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As has been suggested above, the standard view, not just of the English-language short story in Wales, but very often of Anglo-Welsh literature in general, has been largely formed and maintained by the series of anthologies beginning in 1941 with Gwyn Jones`s Welsh Short Stories, published by Penguin Books.


One has only to look at the entry for `The Short Story in English` in the New Companion to the Literature of Wales (1998) to see just how far critical opinion has been limited by these parameters. There is some mention in the entry of writers prior to 1915, though they are dismissed as creators of sentimental tales or mere sketches, while the decline in the commercial market for short fiction by about 1950 is seen almost as marking the end of the Anglo-Welsh short story, with a few exceptions in the work of Emyr Humphreys, Alun Richards, Ron Berry and Leslie Norris. The expansion of the field since 1993 (at least eleven anthologies, mostly of new writing, were published between 1994 and 2000) is mentioned only in connection with new women writers, notably Glenda Beagan and Catherine Merriman.

In fairness to the anonymous author(s) of the entry in the New Companion, it should be said that the amount of updating possible in this new edition was restricted by economic factors, and the work of revision was completed a year or so before its publication. More importantly, though, the lack of good frequent reviewing sources in Wales makes following new authors and new trends in Welsh writing in English very difficult indeed, even for those committed to the literature. And while there is no one centre where the books that make up that literature can be seen en masse, critics and literary historians are likely to have to rely for their overall view of the field on anthologies published by London publishers who are very wary indeed about risking their money and reputation on any but the tried and tested names.

In these circumstances it is worth looking in some detail at the Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories, edited by Alun Richards and published in 1976; quite apart from being one of the few Anglo-Welsh books available in bookshops across Wales, both the national chains and the dedicated independents like Siop y Werin or Siop y Pentan, this anthology featured on a number of school and college syllabuses. What might be described as an updated version, the New Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories, also edited by Alun Richards, appeared in 1993, but of its twenty-eight authors, nineteen had been included in the earlier anthology, so that the general picture is much the same.

a) Statistics

There are 24 authors in this collection, of whom two thirds (16) are English-language writers and one third (8) Welsh-language writers in translation. There are 19 men and 5 women (of whom 3 are Welsh-language writers - the only woman writer in the canon of 8 is the Welsh-language author Kate Roberts).

Of the 24 writers, 15 were born before 1920, and 9 after that date; the youngest writer included (Moira Dearnley) was born in 1942, and was 34 when the anthology was published.

b) Subject Matter

If one considers the industrial `Valleys` image often supposed to be central to Anglo-Welsh prose writing, the subject matter in this anthology is a little surprising. Ten of the stories are set in rural Wales, and only four in the Valleys (plus one each on mining and steel-making); five of the stories are effectively monologues describing a woman`s emotional life and/or a crisis in this. Only two stories are set in or describe childhood, which is usually said to be an important Anglo-Welsh theme, and the rural Wales described mostly belongs in the timeless past, not in the present day world of second homes and rural depopulation.

In his introduction Alun Richards comments: `Almost all the stories in this book written by Welsh men and women show a concern for a particular landscape or community. Perhaps the reason for this awareness of others is that so many of us have lived in such crowded places, and, while it is not always healthy, it is a part of the Welsh experience which is very different from that of our neighbours.` How far this is true is debatable - a North Walian sheep farm is hardly a `crowded place`, certainly as against the long working class streets of, for instance, a Midland town like Coventry or Nottingham, or the small streets of Stepney or Bethnal Green. But this may be the point - whatever his own beliefs or experience might tell him, Richards`s definition of the stories and writers he has included is given in terms of what a middle-class English audience would expect to see from a country they associate with the Labour Party, Aneurin Bevan and the National Health Service, miners and valley terraces, and Snowdonia. And behind the quotation is the old insistence that being an Anglo-Welsh writer is about place, not the writer him or her self, so that Emyr Humphreys is only Anglo-Welsh when he writes about Wales, not when he writes about Italy or the Home Counties.

Later Alun Richards comments on the slightly forced `Welshness` of some of the Anglo-Welsh writers, and says that though this may be partly due to `the seductive pressure of those who like to see their Welshmen as clowns or characters`, we also weave our own myths and need little encouragement to play the clown. On the other hand, if one is obliged to select for `visible Welshness` rather than for the work of Welsh writers (however one defines that term), then the result is likely to be somewhat forced. The obvious example of this is Brynmor Jones`s A Bibliography of Anglo-Welsh Literature 1900-1965, which includes only books with a Welsh setting, so that Emyr Humphreys is only half there and A.J. Cronin and Harold Chapin feature because they wrote about miners in South Wales in individual novels or plays.

c) Gender Balance

The first, anonymous Welsh Short Stories (1937) included eight women and eighteen men; the next two (1941 and 1956), with Gwyn Jones as editor, had only two women in each, as against fourteen and sixteen men respectively. George Ewart Evans (1959) included three women, and Alun Richards goes up to five in 1976. However, if one excludes the Welsh-language writers for the moment, the totals are 7, 1, 1, 2 and 2 respectively; Kate Roberts, the only woman in the canon is a Welsh-language writer.

It is noteworthy, of course, that the recent Honno anthologies apart, every anthology has been edited by a man (and Honno is by definition a women`s press); also the Welsh-language advisors or editors seem to be more generous as regards women than their English-language counterparts, in percentages, if not in numbers. For instance, the 1971 Twenty Five Welsh Short Stories has two English-language women as against thirteen men, but two women against eight men on the Welsh-language side. However, if one counts all the standard anthologies up to 1988, when John Davies`s The Green Bridge was published, then thirteen English-language women writers are included altogether, nine of them only once, and even on this basis there are clearly enough women writers to justify a more substantial representation.

Chauvinism apart, it may be that the work of Anglo-Welsh women writers is less obviously `Welsh`, and therefore less likely to be selected - after all, if a collection is advertised by its title as being Welsh, readers might well be disappointed to find short stories set elsewhere, whatever the patriotic credentials of the authors. There is also a class difference, since earlier women writers tended to come from the landed gentry or the middle classes, and this did not, perhaps, sit too well with an editorial background of Valleys socialism. Interestingly, if women writers are under-represented, women as subjects are not. They feature as main characters in eleven of the twenty-four stories in the 1976 Penguin anthology - though they do tend to be victims or passive sufferers, enduring emotional crises, rather than active shapers of their fate.(NB It is perhaps worth noting here that the three recent Honno anthologies would appear to have followed the Gwyn Jones model in selecting largely from writers known to the editors; a substantial number of those included have an academic background of some sort.  However any limiting tendency this might have is offset by the choice of writers in the various current Parthian Books anthologies, which are often the product of competitions; there is some overlapping of contributors, but not enough to be significant.)

d)  Stories Ancient and Modern

The world of the stories in the 1976 Penguin anthology is largely rural or old-fashioned or eccentric; a world out of touch with today. Even the Welsh-language stories by younger writers seem to be looking back twenty or thirty years (forty or fifty by now, in 2003), to their authors` youth - or not so much looking back - nostalgia works in Dylan Thomas`s `Extraordinary Little Cough` - as written as if that experience was contemporary. There was other material available in 1976, and, other things being equal, the Penguin anthology could have been a prose equivalent of that excellent anthology of new poets, Green Horse (1978) - but then Green Horse was published in Wales, with Welsh Arts Council backing, and its editors probably had more freedom to please themselves. Literary history is never simply a matter of literary quality.

Naturally, because short stories are short, they tend to focus on the odd, the unlikely, the unusual. Alun Richards`s own `Hon. Sec. (R.F.C.)` is set against the background of a rugby club, but it is a study of the minutiae of the relationship between Elgar Davies, the Hon. Sec. himself, and his committee and club members, demonstrated in the figure of Bashie Williams, young and a bit of a lout, who in the end turns out to be as much of a misfit as Elgar. As a character study of Elgar it is subtle and often very witty, but Elgar could be an official of any society anywhere without affecting the purpose of the story, and the rugby background, with all its nineteen seventies contemporary possibilities - shamateurism, for example, or the anti-apartheid movement - is not explored. This should not, of course, be seen as a criticism of what is an excellent story, but rather as a comment on the themes and style of the Anglo-Welsh short story in general.

Caradoc Evans apart (and his risk was not entirely a literary matter), Anglo-Welsh short story writers, at least as shown in the anthologies, do not take risks. Their work is subtle and elegant, but not the kind of writing to grab the reader by the throat and make him/her listen. There may be very good reasons for this. Wales is small and the consequences of stepping out of line or saying too much can be catastrophic - the tensions created by Caradoc still boil to the surface from time to time, almost a hundred years after My People was published, and no amount of critical studies pointing out the power of his writing can alter that. Indeed, this may well be why writers have tended to write about childhood or the past; the adult present could be too dangerous when one lives `in such crowded places`. Happily, if this was the case, it is rapidly ceasing to be so.

Curiously, the stories in the 1976 anthology, at least those by Anglo-Welsh writers, are often stories of loss; they end in tears, or at least in compromise. Gwyn Thomas sets the note in `The Teacher`: `Our voices, when we came to the hymn, were low, uncertain and full of dark-tipped reservations, as we came to the lines urging a shroud of acceptance for the outrage of goodness betrayed, the pushing away of lives still creative into the darkness of death and waste.` Whatever happened to the short story writers hailed by H.E. Bates - those who had decided `to paint in the open air`, bringing `revelations of astonishing beauty, colour, drama, truth`, the world of the classic Anglo-Welsh short story still has more than a hint of the `sour stone, hideous defamation and colourless mountains` that Bates believed to have been superseded.

The Welsh-language tradition, however, appears to be much less downbeat - `The Squire of Havilah`, by T. Hughes Jones, is a fine example. It is the story of a man who becomes obsessed with a dream that takes him out of his very ordinary life and gives him a vision of splendour. In worldly terms he is first a failure and then a madman, but in his own terms he has boundless wealth and a meaning to his life, and he makes an interesting contrast with Elgar Davies, whose devotion to his club is a cause of all sorts of petty jealousies and pains. Perhaps one might also contrast the background of `The Squire of Havilah` with the social setting of Caradoc Evans`s stories; they are not too different - but T. Hughes Jones`s farmers, if unsophisticated, are also intelligent. And though Hughes Jones looks at his characters with a degree of irony, he also does so with understanding; his characters sermonise because that way of expressing themselves is natural to them. (In fairness, Caradoc Evans never experienced daily existence in rural Wales as a mature adult until the end of his life, and his last stories were softer in tone; what one sees as injustice, ugliness and cruelty as a child are often very different seen through the eyes of maturity.)

Eight of those in the anthology are Welsh-language writers; they include the two who were part of Gwyn Jones`s canon, Kate Roberts and D.J. Williams, while E. Tegla Davies and T. Hughes Jones come from that same older generation. Otherwise there are two men and two women, who in addition to being accomplished writers of short fiction, also work in a variety of literary forms ranging from scripts for television `soaps` to novels and critical studies. Emyr Humphreys, perhaps best known as an English-language novelist, is also a poet and cultural historian, and has published Welsh-language plays and other material. Although Humphreys is unusually prolific, writing across such a range of forms might almost be described as standard in the literature of Wales; very few writers are limited to one format - though they may not always have found homes for the full variety of their output.           

If H.E. Bates was somewhat premature in bidding farewell to `the poor dead Welsh colliery-chapel donkey` and hailing his new school of short story writing Impressionists, that event has surely taken place by now. Although `Anglo-Welsh literature` still has its uses as a defining term for the Valleys-dominated writing of the period between 1915 and 1955, `The First Forty Years`, as Gwyn Jones called it,  `Welsh writing in English` is something much more inclusive, much more relevant to twenty-first century Wales - though there are still difficulties to be overcome in outlining what is a much wider and more deeply rooted tradition than Gwyn Jones ever realised. This bibliography is simply an early attempt to chart some of the routes and harbours on the passage to a new continent, following in the wake of those others who first thought the journey possible: Glyn Jones, Roland Mathias and in particular Raymond Garlick who first told us about the Anglo-Welsh almost fifty years ago in Bangor.

 

Link to PART I

Link to PART III