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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Welsh Writing in English. (A Guide to Welsh Literature) Vol. VII

Welsh Writing in English. (A Guide to Welsh Literature) Vol. VII

1 rating: 3.0
A book by M. Wynn Thomas

"A stimulating collection of essays, by leading scholars and critics . . . an excellent reference source." --English In Wales    "[T]his is an essential purchase for anyone interested in the Welsh contribution to the English language." … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: M. Wynn Thomas
Publisher: University of Wales Press
1 review about Welsh Writing in English. (A Guide to Welsh...

Pioneering essays on mostly 20c poetry & fiction

  • Aug 19, 2005
Rating:
+3
When I asked a Welsh friend for a survey of recent Welsh literary history, he recommended this, which also goes by "Welsh Writing in English" and is actually the 7th and final volume in the series "A Guide to Welsh Literature"; the other volumes treat literature in the Welsh language. This imbalance shows how recently most of "Anglo-Welsh" has emerged as a contender against Welsh on the shelves. As opposed to Ireland, where two languages have battled it out for half a millenium, the canon of A-W literature remains in its formative stages; some authors going back and forth between the two languages as well.

Since Amazon.com does not have a "look inside the book" offer here, I will simply give a quick peek at its contents. This volume arrives via the CREW project helmed by the editor at UW Swansea. Belinda Humfrey gives a pre-20c run-through, that ends in rather abrupt fashion, not the only essay to do so in this anthology. By the way, no drama is studied. Rather than take a "literary history" approach, the editor M. Wynn Thomas explains that he favored an assortment of critical perspectives from what is still a contested field. Therefore, the tone of the entries varies considerably, while adding to the personal feel of this collection, which admirably avoids jargon and can be read by not only scholars but novices like me productively.

Stephen Knight offers an appropriately deep-delving and penetratingly thorough excavation into what many regard still as the stereotypical 20c "industrial novel"; he provides many examples that explore this long and well-mined strata well.
John Powell Ward scrutinizes the border realms mentally and geographically and the tensions and energies they produce, from Arthur Machen a century ago to Iain Sinclair's typically baroque, po-mo 2001 exercise into his own only recently proclaimed origins, "Landor's Tower." The whole London-Welsh continuum by such as these two bookending writers would have made, in fact, a fine additional chapter, but Ward and others do incorporate some of such cross-border alliances into their sections. Feminism, minority, and gay Welsh writers also gain the notice of critics throughout the volume, which has a helpful list of sources at the back, as well as end-of-chapter notes.

Dylan Thomas and his contemporaries earn James A. Davies' attention--Dylan was the first Welsh writer in English to grab, like his contemporary Brendan Behan in Ireland, the celebrity Celt-as-dissolute bard costume and fit himself into it, for better or worse. The often overlooked efforts of those in his shadow gain by comparison and contrast with Dylan T. R.S. Thomas, Glyn Jones, Idries Davies, Alun Lewis, and Lynette Roberts all deserve renewed readerships.

R.S. Thomas, Tony Conran, Raymond Garlick, Harri Jones, David Jones, and the notably eccentric Brenda Chamberlain all through the century--raised as estranged from Welsh-speaking Wales--sought to construct a less-anglicized identity, and Tony Brown & the editor look at their success or its lack in an involving chapter that should resonate with many readers from "hybrid" cultural backgrounds. Popular images of Welshness, what appealed or appalled earnest writers who learned about the Welsh past and its language, were exported, first and most famously by Richard Llewellyn (whose "How Green Was My Valley" was the first "Welsh" novel I read as a teenager, the only book in my public library under "subject: Wales: fiction). John Harris' chapter starts out rather slowly, and editing perhaps gives it an uneven tone, but his section on the fan letters generated by Llewellyn's best-seller make for the most memorable pages in the entire collection. Such criticism examining reader's responses to texts deserves many more adherents; it takes down from the academic tower into the shops and armchairs how ordinary folks receive and assimilate literature, more popular than most of what scholars analyze.

What happened in the next generation, "the Second Flowering," sparked by the magazine Poetry Wales, is discussed with vigor and frankness rare in a scholarly context by one who was there, Tony Conran. Katie Gramich offers a spirited analogy between rugby and Welsh authors attempting the crossover into the British leagues of fame; the editor and Jane Aaron intellgently examine literary production between the defeat of devolution in 1979 and its success in the squeak-through of 1997. The miners vs. Maggie Thatcher understandably and movingly takes up much of the coverage in these decades as well, and whether a nationalist Welsh cause could sustain itself, and the role played or abandoned by writers in English, make for a valuable essay, in part because it confronts the Marxist assumption that the Welsh economic consternation should have "naturally" reified itself in the cultural and literary productions on a sustained and widespread level of production.

Finally, the noted Welsh activist Ned Thomas (see his "The Welsh Extremist" published by Y Lolfa) approaches the past century and the present one's prospects by charting possible paradigms for literary success in raising alternatives to "false consciousness" in a Wales many of whose residents look more to the multinationals than the nationalists for progress.

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