Friday, 4 January 2013

Writing Wales in English

Stephen Knight

This essay is one of a perhaps unusual genre which I find very useful in several ways. It was written to give as a talk about the book I had just written about Welsh fiction in English, the first book on this topic. The book came out in 2004 from what we used to call University of Wales High Security Publishing. I can’t say it has been widely recognised, though I do note that many of the authors I drew attention to have been selected for the Library of Wales reprint series edited by Dai Smith, a professor of history and university administrator who has not asked me to introduce any of them. He also felt he ought to criticise the book severely (in New Welsh Review) on the grounds that he (like other Labour party dignitaries) feels Wales was never an English colony, but rather has been a valued partner in UK activities (including imperialism) since the sixteenth century. I still feel there are two views on that, one of them ridiculous.

The value of an essay like this, which I have sometimes written just before I write a book out, sometimes after it is all set down, is that it isolates the argument you make, it displays the thesis the book should have. This invokes a somewhat different form of argumentative process, not the slow development of categories and instances that a book requires, but a sharper and more intellectually-engaged operation of analysis. I suspect this habit of writing an essay about the  book’s theme when all the research is done may be one of the reasons why I tend to write two books on each topic, one a solid lay-out of the material, one a concept-based analysis of it. The lay-out usually comes first (but didn’t in the case of my two widely-separated crime fiction books). Occasionally, as with King Arthur, a long essay serves instead of an analytic book, though I did plan an analytic book but it got side-tracked by the power of Merlin.


`I'm writing a book about Welsh fiction in English': I have been saying that for a while now to people who inquire what I am up to when I am not training the visually over-adapted young in the use of the comma and -- for the advanced -- the inverted comma. `Welsh fiction in English', my interrogators repeat, with a sort of irritated surprise: `I didn't know there was any.' I refrain from asking if they have ever encountered a bookshop or a public library, and, aware of my professorial role as licensed lackey to the educationally impaired, I reply,` Oh yes, a whole bookful, a hundred years of it'.

I've used that title, `A Hundred Years of Fiction' along with the series title Writing Wales in English to talk in my forthcoming book about ways in which fiction has both realised and explored the situation, broadly understood, of those people who live in Wales, feel themselves Welsh, but do not any longer use the language of the country. That change of language is of course the most visible and audible of the ways in which Wales has been affected by its complex relationship with England, best understood as a colonial relationship, but there are many other factors, social, economic, political and cultural to that relationship, as well as language, and the fiction has explored those factors in particular.

Other commentators have traced what might seem similar paths in recent years. Declan Kiberd in Inventing Ireland and Robert Crawford in The Scottish Invention of English Literature         have taken a broad brush, historical and cultural as well as literary to outline ways in which their countries have both been affected by and have defined themselves against England and its varied forces. But I have chosen to stick entirely to literature. Partly  because it is what I know best but also for positive reasons: I think that it is only by looking very closely at a formation that you can see the actual and often surprising patterns -- in my view a broad brush usually describes pre-ordained patterns, and we have enough of those, mostly in conflict, in the modern world, whether intellectual or political, or indeed military.

What I mean is that by looking very closely at the literature written in English by and about Welsh people you can discern new shapes, pose new questions. Not all of them are readily answerable. Why for example, are there so many trilogies, formal and informal, existing and planned, in Welsh fiction in English? Rhys Davies wrote one and Lewis Jones planned one about the coal industry, Jack Jones effectively wrote one, though out of historical order and, remarkably, Richard Llewellyn produced one  as well, though over thirty five years. Richard Vaughan wrote a rurally nostalgic trilogy, Raymond Williams shaped a politically aware trilogy, and finally planned an extensively historical one, and there are quite a few others hidden away in the work of Joseph Keating, Gwyn Thomas, Menna Gallie; even, in a deliberately disparate way, Chris Meredith. Emyr Humphreys' `Land of the Living' series is basically a double trilogy and his great novel Outside the House of Baal (1965) is a one-volume trilogy. Are the Anglophone Welsh still enchanted by the Celtic triskel ? Or is it that they have a lot to say and their publishers won't give them much room to say it in ?

There may anyway be more important questions -- such as what was the impact of publishing in London with an inherently colonial attitude to author and material ? Graham Greene rejected Emyr Humphreys' first novel because, it seems, it wasn't How Green Was My Valley and Gollancz's readers sent back Gwyn Thomas's excoriating Sorrow for Thy Sons because it wasn't as nice as Rhys Davies. Richard Church, later a famous peddler of English rural nostalgia turned Dylan Thomas away from writing superb dark surrealist stories into a producer of quaint tales about happy colonials; David Garnett and his friends appear to have helped make the life of the brilliant but tragic Dorothy Edwards even unhappier than she could herself.

But publishing form and publishing influence are not the only questions deserving good answers that emerge from looking closely at a hundred years of Welsh fiction in English. What kinds of writing exist and what they are really like is a core set of questions. Even my easily annoyed interrogators had sometimes heard of a Welsh industrial novel or two and sometimes could even guess the name of Jones as an author -- in fact there is a trilogy of Joneses. The prevailing idea, in so far as there is one, about the Welsh industrial novel is that it is Marxist realism, a cultural accompaniment to the serried ranks of industrial labourism that marched around and sometimes out of south Wales over the decades. Marxist realism is a good description of much of the international industrial novel from the American Jack Conroy to the Australian Dorothy Hewett, but it won't work for Wales -- this is one of the broad brush strokes best not attempted. First of all Welsh industrial fiction is not really realism. It's closer to the symbolic and/or informational narratives often found in colonised literature. And secondly, it is rarely in fact Marxist. I see anarcho-syndicalism as a much stronger force in Welsh radicalism than Marxism, including even in the work of the only Communist Party writer, Lewis Jones. And I also see some remarkable experimental writing in the Welsh industrial novel, from the early essentialist analysis of Rhys Davies and the self-consciously self-descriptive sagas of Jack Jones to the complex imaginative narratives of Gwyn Thomas (which I believe respond strongly to a reading based on postcolonial analysis), and the equally bold reworking of a masculine form from a feminine and feminist viewpoint in the work of Menna Gallie.

If the industrial novel in Wales is neither simply Marxist realism nor in any substantial way coherent as a genre, nor is it the only form of Welsh fiction in English. A substantial amount of the fiction is rural in focus -- and more than a little of the early material relates to the coastline, recalling a time when it was easier to access and travel about Wales by sea than by road. But the country as country is well-represented: the first section of my book deals with rural writers, especially those from Powys, and there is a recurrent interest in rural matters especially in the short story. Another topographical surprise is that it is only in recent years that Cardiff has become a setting for fiction -- and though urban, it is far from industrial, befitting the economic structure of that city. Not surprisingly the settings of the English-language fiction have overlapped with the areas where English is spoken -- but by no means entirely. Deep Wales was from the beginning an area of interest to English-language readers in Wales and outside it, and a number of the writers were bilingual in the two languages of Wales. Emyr Humphreys is the most powerful example of a dwyieithog (bilingual) author who deals with deep Wales in the context of English presence, and he also brings the advantage of dealing with the north and the north east, the least-handled area of the country in its English-language fiction.

So there are a lot of texts, a lot of authors, and an even greater number of questions about what is going on in the material that become clear when it is looked at both closely and in its own and in terms of its own inter-relationships. From this I have in my book suggested a number of patterns. But before outlining them, I should also say what I do not deal with. I have been concerned with authors who write Wales in English, not those who use Wales as a base for wider considerations. Therefore I have not deal with Richard Hughes or Howard Spring, Welsh authors whose work was world-wide -- a fact which doesn't make them any less Welsh, but makes them less relevant for this study. By the same token I have not dealt with the international work by authors I have analysed like Emyr Humphreys or Raymond Williams. Equally I have not taken note of authors who chose to be Welsh, like John Cowper Powys or James Hanley because their work dealing with Wales seems to me of limited interest, essentially passing comment not offering internal self-analysis, but I have discussed writers like Margiad Evans or Catherine Merriman who have settled in Wales and have made specific and valuable contributions to the self-understanding of the culture.

My other general comment is that my approach is postcolonial -- and by that I mean that I follow some of the positions, arguments and approaches developed by scholars around the world, notably Indian, Caribbean and Australian, who have discussed how the process of empire and the imposition of an imperial language on an indigenous people affects their culture -- not always negatively, but producing recognisable patterns as writers both use and resist the culture of the coloniser. This can be a delicate topic. In my experience in Australia and also in Wales, some people prefer to think they have not been colonised either because they dislike the process so much or because they are so much at ease with it; others, notably Marxists, feel that postcolonialism is too weak an approach to reveal any truths worth having. Nevertheless I suggest that a basically postcolonial analysis reveals some valuable and informative patterns in Welsh writing in English, answers quite a lot of the questions that arise, and helps to explain the role of interesting but formerly uncategorisable writers like Caradoc Evans, Hilda Vaughan, Glyn Jones and Gwyn Thomas -- and more.


I have divided all this writing into three parts. Am I a Caesar come to Cymru, or the creator of yet another trilogy ? I hope neither. I call the first section `first-contact romance’, the second `writing the south Wales settlement’, the third, from the second world war on, `integration and independence’. The sections overlap a bit, and there are flashbacks and a few flashes forward, but I do see the whole hundred years or so of Welsh fiction in English in those three movements, which relate to patterns of the post-colonial analysis of fiction.

The first, first-contact romance, is common enough when a dominant culture comes into contact with a colony and both colonizing and colonised writers describe this new land for the imperial audience -- it's a sort of cultural possession of the new domain, combining excitements and validations of empire with the complicit involvement of at least some colonised writers. Illustrations and stories describe the newly dominated land -- in the case of Wales these are in part about the topography and the field sports available -- so you get titles like From Snowdon to the Seas (1895); a classic field-sports-moralised title is the Rev. George Tugwell's On the Mountain, Being the Welsh Experience of Abraham Black and James White, Esquires, Moralists, Philosophers, Fishermen, Botanists (1862). The stories will also describe the quaint natives, as in Alfred Rees's Ianto the Fisherman and Other Stories of Welsh Life (1904). Native religion and superstition is always popular, showing both the bizarreness and the heathenness of the conquered people, and witches, magic and enchantments often occur, but this can also have a more far-reaching effect, being used at times as in Arthur Machen's The Hill of Dreams (1907) to suggest that the Celts have access to levels of spiritual awareness deeper than the banal imagination of the English imperialists. This is of course the basis for Matthew Arnold's famous interest in Celtic literature - a position which has been well described from a Welsh viewpoint by Ned Thomas as `contributionism', i.e. a way of suggesting that the native Welsh can in fact make a contribution to the greater quality of greater Britain. It's a position well-known in English accounts of India as well as Ireland.

These first-contact formations do not belong only to sketches and stories: there is also from Wales, as from other colonies, an early flood of romances. A beautiful young woman may symbolise the country being appropriated, or imperial visitors may be romantically stirred to higher levels of emotional response by the topography, antiquity or, again, sexual excitement, they find among the natives. Romance, whether medieval or Wordsworthian, has much to do with symbolic appropriation and the first substantial Welsh writing in English is along these lines. It can be historical, recreating the excitements of the Welsh military past, now safe to admire because well in the past, or it can be more sexualized and recent, as in writers like turn of the eighteenth century authors Anne Maria Bennett and Ann Julia Hatton (Ann of Swansea), and the later writers Anne Beale and Rhoda Broughton -- Jane Aaron has discussed these writers in her book Pur fel y Dur. But there is also a possibility of some resistance being written into first-contact romance. Amy Dillwyn was born in the south Welsh gentry but was decidedly liberal: her The Rebecca Rioter (1880) gave a clearly sympathetic account of the Rebecca rioters, and equally deliberately steered away from a romance resolution. A rare specifically nationalist non-romance was A Maid of Cymru (1901) by the `Dau Wynne', the sisters Gwenffreda and Mallt Williams - though it may be mostly by the latter. I think there are clear elements of colonial resistance in the work of the first major Welsh writer in English, Allen Raine. Born Anne Adaliza Evans, she produced a very successful series of novels around the turn of the twentieth century. While English -- and indeed American -- readers clearly read them as exotic first-contact romance, as mismatched couples find their amatory destiny in far south west Wales, they also have the quality of an ethnography of the actual life of ordinary striving and feeling Welsh people. The best of them, now in print again with Honno, is Queen of the Rushes (1906), which adds to the usual Raine ethnographic romance a firm minded account of the problems associated with the Religious Revival of 1904 and, as its editor Katie Gramich stresses, has more than a little early feminist feeling.

Raine is much more than part of the `sandcastle dynasty' Gwyn Jones thought her, to be washed away by the masculine flood of later Welsh writing in English, and she should be linked with a later sub-genre which I call the romance of Powys. Hilda Vaughan, born into Radnorshire gentry stock and marrying the then major London literary figure Charles Morgan, produced a series of novels which did in some ways debate the value of types of Welsh identity in the context of romance -- the most striking are The Battle to the Weak (1925), The Invader (1928) and The Soldier and the Gentlewoman (1932). Here Welsh-Welsh, English-Welsh and simply English people and values interact, with both Welsh-Welsh and English seen as of doubtful value and the only valid positions taken up by distinctly hybrid characters like Esther, the heroine of The Battle to the Weak, Vaughan's most memorable novel. Presumably because of her continued distance from Wales, she did slip backwards into straight first-contact material with her historical novels, and also with her later, magically oriented work which has unfortunately, been better remembered -- the novella A Thing of Nought (1934) and the distinctly nativist Iron and Gold (1948). A writer with a similar impact was Geraint Goodwin, a London-based journalist born just outside Newtown, who started with a fairly serious investigation of Welsh-English conflict in The Heyday in the Blood (1936) but allowed himself in spite of his real interest in Wales to be persuaded by Edward Garnett to write English-style rural romances like Mary Webb.  But not all the literary traffic across Powys was from Welsh Wales to London: Margiad Evans is a striking example of someone who was Welsh by choice, and this very gifted woman wrote one brilliant book about the Welsh-English encounter, Country Dance (1932) -- with a decidedly enigmatic outcome, and a fine set of short stories which ethnographise the Welsh border country, now in print again as The Old and the Young (1948). She died young but remains a model of subtle, gendered and also politically aware writing.

But there is more than this to first-contact literature in Wales. The most specific use of such a categorisation is to explain the work of Caradoc Evans. He is a classic colonial author, the colonized writer who sees the advantages of the culture of the coloniser and turns his pen against his own people. As Moira Dearnley has shown, caricatures of the Welsh had thrived in eighteenth-century England, and that is the publishing contact of Evans's My People (1915) -- Scottish and Welsh versions of native follies had appeared from the same publisher. Like Frantz Fanon arguing that the French enlightenment was not only a rationale for empire but also a means of real self-improvement, Evans rejected as mean-minded the chapel world of his Cardiganshire context, and, in his anger, identified it with all Welshness. The brilliance of his style and his pared-down suggestive skills -- those of a first-rate journalist -- have given his caricatures the power of real literature, and maybe some aspects of nonconformism invited his hatred, but a post-colonial reading makes his work perfectly familiar as the native culture destabilises itself like American black self-caricature or the self-mocking Paddy comedians of the nineteenth century stage.


First-contact romance did make a few gestures towards non-rural Wales -- in A Welsh Witch (1902) Raine has some characters move to `the works’; in Glamorgan, and Joseph Keating, an ex-miner, early in the twentieth century set some novels in the mining district but they were improbably mounted in the romance genre and focus on love and angst among the managerial class. This differential situation did not last. The major force for the dominance of the English language in Wales was industry, and by the first world war and the massive boom it generated in coal, iron and steel, Cymraeg was being decreasingly used in the south eastern industrial region. These people were soon to generate their own literature in English.

What we have here in terms of post-colonial analysis is a settlement culture. When the colonised country does not generate an adequate labour force for the purposes of appropriation, workers have to be settled there -- by slavery in the Caribbean and America, by transportation and then emigration in Australia. In Wales the first phase was internal migration, and as men and women poured from the farms of West and Mid Wales into `the works' they continued to speak Cymraeg. It was the second stage of development, in the later nineteenth century, when English came to dominate, and so there grew up a people who identified mostly as Welsh, but were in language and culture as well as in work and socialisation separate from the long-established Welsh. But they were not a colonising class in simple terms. Like the Irish and provincial English who worked in Canada or Australia for wealthy landlords, of a similar racial background but of a quite different class, they were a newly created and increasingly self-aware settlement. As in Australia, such settlements can generate a powerful self-identifying culture, and south Wales provides a striking example of this process. Many features of the culture are non-literary -- politics, singing, rugby, eating faggots and peas for example -- but the second phase of Welsh fiction in English was the complex and remarkably varied work of constructing the self-descriptive, self-evaluating literary culture of the industrial settlement in the south.

As Raymond Williams has commented, this fiction was notable for being written by men who were themselves working class, who described their world, and urged its improvement. But that is not quite the whole story. Unlike the Australian and American counterparts, the literature was hardly ever published inside the settlement -- it depended on the colonial publisher, in London, discovering a sympathetic audience in England in the left-leaning 1930s. And the first person to write about the coalfield from the inside was in fact not working class. Rhys Davies, usually regarded as a Welsh version of D.H. Lawrence with a speciality in women's voices and short stories, in fact wrote several industrial novels starting with his first, The Withered Root (1927) and notably producing a trilogy about industrialisation, Honey and Bread (1935),  A Time to Laugh (1937) and Jubilee Blues (1938). The son of a grocer who experienced at first hand the Tonypandy riots in 1910, London-based, and clearly, if not openly, gay, Davies was always more interested in working-class behaviour, bodies and bravura than working-class politics. He tended to condense the idea of resistance to the coal-owners with a nativist fantasy of Welsh resistance to all incomers, from the Romans on, but he did have at least some radical sympathies -- he very much admired Dr William Price, the nineteenth-century Llantrisant sage and anarchist -- and his stories are strongly aware of the special colonisation imposed on women, and the role they played in sustaining the world of the industrial settlement.

More directly involved, as a man and an author, in the industrial world was the ex-miner Jack Jones, who when he found himself out of work in 1930 turned to writing in a vigorous, direct way about the world he and his family had known in Merthyr and south Wales in general. He produced a massive manuscript called `Saran', his mother's name, but it was cut down at the publisher's insistence to Black Parade (1935), which actually appeared after his second novel Rhondda Roundabout (1934). Black Parade, much admired by Raymond Williams as an industrial saga is a rich ethnography of the world Jones and his family knew as Merthyr grew both rich and lurid and as people adapted to the demands and possibilities of this new world of the industrial settlement, reaching to the present of the 1930s. Jones's third novel Bidden to the Feast (1938) is a longer and even richer account of the earlier period, while Rhondda Roundabout, despite its promising title, is a narrower and less politically radical story, better attuned to breaking through with a London publisher, and based on the England-pleasing structure of a young man's education into morality and romance.

Jack Jones was very well-known -- his autobiographies as well as his novels -- and there is no doubt that many people, including my own family, read his work as an authentic ethnographic account of the strange new world of the industrial settlement in which they found themselves. The rough edge of his writing, the digressions, the details of domesticity -- the women play major roles in Jones's fiction -- all seem thoroughly convincing, thoroughly recognisable. A more distanced and literary ethnography of the settlement was Gwyn Jones's Times Like These (1938) which deals with what Glyn Jones called a `tidy' family in the 1926 strike, and reaches out to include respectable, even boss-class figures. Its opposite was the angry, even rankly aggressive Sorrow for thy Sons by Gwyn Thomas, not published until 1986 because Gollancz rejected it for having no utopian or delicate qualities. A cooler account, in a sympathy-seeking voice much admired among English liberals, was Bert Coombes's quasi-autobiographical These Poor Hands (1939), but much more politically focused was the account of the coalfield produced by Lewis Jones in  Cwmardy (1937) and We Live (1939). Jones died before quite finishing the second, though his plans for the last sequence were known, and he had intended a third, in which the Welsh members of the International Brigade returned to fight for a British workers' state. Lewis Jones's work is strongly left-wing -- the hero, Len Roberts, becomes a Communist and so does his active partner Mary Jones. The novel was well known through the radical world for its statement of the issues, including pacifism in the first world war, though it is far from a CP statement -- Welsh anarcho-syndicalism is often on display.

Strongly realised as it was in these writers, the industrial settlement of south Wales could also be treated negatively in terms of colonial romance, as in the regrettably best-known of all the novels from this context, How Green was my Valley (1939). Richard Llewellyn wanted to call his novel `Slag' to emphasise the ugly uselessness he found in industrialisation, but his publisher went for nostalgia in the title. That is fair to the book though: the story is set in the past, offers an improbable view of early industrialism when workers earned handfuls of sovereigns, when the rivers still ran clear and full of salmon, and when men like the family patriarch believed in supporting the bosses. A potent mix of melodrama, sentiment and stage-Welshness, the climax comes when the patriarch gives his life to save the pit and its machinery from the cruel intentions of the strikers -- and the hero, Huw, leaves the valley, with nothing but his unrealistic memories. A way of deleting the industrial settlement, of unwriting the experience of industrial south Wales, the novel serves colonialism fully, from quaint representation of the natives to rich justification of their treatment by the English, and the novel’s reputation in England and Wales remains to this day, radically different.

Having been so powerful in its establishment and also in its literary realisations, the industrial settlement remained part of Welsh fiction in English, but with a difference. When Gwyn Thomas came to publish, just after the second world war, his setting was the Rhondda but it was not the world of nationalisation, rather a continuing memory of workless people coping somehow. Thomas has been unduly forgotten in Wales, in part because his work is not socialist realism, in part because of the undue hostility he showed to the language movement and nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s -- he said some things that have, not surprisingly, not been forgiven. But his work survives, and it is the richest example I know of hybrid colonial fiction. Hostile to England and capitalism, Thomas also works in the language and mode of that culture, and his recurrent themes are complicity and the attempt to avoid the powerful will of those who seek to shape our lives. His characters resist these forces with a vigorous if also self-gratifying wit, a cunning that is often inoperative, and he himself deploys native symbols and plots, like the oppressive giant Oscar who owns a coal tip in the novella of that name or the recurrent sovereignty-symbolising maidens who are sought by incomers and defended by the natives -- with at least partial success. A fantasist and fabulist, a celebrator of the settlement rather than an ethnographer of it, Thomas's finest work was done in complex, unjustly forgotten novels like The World Cannot Hear You (1951) and The Thinker and the Thrush (not published until 1988) from the late 1940s and early 1950s. When he tried to please an international audience with All Things Betray Thee (1949) and when he wrote specifically for an English audience in Punch he moved back to something like a first-contact romancer, but he remains the most verbally gifted and subtle of the novelists, the parallel in prose to Dylan Thomas in poetry.

A different move away from male radical fiction about industry was made by Menna Gallie who, in two novels, brilliantly redirected the Jones boys’ tradition, in both genre and gender. Strike for a Kingdom (1959) is about 1926, but it is also a mystery: there are two deaths, one a mine manager and one a baby. It looks as if there will be parallel narratives, political and domestic, but we finally find that the domestic domain, focused on the strains felt by women, is actually dominant. Witty and genial, Gallie's fiction is also remarkably searching in its political reassessment of how women too are colonised. She pursued this more strongly in The Small Mine (1962) - also a mystery, but now more certainly taking a woman's viewpoint, tracing three women's lives in the context of male industry, Sally, sexually available and exploited like any coal-seam; Flossie, a devoted mother who loses her son and the meaning of her life to coal; and Cynthia, who distances herself from this claustrophobic world, survives the death of her boy-friend in a pit and, like Gallie  herself, moves on to England at the end of the story.

But Gallie does more than this. Her work, like Michael Gareth Llewelyn's largely forgotten Angharad's Isle (1944), is a link to the third area I identify as the major movements in Welsh fiction in English, namely, integration and independence.


Gallie, from Ystradgynlais, was a native speaker of Cymraeg, and let this show in her English fiction. In Strike for a Kingdom the real detective, who guides the police inspector, is a miner, a magistrate and a bard. Gallie's uncle W. R. Williams was all that -- but she renames him as D. J. Williams, so surely invoking the spirit of the man who wrote the classic statement of gwerin culture, Hen Dy Ffarm (1953) and was one of the three who in 1936 set fire to an RAF bombing school at Penyberth, the first overt act of Welsh nationalism. Gallie makes a major move towards integrating the values of the industrial area with those of the Cymraeg-speaking heartland. Not seen in the first two domains of writing, first-contact romance and the ethnography of the industrial settlement, integration of this kind is a recurrent feature of fiction about Wales in English from the second world war on and I relate it strongly to a increasing sense of the need for independence from England in a variety of ways, including political devolution and local publishing.

The first major figure to do this is Glyn Jones. Famously generous to other writers, both with his help and with his reviews, he also offered models of writing about a Wales not offering itself for English consumption as first-contact romance and not restricting itself to ethnographising the industrial settlement. His early stories, influenced by Dylan Thomas's early surrealist fiction, appear in The Blue Bed (1937). Though Jones came from Merthyr they are not industrial at all: he uses the European techniques of surrealism and symbolism to shape a heightened imaginative voice for Welsh fiction, and his masterpiece in this mode was The Island of Apples (1965) where a timid, small boy called Dewi – representing little Wales itself - meets the mysterious continental visionary and fantasist Karl Anthony -- with the initials of King Arthur to suggest her is another possible projection of  the country. Myth, magic, aspiration are made locatable in Wales, and this ambitious sense of possibilities remained the undercurrent of Jones's work. He regained his familial Welsh, translated ancient poetry, but also wrote stories that occurred across the country, on farms as well as in working-class areas - a range asserted in the title of his novel The Valley, The City, The Village (1956) - and consistently claimed a leading role for imagination and myth of a distinctly Welsh, and indeed Cymraeg, kind to guide the values and the self identification of the Welsh who read English.

That seems to have been the mode in which Alun Lewis would have pursued his fiction, if he had not been killed in Burma; that was the mode in which Rhys Davies wrote his finest and most nationally self-conscious novel The Black Venus (1944). It was certainly the mode, both integrative and independent, in which the major English-language novelist of Wales has worked.

Emyr Humphreys, like Gallie and Lewis, was educated at the University of Wales -- a new feature in a writer's formation in Wales -- and at Aberystwyth he relearned his family's lost Welsh, experienced the impact of Penyberth, and became both a nationalist and a pacifist. While working on farms as a conscientious objector, he began the career in fiction that is still in process, seventy years later. His first novel written was A Toy Epic which explores varied strands of Welsh identity through the story of three boys growing into adulthood -- one represents rural society, one the working class and one, Michael, is a boy of Humphreys' own class and nationalist interests, but also has an unreliable degree of vanity and over-enthusiasm: Humphreys is always rigorous in his examination of all positions. Rejected by Graham Greene as, presumably, not stereotypically Welsh enough, this appeared in 1958, after being a Cymraeg radio series, Y Tri Llais. It won the prestigious Hawthornden prize, but Humphreys' career was already well launched with a series of skilful, searching novels about moral responsibility - he called the form `the Protestant novel' and while some of these were English in setting as well as in their individualist focus, others dealt with Welsh issues. The Little Kingdom (1946), his first published, interrogates the overenthusiasm and, decisively for Humphreys, a tendency toward violence he found at times in Welsh nationalism, but more importantly he produced his first major novel, and a much under-recognised masterpiece of Welsh fiction in English, A Man's Estate (1955). This is both a penetrating study of the physical and moral decadence of Welsh nonconformist life, at both a gentry and a peasant level -- as if Caradoc Evans could write like E. M. Forster -- and also a brilliantly post-Joyce re-use of classical myth, here the darkness of the Orestes story. A Man's Estate already shows the power and command that Humphreys was to reveal in his masterpiece, Outside the House of Baal (1965).

This, unquestionably the most important Welsh novel in English, extends its critique across the whole of Wales and the whole of the twentieth century. Focusing on one half day in the life of a retired nonconformist minister and his sister in law, the novel encompasses the politics and culture of twentieth-century Wales to date -- the resemblance to Ulysses in structure and range is conscious. In turn Humphreys deals with the weakening of the Cymraeg gentry, with pacifism and the horrors of war, the complexities of nonconformist attitudes, the between wars peace movements, the depression in south Wales, the onslaught of materialism, the diaspora from Welsh Wales -- all forces to be associated doubly with the modern world and the impact of England. Neither of the central figures is totally impressive; both have weaknesses and complicities, but both also preserve a sense of continuity with the surviving values of the Welsh community. Neither naively nativist, nor banally hostile to the coloniser, nor yet quite despairing of the situation, Outside the House of Baal is a mature, subtle, demanding and artistically powerful statement that Wales, its language, its people and their social culture are worth valuing and preserving.

The complexity of the book has perhaps restricted its proper audience - though that has also condensed and preserved its value, as with other masterpieces through time. Humphreys seems to have decided to speak more plainly on his chosen topic because he followed this with his seven-volume series `The Land of the Living'. This offered in more straightforward form an account of the century through the focus of a family. John Cilydd More, poet, pacifist, solicitor and, above all, extremist, fights in the first world war, wins an eisteddfod, becomes a nationalist and a pacifist. Eventually, with all his hopes frustrated and a deep sense of failure, but also a sense of identity with Myrddin the demented seer, he kills himself -- and has done so before the time of the first novel, darkly entitled National Winner (1971). He is survived by his second wife, the beautiful and always flexible Amy, who has accommodated herself to the Labour Party and to worldly success. Their three sons are Bedwyr, the dully faithful; Gwydion, the trickily unreliable; and Peredur, the puzzled quester: Welsh myth is embodied and projected in their names and lives. As Peredur seeks the grail of truth about his father's life, Humphreys unrolls the process of Welsh history condensed into Outside the House of Baal but here in the powerful final volume Bonds of Attachment (1991) he goes on to deal with those two poles of modern colonisation, the investiture of the prince of Wales and the resistance, in both language and politics, of the recent decades.

The novel itself was called up by historical changes: Humphreys originally planned to end the series chronologically with its start, National Winner, but the resistance of the seventies demanded a voice.  As usual with Humphreys, nothing is simple: Peredur's beloved Wenna is killed in a pre-investiture bombing and his mother's deathbed conversion to the Cymraeg cause is as dubious as all her commitments. But also as usual with Humphreys, the ground is covered, fully, rigorously and integratively: south Wales and its politics are represented, the fastness of Snowdonia can themselves be riddled with Anglicized corruption. Massive in scope, an ethnography of modern Wales as a whole, and bringing all the powers of a major European novelist to bear on the country and its concerns, Humphreys' series, like Outside the House of Baal, is a major voice for, and constitutor of, the concept of an integrated, independent, self-knowing, self-valuing Wales.

Focused as he mostly is on the north and west and the Welsh language, Humphreys is a striking parallel to the other major novelist of modern Wales, Raymond Williams. He, unlike Humphreys, stayed in England, as a Cambridge academic, but his work increasingly dealt with Wales and focuses on the south. His trilogy dealt with the emotional aftermath of the 1926 strike (Border Country 1960), with Welsh workers in the English radical movement (Second Generation, 1964) and with the likely new exploitation of Wales (with local quislings) by European capitalism in his most assured novel The Fight for Manod (1977). He also wrote about Welsh radical political values in Loyalties (1985) and the maintenance of a local syndicalist spirit in The Volunteers (1978) and as is clear from the recent anthology edited by Daniel Williams, he thought hard about Wales as a classic site of the communal values he most supported. Without personal knowledge of Cymraeg or Welsh Wales he nevertheless in his last unfinished work sought to speak in an integrative mode: in People of the Black Mountains (1989 and 1991) he used topographical history as a focus, writing about the many peoples who over time had lived in his own Black Mountains area. Place had for him a special value - probably because of his own English displacement, parallel to the value Aaron sees in the work of the socially disempowered women writers she has anthologised in A View Across the Valley (1999) -- and place is the focus for his own increasing efforts to write in an integrative and consciously independent ways about Wales.

A similar mood dominates the important novel Shifts (1988) by Christopher Meredith, one of the younger generation who now publish in Wales and interrogate powerfully and often darkly the condition of modern Wales, after the end of industry and in the growing consciousness of a need to resolve the separate strands of Welsh identity. The novel’s three main figures represent Welsh modernity: the diasporic Jack has returned to work in the last days of steel mill, but will drift off again; the colonisation of women -- Judith, glumly domesticated, thinks of work in the absence of satisfactory emotional life, notably with Jack; Keith, her husband, also soon to be out of work, fumbles toward integration, studying with some limited success the history of his own world and at least starting to re-learn the language of his own predecessors in the area.

This sense of anomie, resentment and undirected vigour is the main negative thrust of recent writing. It can be found in Ron Berry's potent pictures of post-industrial life from his first  Hunters and Hunted (1960) to the muscular elegance of his final work This Bygone (1996), in Alun Richards's wry accounts of the people of Aberdarren -- a version of Pontypridd -- in his fine short stories and the powerful novel, itself published in Wales, Home to an Empty House (1973). This focuses on a woman, and much of the strongest recent writing has come from the newly recognised women writers such as Penny Windsor, Glenda Beagan, Sian James, Catherine Merriman -- Merriman's State of Desire (1996) condenses explicit romance with post-industrial politics, and suggests that it is still possible to live a life in Wales which is both emotionally full and democratically engaged.

Implicitly arguing that there is vigour in Wales after industry and without England, the recent fiction often focuses, like other post-colonial writing around the world, on the image of disability, a vision of the self as physically and emotionally damaged, but nevertheless active and capable of self-fulfilment. This can be darkly negative as in Douglas Bush's Glass Shot (1991) and Richard John Evans's Entertainment (2000): for Bush a dislocated worker threatens most about him, while Evans imagines a furiously powerful wheel-chair user. Or it can be cautiously positive as in Lewis Davies's My Piece of Happiness (2000) or Rachel Trezise's In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl (2000): Davies suggests that there can be forms of fulfilment for the handicapped and Trezise's central character finds her way out of trauma into the life of writing.

All these operate in the south east, but Niall Griffiths' modern maimed range west and north Wales as do characters in the many short stories published recently -- an imposing fifty five in the Parthian anthology Mamma's Baby (Papa's Maybe) (2000) -- and as do characters in much of the recent resurgence of dynamically realistic and challengingly aggressive Cymraeg writing typified by Wil Owen Roberts and Angharad Tomos.

Not everything in Welsh fiction in English fits easily onto the three-part and progressive scheme I have suggested. There was a flow of sentimental historicism after the war, in the wake of How Green Was My Valley, notably by Richard Vaughan, but some at least of the later examples had some real vigour whether through political recreation in Alexander Cordell or the realisation of women's experience by Iris Gower. And there are still tourist novels of the first-contact kind, whether by occasional residents like Kingsley Amis in The Old Devils (1986), Bruce Chatwin in On the Black Hill (1983) or exiles like Alice Thomas Ellis in The Sin Eater (1977).

But these are now exceptions. Welsh publishing houses with Arts Council Support now produce many novels a year and they realise, explore, even celebrate a different, culturally independent and increasingly integrative country. It can integrate other ethnicities, as in Charlotte Williams's Sugar and Slate (2002), Stephen Knight's Mr Schnitzel (2001) or Trezza Azzopardi's The Hiding Place (2000); it can represent the complicit character of the nation's half-hearted capital in John Williams's Cardiff Dead (2000) and the thrillers by `David Craig’ (James Tucker) like Bay City (1999), or it can explore the interrelations of kinds of northern Welshness as in Alison Taylor's mystery-based novels. And it can of course write about other places, other worlds, as do all the major literatures: increasingly Welsh fiction is not about Wales. What was for Richard Hughes an escape is for some modern Welsh writers a natural world-wide interest: I predict this trend will develop rapidly, and the continued productivity of Emyr Humphreys remains a model in this mode, showing how to write a Wales that is part of Europe, or more, as in Unconditional Surrender (1996) or The Gift of a Daughter (1999).


There remain challenges, and problems. The audience is not large, and the output is sustained both by government grants and by low-paid or even voluntary work by both authors and editors. The future history of Welsh fiction in English will owe a chapter to the dedicated staff at publishers like Gomer, Seren, Honno, and the magazines that review and publicise their work, notably Planet and New Welsh Review.

But there is a vigorous fiction in place, often a rudely vigorous fiction. Like the immigrant novel in England or the modern Scottish novel, Welsh fiction in English no longer struggles with the embarrassing genres of first-contact or romance. It has learnt how to do its ethnographic self-describing work, and since the second world war has been moving on with varied success but consistent production to write about a Wales which is aware both of its current problems and its complex past and can interpret its identity -- its many identities -- in a way that both claims and presages independence.

Secondary References:

Jane Aaron, Pur Fel y Dur: Y Gymraes yn LlĂȘn Menywod y Bedwaredd Ganrif ar Bymtheg (Pure Like Steel: The Welsh Woman in Women’s Literature of the Nineteenth Century), Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1998)

Robert Crawford, The Scottish Invention of Enlgish Literature (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Moira Dearnley, Distant Fields: Eighteenth-Century Fictions of Wales (Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 2001)

Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation  (Cambridge, Mass.,     Harvard University Press, 1997)

Stephen Knight, A Hundred Years of Fiction: Writing Wales in English (Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 2004)

Ned Thomas, `Images of Others’, in John Osmond (ed.), The National Question Again: Welsh Political Identity in the 1980s (Llandysul, Gomer, 1985), pp. 306-19

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