / His word was still Fie, foh, and fum, / I smell the blood of a British man.”

  5. I forgot to make this telling quote from the previous chapter vis-a-vis the painting by Rembrandt:
    “It struck John, indeed, when he approached close enough to it to get the almost disturbing effect of the light thrown by the electric bulb as it encountered that other light diffused by the small central figure under that massive arch, that there was something in the expression of this resurrected deity that reminded him of the look he had caught in the dead eyes of one of those dogs in that horrible pit among the spruce-trees.”

  6. 5. The Next Day
    And now it is indeed the reader’s next day of reading this ‘Philosophy of the Demented’ — an expression glimpsed accidentally on this book’s back cover…

    “‘I believe I’ve had a nightmare!’ he told himself, as he lay staring into the darkness with his fingers trembling and his forehead sweating, while his whole soul jerked itself back in spasms of relief to a shaken but normal consciousness. ‘It’s some weakness in my heart, of course,’ he thought, and he repeated several times over: ‘But the heart’s nothing; the heart’s nothing.’ And while he repeated these reassuring words he did his best not to think of a monstrous, heavily moving luggage-train that had got mixed up in some way with an appalling mass of darkness pressing in upon him from every side. ‘I mustn’t think of it,’ he told himself. ‘I mustn’t think of it.’
    And although this ‘mustn’t think’ was quite as definitely concerned with the intolerable weight of darkness around him as was his ‘nothing’ with the pounding of his heart over the luggage-train, it was attended by much more serious apprehensions. And this was proved by the fact that each time he told himself he ‘mustn’t think’ of the darkness, his whole power of mind hovered on the edge of a panic-stricken sensation that made him draw back in terror from the black darkness around him and mentally try to push it away with both his hands.”

    And Hush is finally woken by the gong outside his door….
    We are becoming observers of factors that may or may not become important in our future path through the book’s demented logic or window-barred audit trail or ‘synchronised shards of random truth and logic’, the leitmotifs that eventually make the gestalt…
    Following on from John Hush and Tenna Sheer miming the ignoring of each other so as to fulfil any unrequited love, of another book’s Castorp and Chauchat, from separate breakfast tables, we then dwell on their intense rapprochement outside as they trace and test how caged Glint Hall’s following outer-wall makes them feel, the finding of a knobbled stick, earlier talk of religious rivalries between Glint Hall’s priests, of what goes on at nearby Halfway House, Tenna’s once attempted murder of her father, John’s guardian who was instrumental in John becoming certified, a rumoured sadistic warder named Gewlie to whom Dr Echetus may be turning a blind eye … and other so-called “imperatives of social behaviour” that thread through our hero, heroine and the rest of Glint Hall.

    “What the devil was there about that piece of dead wood with tiny little fungi on its underside?”

  7. 6. Mr Frogcastle
    Let me presumptuously give you some advice. This is not a mad novel; it is about madness. But you need to be mad yourself to let this chapter flow easily through you as if you have no barred windows, no snaking, surrounding river, no four horizons, no outer wall, and you need to employ what this chapter calls a “spiritual helicopter” to oversee the map of it — the grey cows, the dog-pit in the woods, Mr Frogcastle: the likeably wide-gazed gardener who works at Glint Hall but lives the other side of the wall, the insidious pursuing Gewlie, the lady with the lorgnette, John’s desire effectively to see inside Tenna as if he yearns for Castorp’s keepsake X-ray from ‘The Magic Mountain’, John’s long inner monologue, his need to exorcise the curls and the nail-scissors, his bridge across Gemma’s body plunging his fingers into the spruce leaves as a moment of now physical rapprochement, Tenna’s own several Tennas as she wonders how to handle this her man-doll called John, and the concept of PERSONALITY as the wrong root of everything…
    All that written by me very quickly, instinctively, with a lot more omitted because I’m teaching you to broad-brush this book into its own Rembrandt painting of itself, by-passing your own PERSONALITY, taking the book to where potentially its ‘Philosophy of the Demented’ could become a long lost masterpiece of literature, here finally revealed. It certainly could be.

    “From the heart of my skull to the heart of his skull there’s some kind of air-bridge…”

  8. inmates4

    7. The Tea-Party
    A strange gallimaufry of a scene where a Catholic tea-party and some inmates’ grievances against the evil Gewlie come to a head. I’m not sure the fictional-world of so many barely-introduced characters was sufficiently prepared to allow their inferred behaviour in this chapter to transcend the completely wild imaginings of the author that are probably intent on even wilder pursuits of philosophy and religion. This is where you take your reading-life within your own jurisdiction. I shall not be able to hold your hand any more as you delve further into this book. Every reader for themselves. I’m not sure I shall last out…. and some other reader within my body will emerge by the time the book is finished, albeit still using my eyes to read the words on the page. We shall see.

    “And now Mr Lordy lifted him [John], with a gesture like a delicate accolade, into the innermost circle of his friends! This he did with a flicker of his left eyelid across the breast-bone of the man Gewlie. It wasn’t that he gave John a wink. That would be to put it grossly. It was rather as if he took the eyelid-flicker with which a wink would naturally begin, caught it with impalpable fingers and released it, like an invisible thought-moth, in the kitchen-garden of John’s brain.”

    These two separate quotes from the chapter, above and below, cannot even give you an inkling with what the reader is increasingly confronted. The book is nightmarizing Aick-MANN in a geometric rather than an arithmetic progression and then adding elements from Powys’ earlier book ‘The Glastonbury Romance’ as the Large Hadron Collider might add them.

    “But in some peculiarly ghastly way it struck Hush as if all those half-dozen people, though so strictly correct in their gestures and in their sentiments, had no modest covering of ordinary skin between their clothes and their bowels, lungs, bladder, gall, kidneys, liver, and several other familiar human organs!
    Was this due, he wondered, to their carrying the ancient psychoanalytical habit of confession much further than it could possibly be carried in Catholic countries where everybody was a Catholic or an atheist; or was the Catholic Faith itself such a protection against the religious element in all insanity that there was something almost indecent about a mad Catholic?



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s