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January 14, 2010

Wales and the United States

I didn’t really have a sense of the connection between the United States and Wales, until 2008 when I was visiting Philadelphia and I took a photograph of a plaque put there by the Welsh Society of Philadelphia (erected March 1st (St David’s Day) 1968). The plaque is inscribed with the following words:


Plaque in Phily

A number of famous Americans are commemorated on the plaque including:
*William Penn 1644-1718 – described as ‘proclaimer of the free religion and founder of New Wales, later named Pennsylvania’;
*Robert Morris 1734-1806 – ‘foremost financier of the American Revolution and signer of the Declaration of Independence’;
*and Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, – ‘Third President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence’.

What I didn’t realise then was that the Welsh heritage of colonialists who came to the US was in fact deeply valued and emphasised. As E.T. Ashton writes, Welsh immigrants ‘were able to maintain their Welshness because of certain identified characteristics such as a sense of nationality, a distinctive culture and identifiable standards of respectable behaviour’ (1984: xv). Ashton goes on to define the factors that stimulated Welsh immigration in the US as being ‘religious (such as the Quakers who fled from religious persecution in the late seventeenth century), economic, political, cultural and even what might be termed nationalistic, those attempts to establish a new Wales on American soil (such as the setting up of the Brynffynnon colony in Tennesse by Samuel Roberts in the 1850s’ (xvi). William D. Jones puts it simply: ‘they moved in search of a better life’ (1997: xviii).

Welsh immigrants largely came to the US between 1820 and 1950, and there were only about 90,000, which is paltry compared to the Irish immigration figures, but it is the closest Wales came to mass immigration (Ashton 1984; xvii). Jones points out that most of the immigrants ‘headed for industrial areas’, mainly because the types of workers moving into the US from Wales were not farmers or rural labourers by the end of the nineteenth century (1997: xx). Instead they were ‘Welsh miners, iron and steel workers and tinplate workers, together with slate quarrymen from North Wales’ (xviii). Jones even claims that ‘Welsh expertise in puddling iron, cutting coal or rolling tin-plate was highly prized and in great demand in industrializing America, and it commanded higher wages’ (xix). Along with this though came the risks of such industrial work. So ‘By the end of the nineteenth century Welsh gold miners could be found in California, lead miners in the Rockies, copper miners in Montana and coalminers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California. Utah, Illinois, West Virginia and Tennessee’ (xx).

References (Books accessed at Swansea University Library)
Ashton, E.T. (1984) The Welsh in the United States, Hove: Caldra House.
Jones, William D. (1997) Wales in America : Scranton and the Welsh, 1860-1920, Cardiff: University of Wales Press; Scranton, Pa: University of Scranton Press.

July 10, 2008

FWSA Seminar: Welsh Women's Writing: Katie Gramich's Keynote Speech

Writing about web page

Katie Gramich’s keynote speech was titled ‘“When I came hither, a stranger”: Women Writers and Elective Identities.’ The starting point of her talk is a definition by Mike Savage in Globalization and Belonging of what elective belonging is. This mode is ‘belonging not to a fixed community, with the implication of closed boundaries, but is more fluid, seeing places as sites for performing identities’ (Savage 2005: 29). According to Savage, elective belonging is ‘critically dependent on people’s relational sense of place, their ability to relate their area of residence against other[s]’ (Ibid.). Responding to this idea, Gramich’s project is to foreground the notion of national identity as constructed or imagined. Her paper considers four women writers who are not originally from Wales: the nineteenth century poet, Anne Beale ; the novelist, Kate Bosse-Griffiths ; the poet and prose writer, Jan Morris ; and the poet, Christine Evans . I don’t want to say too much about Gramich’s talk as she is writing it up into a paper, but some interesting questions came up in outlining the concerns of these four writers. A sense of hospitality was a common theme with Wales or specific places within Wales (such as Bardsey Island for Christine Evans) hosting the writers’ political or artistic concerns. Gramich links this to Derrida’s description of hospitality in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness as an ethics rather than a culture (Derrida 2001: 17)). To what extent do these writers construct a vision of Wales as representing an ethics of hospitality?

FWSA Seminar: Welsh Women's Writing: Panel One

Writing about web page

Panel One
The first panel included papers by Lucy Thomas of Cardiff University, Michelle Smith again from Cardiff University and Claire Flay from University of Glamorgan.

Lucy Thomas on Hilda Vaughan
Hilda Vaughan

Thomas’ paper was titled ‘“Wouldn’t my sisters say I was shocking?”: Spinsters, Lesbians, Heroines and the New Woman in Hilda Vaughan’s Novels’ and it focussed on Vaughan’s novels, The Battle to the Weak, Pardon and Peace, The Invader and The Curtain Rises. In these novels, Thomas identifies some stereotypical spinsters; certain female characters in The Battle to the Weak are described as being ‘gaunt and tall’ with faces ‘pale as parchment’ while being ‘clad in the black cloth of respectability’ along with the eponymous umbrella (Vaughan 1925: 84). In Pardon and Peace, a woman is seen by a male observer as the stereotypical ‘poor and ugly old maid with her social pretensions’ (Vaughan 1945: 16). Thomas argues that the spinster is ostracised in the society of Vaughan’s novels. She refers to The Invader in which one character comments that the spinster would be better off living ‘quiet and tidy in one of these cathedral cities I hear of, where old maids do mostly get together’ (Vaughan 1928:212). The spinster is only acceptable when far from Wales. Closely connected to the ostracised spinster is the suffragette who appears in Vaughan’s The Curtain Rises, and Thomas argues that the suffragette is closely linked to the figure of lesbian, who is Vaughan’s novels takes on the male gaze and becomes a sexual predator.

The real heroines of Vaughan’s novels are meshed in a dismissal of feminism as not suitable for Welsh women. In The Curtain Rises, one character is instructed that Mary Wollstonecraft’s suicide attempt was ‘weakness’ and is told how she ‘was pulled out and married’ even though it was ‘against her principles’ (Vaughan 1935: 199-200). Thomas recognises the dismissal of feminism here, but she is clear that where Vaughan’s writing is politically active is in portraying the social conditions of Welsh working class women e.g. the suffering of Annie Bevan in The Battle to the Weak along with its portrayal of tyrannical husband’s and women’s entrapment in sexual service. Thomas directs us to a review of Vaughan in Good Housekeeping in which the reviewer describes the power of Vaughan in her portrayal of ‘feminine strength, the strength that does not ape the masculine and is as simple and unselfconscious in its showing as the strength of those deceptive creatures, our grandmothers: the strength of Eve maternal, not of Ever enchantress.’ (Many questions could be posed about the use of language and the posing of the feminine here!) Thomas notes that one woman in The Battle to the Weak has arms that are ‘muscular as those of a man but more rounded’, possibly suggesting that aforementioned feminine strength (Vaughan 1925: 128). What Thomas is saying about Vaughan seems to be that although she is conservative and reactionary in her politics, there is a kind of feminism in her writing even if it is one that upholds tradition and the status quo. (The kind of feminism described here reminds me of some nineteenth century conservative feminists such as Hannah More, although Vaughan’s version is of course far more sympathetic to the working class woman).

Michelle Smith on Bertha Thomas

Bertha Thomas
Michelle Smith gave a paper on Bertha Thomas’ short stories titled ‘“Out of your own country, your natural cycle, and your station”: Class, Gender and Displacement in the Fictions of Bertha Thomas’. Smith explains that Bertha Thomas was born and lived outside Wales, but much of her writing is concerned with or set in Wales. Her paper identifies the key themes and issues in Thomas’ work.

Firstly, Smith considers the story, ‘The Courtship of “Ragged Robin”,’ which tells the story of a ragged young man, Robert John David Morgan Lloyd, and his courtship with a lady of a different culture: the Londoner, Lois. Ragged Robin is of course a wild flower and Smith explains that the eccentricity of the young man is accepted in the rural, Welsh community. Lois however refuses to give in to the wild countryside and weather: ‘The mountain gales might blow the birds’ nests out of the bushes, but seemed powerless to rumple her edifice of hair’ (Thomas 2008: 147). Smith identifies a binary between civilisation and barbarity in the story, but she also highlights class as an important factor. When Robert travels to London, he is identified by a passer-by as a decayed gentleman in London. Smith suggests that this is Thomas’ way of indicating how class favours men. Consequently Lois intuites that their union would be wrong and relents.

Class is similarly at work in Thomas’ story, ‘The Madness of Winnifred Owen’. This story tells of Winnifred Owen’s love for a sailor in spite of the fact that she was already betrothed. Her father rejects her choice describing her as a betrayer of her own culture: ‘a girl who, for a passing fancy for a foreign vagabond, could be false to ties of home, country, kindred, religion’ (Thomas 2008: 10-11). However, it emerges that what Winnifred’s father really wants is the money and social advancement of the original suitor. She finally does manage to marry the sailor, but as a consequence she must move from Wales and her family is dispersed to Canada and other places.

‘The House that Was’ is another story that describes the loss of home and belonging as it describes the fate of the grey ghost, a woman haunting an abandoned house. Her story is that of a family on the margins of polite society and this marginal status means that the heroine is unable to meet her suitor, Frankie, at tea parties, but instead meets him alone. The heroine knows that ‘[o]nly farmers’ or labourers’ daughters did such things, and it was many generations since our husbandman ancestors had struggled up into the ranks of gentry’ (Thomas 2008: 137). When the heroine does marry, it represents a rejection and exile from home and family entering a poor and haphazard existence away from Wales. As a childless widow, the heroine returns to haunt the remains of her family home.

Class occurs again in ‘The Way He Went’ where Elwyn’s wife, Eileen is not tied down, but has money of her own. Elwyn’s mother disapproves of their relationship, suggesting that he has ‘some side motive’ for ‘rushing head-long and prematurely into this life connection, out of your country, your natural station and your station’ (Thomas 2008: 83). The act of marrying Eileen ignores the established network of power relations and class boundaries. The general feeling of these stories seems to be that going beyond one’s own class and culture can be dangerous.

Claire Flay on Dorothy Edwards
Dorothy Edwards
I particularly enjoyed Claire Flay’s paper on ‘Representations of Gender in Dorothy Edwards,’ as I didn’t know much about this writer beforehand. Flay explained that Edwards has often been overlooked and that a reading of her via feminist theory is long overdue. Flay gave us some background on Edwards explaining that her father. Edward Edwards, was a socialist and vegetarian and that he encouraged his daughter to question the nature of power. Edwards was an undergraduate at the University of Wales Cardiff studying Greek and Philosophy. She had been destined to take up teaching, but instead she became a full-time writer.

Flay notes that in the stories and novels that emerged, there is a notable absence of Edward’s own class, gender or Welshness. Her fiction is often narrated by male, middle or upper class characters and her stories are set in large country houses. However, Flay believes that Edwards still manages to challenge power imbalances in her fiction. Take for example ‘A Country House’ and its use of the male voice. The narrator is a middle-aged country gentleman who is damned by his own mouth for setting himself up as the possessor/owner of his wife. Similarly, ‘A Garland of Earth,’ the male narrator mistakenly believes that a female character is collecting flowers for pressing, rather than doing serious work.

In discussing Edward’s use of the male voice, Flay points out the contingency of masculinity and thinks about gender as a kind of impersonation in the mode of Butler’s performativity. There was some talk at the round table later on in the day about whether the masculinity was a kind of ventriloquism or a masquerade, but I think that in fact, Butler’s idea of performativity is far more interesting than either of these terms, since in her theorising, there is no true gender to begin with. It is not then perhaps that Edward’s is putting on a male façade or that she is only speaking her female concerns through a male puppet. What is more interesting is the idea that she might be adopting the ‘truth’ of masculinity to prove that it is constructed. (See my comments on Butler:

Thomas, Bertha. 2008. Stranger Within the Gates. Ed. Kirsti Bohata. Dinas Powys: Honno.
Vaughan, Hilda. 1945. Pardon and Peace. London: Macmillan.
—1935. The Curtain Rises. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
—1928. The Invader. London: Heinemann.
—1925. The Battle to the Weak. New York and London: Harper Brothers.

FWSA Seminar: Welsh Women's Writing: Jane Aaron's Keynote Speech

Writing about web page

On Monday 7th July 08, I attended the FWSA symposium on ‘Welsh Women’s Writing: Voice, Space, Identity’. The day began with a keynote speech by Jane Aaron on ‘Women Writing Welsh Gothic.’ Aaron began by pointing out the nineteenth century enthusiasm for all things Celtic. This meant that the Celtic setting and characters appeared in Welsh Gothic texts and often they were written by women. Some examples were in the tourist literature genre featuring visitors to Wales and their experience of horrid thrills. For example, The Tower, or the Romance of Ruthyne by Sarah Landes, Anzoletta Zadowski by Ann Howells, in which women are trapped in Gothic locations in Wales. Welsh women writers on the other hand often set their Gothic plots in English locations, such as Anna Maria Bennett’s Ellen, Countess of Castle Howel. Aaron suggests that this might be a way for these writers to critique English class. In Mary Robinson’s Angelina: a novel, the heroine voluntarily lives in a Welsh ruin after being ruined by an English husband. English society is a destructive force here. I don’t want to say too much about Jane Aaron’s paper as I believe that she is writing it up for publication, but she discussed the aforementioned issues in relation to a range of nineteenth-century texts including Ann of Swansea’s Cambrian Pictures and Sophia Lee’s short story, ‘The Clergyman’s Tale,’ but she also includes more modern texts such as Mary Jones’ Resistance, Bertha Thomas’ short stories, Menna Gallie’s The Small Mine, and Rachel Tresize’s In and Out of the Fish Bowl.

October 19, 2007

Obituary for Roland Mathias

I just read that sadly Roland Mathias died this week. See this obituary for him online at the Guardian website: Roland Mathias Obituary

July 12, 2007

A Note on Nonconformity in Wales

I am currently rewriting a chapter on the poet, Gwyneth Lewis, who was a member of a Presbyterian church as a child. I am interested in the influence that Nonconformity and Dissent towards the main Anglican Church might have had on Lewis and so I have been reading D.W. Bebbington, an authority on Nonconformity.

Bebbington talks about Welsh Nonconformity quite often in The Nonconformist Conscience. He suggests that the ‘confident mood’ of Nonconformity at the fin-de-siècle was particularly marked in Wales where the Welsh revival was taking place between 1904 and 1905 (1). Bebbington is clear that ‘chapel-going was as socially acceptable as church-going’ (1). In discussing Nonconformist politics, he suggests that Wales was an ‘extreme case’ because ‘national resentment against the Church of England helped Nonconformity to become the religion of the people’ (3).

In his analysis of Dissent in Britain from the late nineteenth century onwards, Bebbington focuses on his notion of the ‘Nonconformist Conscience’. The ‘Nonconformist Conscience’ had three characteristics according to Bebbington:
• ‘a conviction that there is no strict boundary between religion and politics;’
• ‘an insistence that politicians should be men of the highest character;’
• ‘and a belief that the state should promote the moral welfare of its citizens’ (11).
Out of these three principles, Bebbington maps a quest for religious equality via the disestablishment movement. In Wales, this movement was also connected with the campaign for greater Welsh autonomy and Bebbington describes how some Welsh MPs used the disestablishment movement as another means to promote Wales’ difference from its English neighbour.

Bebbington, D.W. The Nonconformist Conscience: Chapel and Politics, 1870 – 1914. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1982.

June 28, 2007

Delyth George on Women Writers in Wales

Welsh literature before the latter half of the twentieth century is considered to have been something of a male preserve. It was a literature largely dominated by one genre – poetry, and within that genre one poetic form in particular was accorded the highest esteem, that is ‘cynghanedd’ or the ‘strict metres’. The formal complexities of the strict metres required that they be taught in special bardic schools, or through a close teacher-disciple relation, and such opportunities to learn the craft were not generally made available to women. Although feminist critics like Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan and Marged Haycock have recently drawn our attention to the fact that a few women did manage, against the odds, to make something pf a name for themselves under these adverse conditions, in general they were necessarily few and far between. (199)

George, Delyth. ‘The strains of transition: contemporary Welsh-language novelists’. Our Sister’s Land: The Changing Identities of Women in Wales. Ed. Jane Aaron, Teresa Rees, Sandra Betts and Moira Vicentelli. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994. 199 – 213.

June 26, 2007

R.S. Thomas, 'Those Others'

A gofid gwerin gyfan / Yn fy ngbri fel taerni tân. – DEWIEMRYS

I have looked long at this land,
Trying to understand
My place in it—-why,
With each fertile country
So free of its room,
This was the cramped womb
At last took me in
From the void of unbeing.

Hate takes a long time
To grow in, and mine
Has increased from birth;
Not for the brute earth
That is strong here and clean
And plain in its meaning
As none of the books are
That tell but of the war

Of heart with head, leaving
The wild birds to sing
The best songs; I find
This hate’s for my own kind,
For men of the Welsh race
Who brood with dark face
Over their thin navel
To learn what to sell;

Yet not for them all either,
There are still those other
Castaways on a sea
Of grass, who call to me,
Clinging to their doomed farms;
Their hearts though rough are warm
And firm, and their slow wake
Through time bleeds for our sake.

From Selected Poems: 1946-1968 (published 1986).

R.S. Thomas, 'A Peasant'

Iago Prytherch his name, though, be it allowed,
Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills,
Who pens a few sheep in a gap of cloud.
Docking mangels, chipping the green skin
From the yellow bones with a half-witted grin
Of satisfaction, or churning the crude earth
To a stiff sea of clods that glint in the wind—-
So are his days spent, his spittled mirth
Rarer than the sun that cracks the cheeks
Of the gaunt sky perhaps once in a week.
And then at night see him fixed in his chair
Motionless, except when he leans to gob in the fire.
There is something frightening in the vacancy of his mind.
His clothes, sour with years of sweat
And animal contact, shock the refined,
But affected, sense with their stark naturalness.
Yet this is your prototype, who, season by season
Against siege of rain and the wind’s attrition,
Preserves his stock, an impregnable fortress
Not to be stormed even in death’s confusion.
Remember him, then, for he, too, is a winner of wars,
Enduring like a tree under the curious stars.

From Selected Poems: 1946-1968 (published 1986).

R.S. Thomas, 'On the Farm'

There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.
There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.
Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.
There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?
I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.
And lastly there was the girl:
Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life’s dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.

From Selected Poems: 1946-1968 (published 1986).


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