All entries for Friday 15 June 2007

June 15, 2007

Images of Welsh Women


Deidre Beddoe begins her essay with a plain statement: ‘Welsh women are culturally invisible’ (227). She adds that Welsh identity is based on three male groups of mass proportions: ‘coalminers, rugby players and male voice choirs’ (227). In comparison the Welsh woman is ‘a bit of trimming on the male image of Wales’ (227).

Beddoe wonders why this is the case and she suggests that the three factors involved are ‘Patriarchy, Capitalism and History’ (228). She describes Wales as ‘a patriarchal society, in which the activities and views of men are held in far higher esteem than those of women’ (228). Through coal-mining and other industries, capitalism has dominated Welsh culture with the ambiguous figure of the coalminer representing both ‘wealth’ and ‘rebellion’ (228). Women’s unwaged roles in capitalist societies often go unnoticed and Beddoe believes that this is the case in Wales. There is also the problem of the selective bias of history which is ‘not only divided along class lines but along gender lines too’ (229).

Beddoe now considers representations of Welsh women as opposed to images of women in other parts of the UK and she suggests that there are a number of types:
• The Welsh Mam. ‘[H]ardworking, ‘pious’ and clean, a mother to her sons and responsible for the home, she appears in Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley (1939). Considering the Mam historically, Beddoe notes that before the rise of industry in the 19th century, women worked on the land alongside men, yet later they became ‘economically dependent upon her husband’s and son’s wages’ (230). She held sway in the domestic sphere only.
• The Welsh Lady in National Costume. A device of tourism, the Welsh costume was invented by Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover (1802-96) who led the ‘romantic revival’ in Wales. It was created at a time when ‘the old peasant costume was dying out’ (233). The invented costume was decorous and difficult to work in.
• The Pious Welsh Woman. There are many stories of Welsh women who committed spiritual acts of self-sacrifice for religious reasons. Beddoe refers to the painting, Salem, by Sidney Curnow Vosper.
• The Sexy Welsh Woman. Beddoe refers here to the Welsh custom of “bundling” or ‘premarital “courting in bed” ’ (234). She also notes: ‘Pre-marital sex between couples who intended to marry seems to have been normal practice in old Wales, especially before the rise of nonconformity’ (234). This was criticised by the 1840s commissioners sent ‘to investigate the state of education in Wales’ (243).
• The Funny Welsh Woman. Beddoe notes that ‘English people still regard Welsh people, along with Irish people, as inherently funny’ (236).

Beddoe, Deidre. ‘Images of Welsh Women’. in Wales: the Imagined Nation, Studies in Cultural and National Identity. Ed. Tony Curtis. Bridgend: Poetry Wales Press, 1986. 225-238.

How to Write Anglo–Welsh Poetry by John Davies

It’s not too late I suppose…
You could sound a Last Post or two,
and if you could get away with saying
what’s been said, then do.

First, apologise for not being able
to speak Welsh. Go on: apologise.
Being Anglo-_any_thing is really tough;
any gaps you can fill with sighs.

And get some roots, juggle name like
Taliesin and ap Gwilym, weave
a Cymric web. It doesn’t matter what
they wrote. Look, let’s not be naive.

Now you can go on about the past
being more real than the present -
you’ve read your early R.S. Thomas,
you know where Welsh Wales went.

Spray place-names around. Caernarfon.
Cwmtwrch. Have perhaps a Swansea
sun marooned in Glamorgan’s troubled
skies; even the weather’s Welsh, see.

But a mining town is best, of course,
for impact, and you’ll know what to say
about Valley Characters, the heart’s dust
and the rest. Read it all up anyway.

A quick reference to cynghanedd
always goes down well; girls are cariad;
myth is in; exile, defeat, hills…
almost anything Welsh and sad.


Style now. Nothing fancy: write
all your messages as prose then chop
them up – it’s how deeply red and green
they bleed that counts. Right, stop.

That’s it, you’ve finished for now -
just brush your poems down: dead, fluffed
things but ayour own almost. Get
them mounted in magazines. Or stuffed.

in Wales: the Imagined Nation, Studies in Cultural and National Identity. Ed. Tony Curtis. Bridgend: Poetry Wales Press, 1986. 66-67.

What is 'Anglo–Welsh'?

I am very impressed by the attitude adopted in Gwyn Jones’ essay, ‘The First Forty Years: Some Notes on Anglo-Welsh Literature’, especially as it was written in the seventies, a moment when there were still problems with the way in which critics considered Welsh writing in English. Unlike many Welsh critics, Jones recognises the importance of Welsh writing in English and does not see it as a negative thing.

I think they arrived in the best possible way, with the maxi-(78)mum of offence and the maximum of effect. The majority of the Anglo-Welsh have been painfully modest and deferential in face of native Welsh criticism: we would no more talk back to a proper Cymro [Welshman] than we would cheek our mother. If the situation were to be expressed heraldically, we proved no red and rampant dragon, belching fire and brimstone and fire, but an inverted hydra, possessing not a hundred heads but a hundred bottoms; and such was the kynedyf (as the Mabinogion would call it), the peculiar quality of this unnatural monster , that every time one of these bottoms was kicked two grew in its place. (77-78)

Jones expresses the situation with that singular Welsh humour that is so familiar to me. He does though take a moment to define exactly what Anglo-Welsh literature is, stating that it refers to ‘those authors of Welsh blood or connexion who for a variety of reasons write their creative work in English’ (78). Jones also makes the important point that ‘most of [Wales’] writers are working class origin, or the sons of the lowliest strata of the middle class: the poor middle class, teachers, parsons, small tradespeople’ (79). Jones wonders whether this explains the delay in the emergence of Welsh writing in English. Jones is also aware that ‘the decay of Nonconformity’ is a factor in the rise of ‘Anglo-Welsh literature (81). While Jones recognises the gifts that Nonconformity gave to the Welsh, he also suggests that it was detrimental with its ‘dogma and shibboleth’ and ‘the weakening lure of the pulpit’ (81)

When Anglo-Welsh literature did emerge, Cymraeg and English language literatures came into conflict and Jones tries to ‘display the paradox, indeed the fantasy of the Welsh and the Anglo-Welsh literary situation’ (82).

Obviously there could be no extensive Anglo-Welsh literature till there existed what I have called a reservoir of Anglo-Welshness from which it could flow. This means, in cold and brutal fact, until English was the first language of a fair, or even considerable proportion of the people of Wales. Anglo-Welsh literature, so it seems to me, is the rendering articulate of the majority of Welshmen who cannot, do not, and will not make Welsh their first language. It follows that every Anglo-Welsh writer passionately though he may proclaim his love of Wales and things Welsh, is a danger to the Welsh language. […] The Anglo-Welsh, though they are a danger to the Welsh language, must never be its enemy; and the Welsh Welsh, even if they are true dancers before our tribal ark, will be unwise to try and impose an irresistible logic upon an immovable fact; they must accept that they cannot speak for, even to, half their fellow-countrymen; while to the great world outside they may not speak at all. (82)

Jones undermines the privileging of Cymraeg speakers over the supposedly tainted Anglo-Welsh. Rather he offers a less essentialist view of language and culture:

I do not believe that Welshness and the Welsh language are synonymous. But I think that the preservation and extension of the Welsh language are of primary importance to Anglo-Welsh literature. Many Anglo-Welsh writers are fluent Welsh-speakers, a few know no Welsh at all; others know what we had best leave undefined as ‘a bit’ of Welsh; but in their varying degrees they are all living on an inherited fund of Welshness and mustn’t exhaust the capital. ‘Anglo-Welsh, after all, is just a tag, a literary label, a device for avoiding circumlocution. (83).

Jones, Gwyn. ‘The First Forty Years: Some Notes on Anglo-Welsh literature’. Triskel One: Essays on Welsh and Anglo-Welsh Literature. Ed. Sam Adams and Gwilym Rees Hughes. Swnasea: Christopher Davies Publishers, 1971.


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