REVIEW by Prof Tony Brown

NWR Issue 106

Story Volume 1 and Story Volume 2

by Dai Smith (ed)

It is striking how important a genre the short story has been in the English-language writing of Wales; after poetry it is our most important literary form. There are perhaps practical and economic reasons for this. Rhys Davies apart, most Welsh writers in the medium of English in the pre-War period were part-time, having day jobs; as the American short story writer Raymond Carver once commented, in such circumstances the time and energy for novel writing is in short supply. At least as important for that pre-War generation, of course, was the practical fact that there were places in which to publish short stories, in the numerous magazines that existed in London and Dublin and then in Gwyn Jones’ Welsh Review.

As I have suggested elsewhere, there may also be more fundamental reasons, inherent in the genre itself, which drew so many anglophone Welsh writers, to write in this form. As long ago as 1963, Frank O’Connor commented in his path-finding study, The Lonely Voice, that, in its fragmentariness, its concern with the small detached group of characters or the solitary individual within the community, the short story articulates the experience of what O’Connor calls ‘submerged population groups’. A number of critics have built on O’Connor’s study, in particular Clare Hanson, who sees the form as one which has frequently expressed the experience of those individuals and groups who are ‘not part of official or “high” cultural hegemony’, individuals and groups outside the centres of cultural and political power: ‘It is the chosen form of the exile… the writer who longs for a return to a home culture which is denied him.’ This seems to be a resonant set of ideas when one applies them to Wales’ English-speaking writers, authors writing with an awareness that they were not English (and for the most part away from the centres of English cultural hegemony) but also acutely aware that they were shut out from the rich Welsh-language cultural heritage of their ‘home’ country. While this was certainly the situation of that dazzling first generation of Welsh writers in English, most of whom expressed themselves in the precision of the short story as well as in poetry – Glyn Jones, Dylan Thomas, Alun Lewis – these cultural tensions continue in some ways up to the present, though of course our contemporary short-story writers work with an awareness of their predecessors, and to some degree in conversation with them...

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previous review: Travel Writing and Wales
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