The Art of Happiness (first published in 1935) belongs to John Cowper Powys's sequence of philosophical writings, and finds him exploring the problem of how man lives with his fellow man, and also with woman - that is to say, here, as opposed to the abstract arguments concerning Man in the universe, Powys is concerned with the practical arguments such as arise between man and his neighbour, his wife, his lover - and also with man's arguments against himself, all in the pursuit of happiness. The careful reader will find herein hints, clues, intimations, as to how we all might become a little happier - an invitation few of us would feel so fortunate as to refuse.
As usual there is a large cast of human characters but Powys also gives life and speech to inanimates such as a stone pillar, a wooden club,and an olive shoot. The descent to the drowned world of Atlantis towards the end of the novel is memorably described, indeed, Powys himself called it 'the best part of the book'.
Many of Powys's themes, such as the benefits of matriarchy, the wickedness of priests and the evils of modern science which condones vivisection are given full rein in this odd but compelling work.
The love-story of Lil-Umbra and Raymond de Laon, and the quest of the Mongolian giant, Peleg, for Ghosta, the girl seen, loved, and lost on the battlefield, are intermingled with the historical, theological and magical threads which form the brocade of this novel.
Dominating all is the mysterious creation of Roger Bacon one of the boldest as well as most intricate of Powys' world-changing inventions. Professor G. Wilson Knight called this 'A book of wisdom and wonders'.
The novel has two other unusual features: its locations (Sussex and Greenwich Village); and Isadora Duncan being the inspiration for Elise, the dancer and mistress of the protagonist, Richard Storm (based quite largely on Powys himself).
As one would expect from Powys the writing is vivid, not least in the descriptions of the Sussex landscape and the bohemian milieu of Greenwich Village.
The protagonist, Adrian Sorio, is a typically Powys-like hero, highly-strung with only precarious mental stability. He is in love with two women - Nance Herrick and the more unconventional Phillipa Renshaw.
This was Powys second novel, published in 1916. It deploys a rich and memorable cast of characters.
Powys deploys a large and wonderfully delineated cast of characters. They are loosely divided between 'the well-constituted' and 'the ill-constituted'. Characteristically Powys favours the latter.
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.