Chosen by Michael Caines
Theodore Francis Powys – a younger brother of the now more celebrated novelist John Cowper Powys – has always seemed to me the more interesting of these two prolific brothers. (I think, or I kid myself perhaps, that I can see why people rave about JCP, but he usually leaves me cold.) One more attractive feature, perhaps, is T. F. Powys’s particular mastery in shorter works of fiction, such as his Fables (in which, for example, a church mouse talks theology with a holy crumb dropped from the communion table). ‘Captain Patch’ is a nice piece of silliness in which a tailor, in a coastal town, lives modestly but dreams of being great: “He rose to glory, he commanded, and he was obeyed”. In this precursor to James Thurber’s ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (1939), the fantasy life takes over for a while; there is indeed, on a comically modest scale, glory of a kind; but there is also love. Reading it again now, with great pleasure, some years after my Powys-mania was perhaps at its height, I think of ‘Captain Patch’ as a story of misplaced love, and a chance encounter making things right. Not everybody in a Powys story is so lucky. (Spoiler: that church mouse eats the crumb.)
First published in book form in Captain Patch: Twenty-one stories, Chatto & Windus, 1935
Michael Caines works at the Times Literary Supplement. He is writing a short book about literary prizes, and a slightly longer book about Brigid Brophy. He is founding editor of the Brixton Review of Books. You can read his full Personal Anthology and other selections here.