John Powys: Ducdame

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John Powys Ducdame
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Ducdame: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Ducdame was John Cowper Powys' fourth novel published in 1925. It is set in Dorset. The protagonist, Rook Ashover (a wonderfully Powysian name) is an introverted young squire with a dilemma: to go on loving his mistress, Netta Page, or, make a respectable marriage and produce an heir. Of his early novels (pre- Wolf Solent) this one is often considered to be the most carefully constructed and best organized. Like them all it contains a gallery of rich, complex characters and glorious writing.

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Before the music stopped or the rotation of the wheel of horses and riders came to a standstill, Lexie jumped down on the ground by Nell’s side. He took her by the arm and led her out of the tent where they were met in the darkness by that familiar smell of an enclosure of grass trodden by men and beasts, the precise savour of which none know who have not been to fairs and circuses in country villages.

“The hobbyhorse is forgot!” he muttered; and the girl was bewildered by the fierce intensity of his grip upon her arm. The wind seemed to blow against his face at that moment with an ice-cold menace, as of some breath from the outer spaces. He gathered his forces together to resist this threat; and instinctively, in so doing, he let his arm in the darkness enclose Nell’s waist.

“Don’t let’s go back just yet,” he pleaded. “Netta won’t mind waiting a little for supper.”

The girl was so startled and shocked by the change in his manner as they came out of the tent that, in her pity for him, she did not have the heart to resist. But the touch of her warm young body, as he pressed her against him, soon restored him.

He led her down a grassy rain-soaked lane; one of those lanes on the outskirts of a village that usually end in nothing more hospitable than some isolated group of cattle sheds or pigsties.

What in this case they stumbled upon, however, was an open barn; and Lexie was enchanted beyond measure to detect in its cavernous obscurity a mass of sweet-smelling piled-up hay.

But Nell hesitated now and drew back when, with an exclamation of unashamed delight, he pulled at her hand to lead her forward into this shrine of Demeter.

“Let’s go home, Lexie,” she begged. “My shoes and stockings are soaking, and I’m sure yours must be! We really oughtn’t to keep Netta waiting any longer.”

But it was not easy to resist the wistful and humorous appeals, some of them almost querulous in their childishness, with which he implored her; and she yielded at last.

From outside in the darkness they could hear the shrieks and snorts of the merry-go-round and the wild music of a country jig that might have been the very tune to which the West Saxons first invaded Frome-side, so heathen and barbaric did it sound.

Neither of them could have told how long they were there together, with that sweet penetrating smell of the hay about them, and the scent of the dark, rain-drenched fields blown in through the door. But when they stood at last on the threshold of their hiding place, and while Lexie’s countenance was illuminated for a moment by the light of the match with which he lit a cigarette, Nell noticed to her consternation a look upon his face like the look of a child outraged and lost.

“What is it, Lexie?” she asked anxiously.

But he threw the match away without answering. His mind, like a blind home-turning mole whose moving tunnel escapes all prevention, though its course can be traced by the upheaved turf, reverted to that six-foot-deep hole in the churchyard.

“Come along,” he said brusquely; but a minute later, offering her his arm to lean upon, “I do hope you won’t be the worse for this, Nell. It would be a shame if you were; for you’re a brave and generous little girl. Do your feet feel very wet? If they don’t feel wet I expect you’ll get no harm.”

This time it was the girl who made no answer. When they reached the field where the tent had been, they found the showmen in the process of packing up and departing. The wind made the lamps by which they laboured flare and smoke like the fires of some wild bivouac; and the figures of the men, showing dark and sinister in the tossing shadows, seemed as alien to the hedges and gates and trees as if they had been brought there by evil wizardry.

There was a group of two or three farm lads still lingering about the show wagons; and when Lexie and Nell had passed they heard behind them shouts of ribald laughter. Lexie felt his companion’s hand tremble on his arm and a wave of anger, out of all proportion to the incident, passed through his frame.

“What brutes they are!” he muttered aloud.

And then in his secret thoughts he lamented the innumerable obstacles and difficulties by which the simplest and most natural attempts to be just ordinarily happy are surrounded and hemmed in.

“Something has given this human society a twist in the wrong direction,” he said to himself. And even as he said it a shameful subterranean thankfulness that it was not he who was lying in that six-foot hole took possession of him.

“Nell, my dear, you’re not angry with me, are you?”

She pressed his arm gently; and the wordless tenderness of that response touched him more than any words could have done.

“How sweet and lovely a girl can be!” he thought; and then in a kind of inward ecstasy, “I am alive! I am alive!” he cried to his own heart.

But a moment later, quite unknown to the girl at his side, “the form,” to use a biblical phrase, “of his visage” changed. “Oh, Rook! Oh, my brother, my brother!”

Nell never quite understood why it was that just then he stopped dead still in the road and dropped the arm that was supporting her.

But he had gone down in his remorse among those who “lie in hell like sheep.” He, the life amorist, the worshipper of the sun and the sweet air and the grain-bearing earth, was up to his knees at that moment in waters deeper and colder than the waters of the Frome.

But even there, though his face in the darkness had the injured, bewildered look of an outraged child, he held the dead man tightly, protectively against his heart. He did not budge an inch from the integrity of his nature. But his love, like a spear driven into the bed of a swollen river, stood up erect and defiant, visible through the driving mist to all such as might come that way, a signpost in the night, a signal, a token, a witness that would at least outlast his own days, even though it did not outlast the Scotch firs on Heron’s Ridge or the linden tree and the cedar tree on the lawn of Ashover House.



John Cowper Powys (1872–1963) was born in Derbyshire, brought up in the West Country (the Somerset — Dorset border area was to have a lasting influence on him), went to Cambridge University and then became a teacher and lecturer mainly in the USA where he lived for about thirty years. On returning to the UK, after a short spell in Dorset, he settled in Wales in 1935 where he lived for the rest of his long life. In addition to his Autobiography his masterpieces are considered to be Wolf Solent, Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands and Porius. But his lesser, or less well-known, works shouldn’t be overlooked, they spring from the same weird, mystical, brilliant and obsessive imagination.

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