Patchin Place. The Powyses and Literary New York

May 25, 2024.

An eBook kindle edition of Patchin Place: The Powyses and Literary New York is now available as is an updated paperback edition from Amazon, priced in UK at £9.99. Only a few copies of the Sundial Press edition are available and readers interested in that edition should contact the author directly at The Sundial Press is sadly no longer in business.

Psychwire: Blushing

I have been asked to contribute to Psychwire, a web site where psychology and mental health experts answer questions on psychological topics. There are topics for the general public and for mental health professionals as well as courses that can be followed. My topic is The psychological significance of blushing and so far (November 2022) I have posted short answers to nine questions on blushing and shyness. The web site and my topic can be found at:

Stand up to shyness

In 2018 I had the pleasure to meet and talk about shyness with Rhod Gilbert, the stand-up comedian and television personality. Our interview, which took place in Cardiff University over several hours, was recorded for the BBC television programme, Stand up to Shyness. Despite regularly performing solo in front of large audiences, Rhod describes himself as shy. The programme considered exploration of his shyness along with his interviews with members of the public about their shyness. Also, he encouraged three young shy people to prepare for and deliver a stand-up session to an audience in a comedy club in Cardiff: something they had never done or dreamed that they could ever do! I attended the session, hosted by Rhod, where the three performed in front of  a large live audience that included family and friends. The programme also included acts by professional comedians. All three did incredibly well and it was quite a moving experience. I also attended a preview of the television programme in a club in central Cardiff along with Rhod, fellow contributors to the programme, the three shy performers and makers of the programme.

Clips from the programme are still available (November 2022) on the BBC web site. My account of taking part can be found in the Psychologist magazine, March 2018.

Speaking up for the quiet ones: Voicing the perspectives of shy students in junior high school

Beginning in 2021, this project is based in the Department of Special Needs Education, Oslo University.

Principal Investigator: Geir Nyborg, University of Oslo. Investigators: Liv Heidi Mjelve, University of Oslo; Anne Edwards, Oxford University; W. Ray Crozier, Cardiff University; Robert J Coplan, Carleton University: Gunnar Bjørnebekk, The Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, Oslo.

This project aims to identify the processes that contribute to shy students’ successful engagement as learners, as well as risk and protective factors that may impact on this success. In the first stage, interviews are conducted with individual middle-school students with the aim of tapping directly into their perspectives and allowing the researchers to hear the shy students in their own words. We draw upon the Vygotskian cultural-historical concept of “social situation of development”, “the path along which the social becomes the individual”. In the second phase, we aim to conduct a large-scale quantitative study to evaluate a theoretical model linking student shyness to measures of  school adjustment.

Supporting shy students: A national study of teaching practices

The research was based in the Department of Special Needs Education, Oslo University. Principal Investigators Geir Nyborg, University of Oslo; Liv Heidi Mjelve, University of Oslo; Investigators: Anne Edwards, Oxford University; W. Ray Crozier, Cardiff University; Robert J Coplan, Carleton University: Gunnar Bjørnebekk, University of Oslo, Anne Arnesen, Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, Oslo.

This five-year research project investigated teachers’ use of strategies to promote learning and shy development for shy elementary-school students. Stage 1 of the proj3ect  collected interview and focus group from a sample of teachers who have successful experience of working with shy students. In the second stage, a questionnaire was constructed on the basis of the qualitative data collected in the first stage. The questionnaire was completed by a large sample of elementary-school teachers from across Norway. The findings from both stages appear in the publications listed below.

Publications include:

Mjelve, L. H., Nyborg, G., Edwards, A., & Crozier, W. R. (2019). Teachers’ understandings of shyness: Psychosocial differentiation for student inclusion. British Educational Research Journal, 45 (4), 681-697. doi: 10.1002/berj.3563

Nyborg, G., Mjelve, L. H., Edwards, A., & Crozier, W. R. (2020). Teachers’ strategies for enhancing shy children’s engagement in oral activities: Necessary, but insufficient? International Journal of Inclusive Education. doi: 10.1080/13603116.2020.1711538.

Mjelve, L. H., Nyborg, G., Arnesen, A., Bjørnebekk, G., Crozier, W. R., & Coplan, R. J. (2022). Characteristics of teacher-nominated shy students in Norwegian elementary schools. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. doi:10.1080/02568543.2022.2027582

Nyborg, G., Mjelve, L. H., Edwards, A., Crozier, W. R., & Coplan, R. J. (2022). Working  relationally with shy students: Pedagogical insights from teachers and students. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 2022, 33, 100610.  doi:10.1016/j.lcsi.2022.100610

Mjelve, L. H., Nyborg, G., Arnesen, A., Crozier, W. R , Bjørnebekk, G.,& Coplan, R. J. (2022). Teachers’ strategies for managing shy students’ anxiety at school. Nordic Psychology doi: 10.1080/19012276.2022.2058072

Blushing: an exhibition by Michela de Mattei

I had the privilege to make a small contribution to a fascinating exhibition on blushing by the artist Michela de Mattei. It took place in the Belmacz Gallery, Mayfair, London during February and March 1930. If you see it advertised at another gallery, I recommend you go to see it. My contribution was a conversation with the artist. I reproduce it here.



  1. Do you agree that blushing is connected to a feeling of exposure? If so, what are we exposed to – is there a sudden change of self-perception?


The blush is frequently associated with embarrassment but some psychologists have attempted to be more specific about its causes; we blush with shame and shyness but do not necessarily do so when embarrassed. My own explanation is that it is triggered by exposure when some event threatens to reveal something about ourselves that we do not want to become known. This is similar to an alternative explanation in terms of unwelcome social attention except that it allows for colouring when not observed. This implies that we enter a state of heightened self-consciousness, an awareness of our self as we believe we would appear to others if all were known.


  1. Blushing is a process of making visible – can we see trends in the visibility of blushing in the history of visual art?


This is a difficult question to answer, albeit a very interesting one. The visual component of a blush is a temporary change in the colour of the face. This is typically fleeting although it can last for longer. One can ask whether an artist can depict this change convincingly in a static picture. Facial expression could be combined with a red cheek to suggest a blush but I am not aware of paintings of this kind. Perhaps you could draw my attention to some. Having said that, the portrayal of women with red cheeks has a very long history indeed, from Greek statues of 500 BC, medieval paintings, depictions of the Madonna, Renaissance paintings, and into recent times.  In his book Colors Demonic and Divine (2004), the historian Herman Pleij concludes that the medieval ‘model of feminine beauty demanded a red-and-white color scheme for the face’. It is possible that the blush on the cheek of the Virgin Mary is not only a sign of her beauty but also of modesty and innocence, since the Church’s doctrine of the Immaculate Conception maintains that she was pure and without sin. Red cheeks are not merely symbolic but are a sign of health and youth, of being in one’s sexual prime. There is a long history of using cosmetics, including blusher, to add colour to the face. Is this a separate phenomenon from the erotic blush?


I observed in the movie, The Favourite, that an aristocratic man at court in the eighteenth century would use rouge to add a rosy cheek to pale face and this representation seems to be historically accurate. This is unlikely to be intended to be a display of embarrassment and is surely either an attempt to convey a youthful appearance and mask blemishes or is a sexual display, related to physical youth or drawing upon or referring to the genuine blush as a response to a sexual advance.


  1. You use Austen’s novels to explore the gendering of the blush around expressions of modesty and sexuality, do you think the blush is still a gendered phenomenon today?


Jane Austen is of considerable interest in the study of blushing because of her acute insights into social relationships and encounters, and many of her characters have occasion to blush, mostly but not exclusively women. The blush can signal modesty that was expected of a woman in interaction with men. Norms and codes related to opposite-sex encounters have changed since that time when marriage was crucial for middle-class women, not least for financial reasons, but they were afforded few opportunities to take the initiative. The link between modesty and the blush remains today, for example when we are praised or complimented. There are some contemporary findings that women blush more readily than men do but the evidence is not consistent; whether the blush is still gendered is worthy of further research.


  1. 4. You have written frequently on Darwin’s study of emotions, he writes that “blushing is the most peculiar and the most humans of all expressions”. Do only humans blush?


The straightforward answer is yes. If we compare ourselves with other mammals then only our hairless face and the nature of our subcutaneous circulatory system – the network of veins lying close below the surface of the blush region – have the necessary physiology. Furthermore, as far as we know, only humans have the cognitive capacity for self-representation that can incorporate a sophisticated perception of how others evaluate us that leads to an emotional experience such as shame or embarrassment.  Darwin wrote that ‘the thinking about others thinking of us…excite a blush’ and regarded the capacity to do so as distinctively human.


On the other hand, if we ask instead whether there is an equivalent of the blush in other mammals then the answer is likely to be that there is such an equivalent. If we regard the blush as a signal to conspecifics of appeasement that is driven by fear of social rejection we recognise that this is common in other species although not displayed in the face.  The nature of social rejection varies across species and in many it can be a matter of life and death.  For us it is ‘social death’, fear of a loss of reputation or rejection by groups that we value. This explanation encompasses the fact that the blush is uncontrollable: It is a signal that cannot be feigned and thus is an example of what biologists call an ‘honest signal’; it is trustworthy


Alternatively, we might propose that the blush functions as a sexual signal, perhaps displaying coyness, reflecting arousal following awareness of being the object of sexual attention or revealing a conflict between attraction and reluctance at the prospect of sex, perhaps originating in the process of sexual selection. If you ask people to recall occasions when they bushed, incidents with sexual connotations are frequently mentioned. Sexual selection is found across species as are associated signals even if they do not take the form of facial reddening.



Ray Crozier

January 26, 2019.


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Patchin Place

Patchin Place, 2014, by Ray Crozier

Patchin Place is a small nineteenth-century cul-de-sac in Manhattan, New York, in the heart of Greenwich Village. It has been home to a number of significant writers including e.e. cummings, Djuna Barnes, Louise Bryant and John Reed. It was also home to the British novelist John Cowper Powys and his partner Phyllis Playter from 1923 to 1931 and he wrote extensively about his life there. It was a crucial period in his writing career as he wrote his first major novel Wolf Solent there and began the move from itinerant lecturer crossing the whole of the United States for many years to becoming a full-time writer. It was important for his brother Llewelyn who lived there for a shorter time with his partner and subsequently his wife the editor and novelist Alyse Gregory. I have published an article on the Powyses and Patchin Place in the Powys Journal, XVIII, 2018, ‘Patchin Place: an ‘Alsatia for the hunted’.


Edith Adie

With my fellow volunteer researchers, Sandra Crozier and John Devonshire, of National Trust Dyffryn House and Gardens I have been researching into the life of Edith Helena Adie (1864-1947) who painted a series of watercolours of the gardens at Dyffryn in the summer of 1923. These beautiful paintings are in the collection of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library in London. We have published an article based on our research in the Society’s Occasional Papers from the RHS Lindley Library, volume 6, June 2018. Available at