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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John Cowper Powys












AMI. What’s that “ducdame?”

JAQ. ’Tis a Greek invocation, to call fools into a circle….

ACT II, Scene VI, As You Like It.


SOME of the most significant encounters in the world occur between two persons one of whom is asleep or dead; and it might almost seem as if Rook Ashover had recognized this fact when he found himself standing by Netta Page’s side on the night of November’s fullest moon. Netta herself, before they went to bed, had drawn the curtain back and pulled up the blind; and she was now lying with her face illuminated and her soul, as it were, exposed. Rook looked at her with fixed intensity‚ as if he were striving to solve some long-withheld riddle; some riddle to which a night of this kind could alone bring the solution.

The effect of the moonlight on Netta’s face was interesting. It was even complicated. It emphasized a certain haggardness, a certain battered, woebegone pitifulness in her; but it also endowed her with a touching and patient dignity.

She had never been beautiful; never even pretty; but as she lay now, with the breath coming evenly through her scarcely parted lips, there was something about her that would have arrested and held the attention of almost any onlooker.

It was perhaps an enduring softness that predominated in that immobile pose; a softness bruised, relaxed, passive; yet resistant, too, and singularly undefeated for all its helplessness. Rook Ashover continued to gaze at her face as it lay thus prostrate before him, unashamed in its unconscious exposure; but his eyes very soon fell to forgetting what he actually saw in the abstraction of his thought.

While he stood there, ready dressed to go out‚ the hands of the clock behind him pointing at two o’clock‚ he had the air of an intruder‚ almost of a stranger. When his thoughts did finally return to the figure in the bed‚ it was with a cold‚ remote, detached tenderness; the sort of tenderness that human beings feel in the presence of impersonal humanity.

It was a movement from Netta herself that broke the spell at last. She turned uneasily‚ as if conscious of his scrutiny‚ and the expression of her profile pressed against the pillow was less placid than it had been before.

Her movement made Rook vividly aware of the nature of his feelings; and a quick sudden anger against himself rose in his mind. What a fate it was to be made just as he was made‚ with this inhuman detachment always ready to fall upon him at every turn like a screen of coldly dripping gray-green water!

He left the bedside and walked to the window. The great “branch-charmèd” trees stood out there above the grass‚ motionless and hushed. The empty white road, the bridge over the river, the wide water meadows beyond the river, all lay before him transformed‚ etherealized. The liquid luminosity that filled the air seemed to emanate from something remoter and more mysterious than that round silvery disc floating in the high zenith.

Everything seemed insubstantial and dream-like. Shapes and shadows! Shadows and shapes! All the familiar things were distinct enough in that diffused pallor. But they seemed to him withdrawn, remote, intangible; as if he were regarding them from some solitary tower.

Rook Ashover stared across the fields as he had stared a moment before at the face of the woman.

The cold unearthliness of what he now saw found its response in what was occurring in his own mind‚ a response that went far to obliterate his self-contempt.

Out over those moonlit fields his spirit wandered, out over the very brim, as it seemed, of our floating earth globe, thus rendered transparent and unsolid, out over the vast aërial gulfs beyond.

Between his soul and all this enchanted spaciousness there arose a reciprocity he could not analyze, a feeling that had the irresponsibility of despair and yet was not despair, that resembled loneliness and yet was not loneliness. It was almost as if, just behind all this etherealized chemistry, there really did exist something corresponding to the old Platonic idea of a universe composed of mind-stuff, of mind-forms‚ rarer and more beautiful than the visible world.

He left the window and stepping back to the bedside bent with exquisite precaution over the sleeper, touched her up-flung arm very gently with his lips; and then, opening and shutting the door as noiselessly as he could, ran hurriedly down the stairs and let himself out of the house.

Certain portions of the earth’s surface seem, from the remotest past, to have responded in some particularly intense way to the influence of moonlight.

Among these predestined localities the strip of road and river and meadowland surrounding Ashover Bridge was one of the most susceptible of all planetary spots to the lunar sorcery.

This double-arched bridge, built of rough local stone, carries one of Dorsetshire’s most traditional highways over the river Frome‚ at the point where Ashover Church on the one bank, and Ashover House on the other bank, give the place its historic significance. The bridge represents, for those who are travelling southward, the near approach of the parting of the ways between Tollminster and Bishop’s Forley; but the milestone against the ditch opposite Rook Ashover’s gate informs the traveller of the distance to London itself.

It was at this milestone that Rook glanced now.

London? The word had almost ceased to have any significance to him; though from his childhood it had touched that riverside road with a curious magic.

Arrived at the bridge he walked to the centre of it and leaned over the parapet.

It was hand not to feel as though this familiar stonework were strange and insubstantial under the indrawn breath of that immense silence.

The water itself as it swirled and eddied under the arches seemed to flow with a muted movement‚ as if it were not real water but phantom water.

It grew real enough, however, even as he watched it; for a great perch, at the bottom of what they called Saunders’ Hole, rose suddenly to the surface with a splash that made Rook start.

To that big fish, too, it must have seemed as if there were more in this November night than a mere ordinary lapse of hours and moments.

Down to the depths of Saunders’ Hole it sank again; and there, where the man’s glance could not follow it, it moved rapidly to and fro as if under some lunar ecstasy; sometimes with great open mouth and huge iridescent gills turned upstream it lashed the water; sometimes with its sharp spine fins erect and its tail quivering it dug furiously at the river bed.

Leaning his elbows against the parapet Rook let his gaze wander from point to point of that well-known landscape. It was the same and yet how different!

To his left, as he overlooked Saunders’ Hole, rose the square tower of Ashover Church, isolated among the water meadows.

Round the base of the tower he could make out a shimmering group of white objects, objects more congruous with the moonlight than they were with anything else in the world, except certain drifting gusts of gray slanting rain that came up with the west wind.

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