The lovely College of Art in Aberystwyth has regular exhibitions and I found myself on my own in the silent rooms. I'd come to see the strangest of exhibitions: Queer Tastes: Works from the George Powell Bequest, curated by students and chosen from objects donated by the squire of Plas Nanteos in the Ninteenth Century. I came away from the hour spent there with a postcard. A naked, androgenous youth with long fair hair and a smooth, slightly chubby body ( rather Caravaggio in shape) rides a giant dragon fly whilst a huge skeleton holding a scythe looms out of the gloomy background. It sat on my writing desk as I finished editing The Shadow of Nanteos and is still there four years later.
This George (1842 - 1882) was only Squire of Plas Nanteos for four years and absent from home for much of his life, travelling widely and settling for a while in Normandy where he lived with the poet Swinburne.This strange period was documented by a fascinated Guy de Maupassant who visited them there and later delighted in publishing the salatious details: homoerotic pornography, flagellation, orgies and perhaps even beastiality? All undoubtedly doing no harm at all to Maupassant's own readership figures!
George Powell, like many of his class at the time, went from his home in Wales to Eton then on to Oxford, though he never graduated from the latter. He was clearly a free thinker and uncomfortable with his role as provincial squire, however much he loved his home itself. He was in my mind though, an important man - it was he who promoted the Nanteos Cup on the public stage,(an article on this fascinating object to follow).He was also a keen musician and patron of art and culture,as far as limited funds would allow and a translator of the icelandic Sagas, publishing material at his own expense and supporting Icelandic independence. He was also committed to developing Aberystwyth at a crucial time in its history, donating an extensive and eclectic collection of books, art and collectables to the university.
What a novel his life would make! If I have time when I've finished The Dipping Pool, perhaps...
With grateful acknowledgement to Gerald Morgan's wonderful book Nanteos, A Welsh House and its Families and to Aberystwyth University