A letter corroborating that Nazi-era writer H. Powys Greenwood was 'John Custance', author of a 1951 book on his own personal experiences of madness

by Stephen Hewitt | Published 30 June 2021 | Last updated 8 August 2021

About 16 lines of handwriting in blue ink with about 4 or 5 words per line on unlined white paper.
Fig 1. The first page of a handwritten letter including the words “a copy of a rather strange book I am publishing under the pseudonym of ‘John Custance’”. The printed heading reads “WHITSBURY HOUSE, FORDINGBRIDGE. STATION, BREAMORE, S.R. TELEGRAM & TELEPHONE, ROCKBOURNE 225”. (Map)

The photographs here show a handwritten letter and a compliment slip which I found by chance in the pages of a copy of a book Wisdom, Madness and Folly: the Philosophy of a Lunatic by John Custance (1951).

The letter includes the words ...“a copy of a rather strange book I am publishing with the pseudonym of John Custance. The reasons for anonymity are obvious; the book is primarily the record of the abnormal experiences of mental trouble and an attempt to make sense of them.” (Fig 1.)

The signature looks like “H. Powys Greenwood”. (Fig 2.)

The letter is undated, but the compliment slip found with it reads “With the Author's Compliments To be published on Friday, May 11th, 1951”. (Fig 3.)

Gail Hornstein, Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College, USA, revealed the identity of John Custance as “Harry Powys Greenwood” in her book Agnes's Jacket a psychologists search for the meanings of madness.

The letter corroborates items in her book. She wrote:

I burst out laughing when I realize how thinly he'd disguised his real identity. Wichbury House turns out to be Whitsbury House, a place that is, as Custance says, quite near the Wiltshire-Hampshire border. The village he calls Braeless is really Braemore; the larger town nearby that he calls Ford is Fordingbridge.

In 17 pages, two chapters, Gail Hornstein reported her investigations into John Custance, which included dining at Whitsbury House with his son, Hugh Powys Greenwood, and his son's wife, Sylvia. Sylvia told her that she had typed the manuscripts for the Custance books from his longhand drafts.

A few years after publication of Wisdom, Madness and Folly, the name 'John Custance' was used as the name of the main protagonist in a 1956 work of dystopian fiction The Death of Grass by John Christopher.

handwriting in blue ink with about 4 or 5 words per line on unlined white paper.
Fig 2. The second page of the letter written on the back of the same notepaper and showing the signature. The first part of the signature is clearly “H. Powys” and the remainder, less clearly, “Greenwood”.
A printed compliment slip reading “With the Author's Compliments To be published on Friday, May 11th, 1951”, found in the book with the letter.

Related

External links