All entries for Wednesday 11 April 2007

April 11, 2007

Gwyn Thomas: Different Views

Gwyn Thomas (1913 – 1981) originated from the Rhondda Valley, South Wales and while working as a schoolmaster, he became one of Wales’ darkest, funniest and most insightful novelists. He is not to be confused with Gwyn Thomas (born 1936) the poet who is currently Wales’ National Poet.

Owen Sheers

The writers in the Library’s initial selection were all aware of this delicate relationship between Welsh lives and English governance and this awareness informs the strong political vein running through the novels. This is perhaps handled most deftly in Raymond Williams’ Border Country and Gwyn Thomas’ trio of novellas The Dark Philosophers. In the title novella Thomas (who described his work as “Chekhov with chips”) switches neatly into the inclusive first-person-plural voice that would become his trademark, thereby planting his narrator firmly within the “we” of common experience, reflecting the communal living of the South Wales terraces where he both learnt and set his fiction. In all three of these stories Thomas carries his politics lightly yet also gives it an eloquent, arresting voice. “We cursed within our own minds,” says the narrator of The Dark Philosophers, “the sterile cold and loneliness we had lived in for many years when misery and anger killed the music within us, and we thought sorrowfully of all those many voters lying around about us in the Terraces who had been made numb and stupid by poverty, dead even to the divine beauty created by man.” (The writers in the Library’s initial selection were all aware of this delicate relationship between Welsh lives and English governance and this awareness informs the strong political vein running through the novels. This is perhaps handled most deftly in Raymond Williams’ Border Country and Gwyn Thomas’ trio of novellas The Dark Philosophers. In the title novella Thomas (who described his work as “Chekhov with chips”) switches neatly into the inclusive first-person-plural voice that would become his trademark, thereby planting his narrator firmly within the “we” of common experience, reflecting the communal living of the South Wales terraces where he both learnt and set his fiction. In all three of these stories Thomas carries his politics lightly yet also gives it an eloquent, arresting voice. “We cursed within our own minds,” says the narrator of The Dark Philosophers, “the sterile cold and loneliness we had lived in for many years when misery and anger killed the music within us, and we thought sorrowfully of all those many voters lying around about us in the Terraces who had been made numb and stupid by poverty, dead even to the divine beauty created by man.”
On the Guardian Website

Peter N. Williams

Caradog Evans did not conform; his works condemn what he saw as failings of the Welsh character. Whatever the opinions of his writing, Caradog Evans has a firm place as one of the founding fathers of Anglo-Welsh literature. His loathing was matched by that of Gwyn Thomas, who had nothing but contempt for the Welsh language and for those who wrote in it (notably those from the northern and western areas of Wales where Welsh stubbornly remained the first language of the majority).
Suite 101

Rachel Tresize

Gwyn Thomas, who was a very famous south Walean author, said that most of people in the valleys were people that missed the boat to America and I think that was very true…
Austinist

Tony Bianci

Wales generated neither a vigorous modernism nor its own agencies of mass popularisation. Instead, it conversed with itself in (or against) the idioms of its two dominating collective pieties: one religious, the other political and industrial. These pieties certainly had their dark underbellies, and there were writers bent on exposing them. ‘Mice and rats, as it is said, frequent neither churches nor poor men’s houses.’ The opening words of Caradoc Evans’s ‘Be This Her Memorial’ (My People, 1915 and Seren 2001) set the scene for a tale as sombre, brooding and claustrophobic as any noir narrative. And its brand of the monstrous, like the Gothic mode of his contemporary, Arthur Machen, and the later, incarcerating ‘Terraces’ of Gwyn Thomas’s The Dark Philosophers (1946), are all close relations of the noir. Indeed, a distinctive Welsh noir idiom might have been their legacy. But the collective narratives of class and nation prevailed, and the shadow of their decline has been a long one. We had to wait for post-modernism’s questioning of all such narratives, together with its hybridisation of genres, before a shift was possible.
Welsh Literature Abroad

Other Links
BBC pays tribute
Bibliography on the Fantastic Fiction Website
Wikipedia Entry


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