It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of the late Professor Gwyn Jones on the development and definition of English-language writing in Wales.


He was himself a distinguished novelist and short story writer; The Welsh Review, the magazine he founded and edited between February and November 1939 and from March 1944-December 1948, was undoubtedly the most significant publication of its kind before the arrival of the Anglo-Welsh Review in the nineteen fifties; and he was Chairman of the Welsh Committee of the Arts Council from 1957 to 1967, when it was re-established as the Welsh Arts Council (remaining very much an eminence grise thereafter). Perhaps even more importantly, he was the first serious critic of what was then known as Anglo-Welsh literature; some Welsh-language critics, beginning with Saunders Lewis in 1939, had written on English language writers in Wales, but they had tended to see them as a threat to the older tradition, and had been chiefly concerned with proving that their work had not created a separate literature. It was Gwyn Jones in his W.D. Thomas Memorial Lecture of 1957 - The First Forty Years: some notes on Anglo-Welsh literature - who mapped out the scope and writers of what he saw as a tradition that began in 1915 with the publication of Caradoc Evans`s My People, and which was very largely confined to Glamorgan, with occasional outliers on the Border and in Carmarthenshire.Equally importantly, he backed this view with a series of short story anthologies which have been for many readers their only access to Welsh writing in English. Although there have been a number of attempts over the last half century to establish a reasonably comprehensive resource centre for Anglo-Welsh studies, English language writing in Wales has never attracted the same degree of support as Welsh language literature, and no-one has had an assigned responsibility for recording or collecting its texts. (Many of the relevant books are held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, but they are not accessible as a specific body of work, only as the products of particular authors, and while individual public libraries across Wales often have valuable collections of `local authors`, these books are usually part of a special collection and, as such, only available on request and on site. Certain universities -   the University of Glamorgan, for instance, or Swansea, where CREW, the Centre for Research into Welsh Writing in English is based - have significant collections which are available to students, but specialist bibliographical resources are still needed so that these can be opened up to greater use.) Hence the importance of Gwyn Jones`s anthologies, published in London by Penguin Books and by Oxford University Press, and so available everywhere as a taster for the literature as a whole.His initial anthology, Welsh Short Stories, which appeared in January 1941, under the strictures of wartime publishing, reappeared in expanded form in 1956, in Oxford University Press`s World Classics series; a new edition, also published by Oxford University Press, appeared in 1971, and after Gwyn Jones`s semi-retirement, Alun Richards edited what are in practice another two enlarged versions of the original, The Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories (1976) and The New Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories (1993). The 1976 volume was particularly significant, because it was adopted for school and college use, sometimes as an examination text. The writers included in the five anthologies vary; certain names drop out and newer writers take their place, but all of them include a core element - `the canon` - of some eight names, plus another two who appear in all but one collection, while the additional authors would seem to have been selected on much the same criteria, basically male and from South Wales.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Gwyn Jones`s view of what constitutes Welsh writing in English has dominated almost all approaches to that literature. (Not least because a significant number of the writers included in his anthologies were also poets and might, like himself, be described as `Plant Caradoc` - Caradoc being the iconoclastic short story writer Caradoc Evans; this inevitably tinged Anglo-Welsh writing as a whole with the same gloomy shadows.)

However, though Gwyn Jones was to be so influential in the history of Welsh writing in English, he was not the first in that field, since his 1941 volume had a predecessor in the shape of an anthology published by Faber and Faber in 1937; this was the original Welsh Short Stories. The nineteen thirties were a good time for writers from the Celtic fringe; Ireland had a high profile, and though Scottish writers were perhaps a little less obvious, they too had their outlets in the wider world, while even Wales had its moment in the sun (cf. H.E. Bates.) Magazines such as  Life and Letters Today, the Adelphi, even Poetry Chicago published the poems and stories of Glyn Jones, Dylan Thomas and their fellows, and they found a welcoming audience in London.

This was probably just as well, since it is difficult to see how that generation could have established their careers solely (or, indeed, at all ) in Wales. There was an audience for a certain kind of Welsh writing in English, but not for anything that could be defined as high art. Even Jack Jones (who was in practice rather less homespun than his novels suggested - he had adapted the village storyteller style to suit his own purposes) was published in London; he profited, no doubt, from his proletarian background, as did Lewis Jones and B.L. Coombes, in those days of the Left Wing Book Club and Gollancz`s yellow book jackets. In any case, apart from Gwyn Jones`s Penmark Press and Keidrych Rhys`s Druid Press in Carmarthen, there would be no dedicated English-language publishers in Wales for another generation. (Both of these earlier presses were linked to magazines, the Penmark Press to The Welsh Review and the Druid Press to Keidrych Rhys`s Wales, this latter journal being rather more political and poetical that Gwyn Jones`s review. It is a precedent followed more recently by Poetry Wales press, aka Seren Books, and the new Planet imprint.)

Some idea of the position of these Anglo-Welsh writers vis-a-vis the English audience can be got from H.E. Bates`s comments in The Modern Short Story (1942). However strongly Gwyn Jones supported the Caradoc Evans school of writing, English readers had clearly had enough of it, and it is worth quoting Bates at some length:

An Irish play in London is an event; a Welsh play [with exceptions like Mr. Emlyn Williams`s The Corn is Green, and the film The Happy Valley] gets its London production, if it gets it at all, in a back-street little theatre, and is them shipped back to Wales in the next empty coal truck. This is also true of Welsh novels; truer of short stories. In defence of the English attitude it must be said that Welsh writers, depressed,  appalled and angered by that sour parochial gloom which the very sensitive feel as they cross the border, used for many years a stereotyped pattern, of which colliery valleys, chapels, meanness, avarice, the dole, the sacred front room, revivals and revolts and love-in-the-entry were the inevitable parts. Readers began to know what to expect; and they had a right to expect, if they were to be interested in Welsh literature at all, a  change of mood. There is no doubt that this change has come. In Best Short Stories, 1940: English, for example, no less than one-third of the chosen stories are Welsh, an event for which there is no precedent in the twenty-five years of that series. Margiad Evans, Rhys Davies, Geraint Goodwin, Edgar Howard, Glyn Jones, Gwyn Jones and Alun Lewis contribute these stories, most of which are taken from the Welsh Review, itself a proof of the vitality of an independent Welsh literature. To this list should be added the name of Dylan Thomas, who has brought us the dream-fantasy story, a  vocabulary of lavish poetic delirium by which the short story makes yet another turn of development (see such a story as `The Orchards`).                           

The first Faber anthology (a second appeared twenty-two years later, in 1959) covered a wider range than Gwyn Jones`s selection. It included twenty-six writers, eighteen men and eight women, and its time-span stretched from the late Victorian Allen Raine to the rising star of Dylan Thomas. In 1937 very few of those included had published collections of stories; Caradoc Evans`s three controversial volumes had come out between 1915 and 1919, but it was 1927 before Rhys Davies brought out his first volume, and Geraint Goodwin, Glyn Jones and Dylan Thomas were all products of the Thirties as far as their stories were concerned. Despite this, the anonymous editors of the 1937 anthology clearly had no difficulty in finding twenty-six short story writers, and fifteen of these appeared in later anthologies - a much better record than that of A.G. Prys-Jones`s pioneering poetry anthology, very few of whose contributors have survived. (And though writers like Hilda Vaughan, Eiluned Lewis and H.M. Vaughan did not occur in later collections, they did make their own marks elsewhere, as novelists or social historians.)

Curiously, as mentioned above, the Faber anthology had no named editor, and it appears to have been a joint enterprise; one of those involved was the novelist and historian Elisabeth Inglis-Jones, and possibly it was she who was responsible for the generous number of women writers included. A publisher`s note also thanked Llewelyn Wyn Griffith, James Hanley and Arthur Jones.

The next two anthologies to be published were both edited by Gwyn Jones, and they were both somewhat narrower in scope. No doubt the 1941 volume was limited by wartime paper restrictions, but it included just sixteen writers, only two of whom were women; in the 1956 edition the total rose to eighteen - though there were still only two women. Already the pattern was clear; the three anthologies had established a core of writers who would form the heart of any future collection. Certain others would be added as they came to maturity - Alun Lewis, Gwyn Thomas, Leslie Norris, Emyr Humphreys - but the successive collections would continue to reflect the high spot of the Thirties rather than the changing face of Anglo-Welsh writing. Indeed, it seems likely that Gwyn Jones never quite came to terms with the idea of a Second Flowering of Anglo-Welsh literature. In Being and Belonging, the 1977 BBC Wales Annual Radio Lecture, he speaks only of the writers of the First Flowering in the Thirties; Tony Conran, Gwyn Williams and Joseph Clancy are mentioned as translators and Raymond Garlick as a literary historian, but no-one else from what was by then a varied and flourishing literary scene.

Perhaps one might also suggest that the selection of writers inevitably reflected Gwyn Jones`s own literary circle; hence the inclusion of Margiad Evans and her sister Sian, established now under the Border Writers section of Welsh writing in English, but less obviously relevant to the narrower mid-twentieth century definition of Anglo-Welsh writing.

However, none of the above should be seen as a criticism of what was, by all standards, a fine contribution to the field of Welsh writing in English by a remarkable man; the points need to be made purely as a matter of historical record (and of justice to those who worked outside the Welsh Review sphere of influence).

One might also note that `Welsh` in the title of these anthologies meant Welsh in the wider sense, since they also included Welsh language writers in translation. H.E. Bates particularly commended the `quiet realism` of Kate Roberts `who has written a series of remarkable stories in Welsh and who has the distinction of being, like Tchehov, intelligently and beautifully translated`. The Caradoc Evans controversy was still very much alive at that point (and still raises its unhelpful head from time to time, as in a recent issue of A470); whether the Welsh-language literary establishment was happy about the inclusion of translations, one does not know, but these provided what was, in prose at least, a first, important window onto the senior literary tradition for those without the language. (I can certainly vouch for the influence of Kate Roberts`s stories, read in Wyn Griffith`s fine translations, on my own work.)

The 1959 Faber anthology was an updating of its 1937 predecessor and, like the earlier book, covered a wider range of authors than the Gwyn Jones anthologies. The editor was George Ewart Evans, best known from his later career as a collector and populariser of country lore in volumes like The Horse in The Furrow, but also a short story writer. Evans`s Welsh Short Stories did contain the eight `core` authors: Caradoc Evans, Rhys Davies, Geraint Goodwin, Glyn Jones, Gwyn Jones, Dylan Thomas, Kate Roberts and D.J. Williams, but seven of its authors do not appear in any other of the `classic` anthologies, and three more appeared only once elsewhere. Interestingly, most of the ten `new` writers had literary track records elsewhere, as poets, for example (Roland Mathias) or novelists (Cledwyn Hughes, William Glynne-Jones, Glyn Daniel) but, Roland Mathias apart, they rarely feature in critical accounts of Welsh writing in English - perhaps because they lacked the imprimatur of a Gwyn Jones anthology ?

 When the final Gwyn Jones anthology appeared twelve years later, in 1971, it was very much the mixture as before, except that there was a much larger representation of Welsh-language authors in translation: ten out of the twenty-five writers included in the book.

Yet this collection, Twenty-Five Welsh Short Stories, appeared against a very different background. In 1956 - and even in 1959 - it had still been possible to see Anglo-Welsh writing as a kind of small-scale regional literature which mainly looked to London for its outlets and audience, and which had little or no contact with Welsh-language writing. By 1971 this was no longer true, and the two main reasons for the change were the setting-up of the Welsh Arts Council, with Meic Stephens, founder of Poetry Wales, as the officer in charge of its Literature Department, and the establishment of the English Language Section of Yr Academi Gymreig. Now at last Welsh- and English-language writers were working together, notably on the pan-Celtic Taliesin Congress of 1969, and hence, no doubt, the much enlarged selection of Welsh-language authors in Twenty-Five Welsh Short Stories; these were selected by Islwyn Ffowc Elis, not someone previously known for any enthusiasm for translations from the Welsh. Not only this; now there were opportunities for English-language writers to be published in Wales for a Welsh audience (small, but committed - and very often Welsh-speaking. A great deal is owed to the Welsh-language magazines and writers who helped to make this possible, and provided a reviewing platform when the English-language media were not interested.)    

One thing that the English Language Section of Yr Academi Gymreig realised from the beginning was the need to become involved with the world of education. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, if Anglo-Welsh writers could find a place on the school syllabus, it would surely help to extend their audience (and their sales, as the poets included in Welsh Voices had discovered when the book was included in the A-Level syllabus); and secondly, acceptance by the educational establishment, in particular the universities, would confer a welcome degree of legitimacy on the subject. From 1971-3 the Section organised three weekend conferences on Anglo-Welsh writing aimed particularly at teachers; these featured respectively, poetry and the short story, drama (with Gwyn Thomas as guest star) and the novel (with Richard Hughes, at Coleg Harlech), while members such as Ned Thomas, Sam Adams and Richard Poole helped to carry the subject into higher education circles.

It was against this background that a new series of anthologies began to appear. The Shining Pyramid (1970) edited by Sam Adams and Roland Mathias, was the first to exclude Welsh language authors, and was evidently aimed at the education market. Twenty-Five Welsh Short Stories arrived in the following year, and in 1976 Penguin Books returned to the scene with The Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories, edited by Alun Richards; nine of its English-language writers were inherited from previous anthologies, seven were new (but mostly already established as novelists and/or poets). There was then a gap of twelve years until The Green Bridge appeared in 1988. This anthology, edited by John Davies, poet and teacher, was to a large extent the offspring of a Welsh Office project on the teaching of Welsh writing in English in secondary schools. (The project itself, though funded by the Welsh Office, was not seriously promoted by it in schools, and proved something of a wasted opportunity.) The Green Bridge also included only English-language writers, and five of those were new entries.     

And yet the publication of these anthologies, though they established a canon of accepted authors and provided a platform for a number of other writers of short fiction, still left a problem to be solved. However many anthologies were published, there was very little space for new authors to show their ability, and this simply reinforced the existing reliance on a tried and trusted selection of writers and stories. The Welsh Arts Council organised a competition for short fiction in the early nineteen seventies, and the successful entries in this were published in The Old Man of the Mist (1974), while two `maverick` anthologies, Dismays and Rainbows (1979) and Pieces of Eight (1982) were both edited by Robert Nisbet, himself a successful short story writer who, like most of those he included in his two anthologies, never appeared in the `standard` collections. There were also opportunities for publication in the various magazines, notably the Anglo-Welsh Review, its successor The New Welsh Review, Planet and Cambrensis. In most of these, short story writers had to struggle for space alongside poets, reviewers and critics, but Cambrensis, a true labour of love on the part of its editor, Arthur Smith, was, and is, entirely devoted to the short story. There were also a few publishers who were prepared to take a chance on the reputedly unsaleable category of short fiction - Alun Books with individual collections in the eighties and nineties, Seren Books, Parthian Books and Honno in the nineties, publishing both individual collections and anthologies. These were very largely made up of new work/writers, though the classics were not forgotten and 1993 saw the publication of The New Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories; rumour has it that the editor, Alun Richards, was asked to include much the same authors as the 1976 volume, but with different stories.

If this stipulation ever existed, it was probably a good thing, since it ensured that the work of those writers who had helped to form the Anglo-Welsh tradition was still available. Meanwhile Meic Stephens provided translations of many of the leading modern Welsh-language short story writers in A White Afternoon (1998) and Honno`s A View Across the Valley (also 1998) explored Welsh women`s writing from 1850-1950 (interestingly, many of the earlier writers in the Honno anthology wrote mainly in Welsh; the separation of the two parts of the literature of Wales seems to have been largely a twentieth century phenomenon).

Some ten anthologies of new short fiction have been published in Wales since 1993, mostly by Honno and Parthian Books. Welsh settings and Welsh characters are much less obvious now, and the women writers included, in particular, are often only marginally Welsh in the older sense - some have lived away from Wales for many years, some are `incomers`, some students and/or `just passing through`. Yet this does not necessarily mean, as is sometimes suggested, that Anglo-Welsh literature is a spent tradition. Welsh-language writers, possessing the obvious birthmark of the language, have never been confined by the need to write only or mainly about Wales, and if being Welsh means anything, it surely lies deeper than calling one`s characters Dai and Blodwen and setting the action in Blaenavon or Betws-y-coed. How that deeper Welshness manifests itself for English-language writers will no doubt be a subject for future critics and literary historians, but I suspect that we are only at the beginning of the story, not its end. 

Link to PART II

Link to PART III