REVIEW by Ed Garland

NWR Issue r26

Creed (Honno Welsh Women’s Classics Series)

by Margiad Evans

Cover of Creed by Margiad Evans
 

While she was writing Creed, Margiad Evans’ father was dying in the room directly above her. She was twenty-seven years old and this was the fourth novel she produced in the five years leading up to 1936. Later in her life, in a letter to Gwyn Jones, she described one of her two distinct writing personalities as ‘the thump-thump one’. Creed is one of her thump-thump books. It begins in the rhythms of gloom and ends in the echoes of death. It has a furious sensitivity and it can’t stop picking at its own fabric. Evans keeps interrupting the story with her opinion of what she’s just written. ‘This is an odd way to tell a story – a bad way,’ she writes. ‘It splutters like a lamp with water in the oil.’ She judges her own characters: ‘What people! Wild, vehement, laughing, whose two hands are generosity and vice, and whose eyes are weapons!’ This judgement might be true, but most of the characters seem to leave their generosity-hands hanging while they get busy with their vices. That their eyes might be weapons is understandable because in Mill End, where they live, the lamps and the sky and the sun emit a hostile illumination. There’s a ‘stab of light,’ a ‘cadaverous glare’, piercing rays, a glitter that harasses. In the introduction to this new edition, part of Honno’s Welsh Women’s Classics series, Sue Asbee quite reasonably states that Creed is not an ‘easy read’. She’s right when she says it’s a ‘passionate, unconventional and fascinating’ book.

Asbee goes on to mention Evans’ ‘deep and mystical’ affinity with nature. In thump-thump mode, one effect of this affinity is that nature invades the characters’ bodies. Evans gives her people heads full of rain, hearts clogged by earth, and lungs reimagined as marsh plants. Mill End is a region of dubious abundance, located ‘at the bottom of the town on river level.’ It is ‘a busy quarter more concerned with producing than buying and selling.’ One thing it produces lots of – characteristic of Evans’ writing in general – is sound. There’s the ‘rattle of lorries,’ the ‘hissing of steam,’ the ‘churning’ of engines, the ‘clanking’ of trains over the iron-plate bridge, while ‘all day long men gabble and guffaw, children squabble on the pavements, footsteps break in and out of hearing, the streets groan with the strain.’ This rich clamour resonates in the characters’ behaviour. ‘What chance had voiceless calm against the yell of common dispute?’

The disputes begin with Mill End’s parson, Ifor Morriss, improvising a startling sermon to an ‘aghast congregation’ of nine people. It’s so disconcerting that one of them, the ironmonger’s clerk Francis Dollbright, follows Morriss home to accuse him, amongst much else, of ‘selfish delusion and satanic insinuation.’ Dollbright is then gripped by a spiritual crisis that leads him to resign from his job because he thinks his boss is immoral for living with another man’s wife. Dollbright’s own wife falls ill, and his moralistic dithering helps no-one. Domestic strife ripples outwards, from the Dollbright household, through a cast of murky and feverish characters. I don’t know what Evans thought of Zola, but she was a big fan of Emily Brontë.

While the characters wrestle with moral principles, their author regularly challenges the conventions of fiction. Asbee points out that Evans, isolated in Herefordshire, was considering the same questions of form as those of Virginia Woolf and TS Eliot were doing, simultaneously, in London. Towards the end, Evans interrupts her narrative to say she knows that many readers will have, by this point, put the book down. ‘I wish they would read to the end,’ she writes. ‘Maybe they would find a line of their own likeness, though no one is in my mind as I draw it. I own that I am here.’ She then delivers a brief essay on religion’s ties to spoken and written words: ‘I have heard [God’s] name sound wonderful and holy in a furious row outside the pub, and I have heard sanctified congregations worshipping literature.’ This could be a response to an earlier comment on literary dissatisfaction, when Ifor Morriss shakes his thumb at ‘a row of theological works’ in his bookcase and says: ‘No drink will bring a man to such a pass as reading. He is born with his own wisdom and it is driven out by such stuff as this.’

Evans’ passionate writing sometimes seems over-done during scenes of illness, and careless when she loads her dialogue with adverbs. Consecutive pages feature things like ‘he retorted unpleasantly,’ and ‘he demanded truculently’ and ‘said Dollbright, unabatedly’. But while we’re questioning creeds, maybe I only care about this because I’ve been seduced by the Church of Literary Fiction into believing adverbs are satanic. It’s only a small complaint anyway. Creed is a brilliantly uneasy novel by an extraordinary, under-appreciated writer.

Ed Garland won the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018 Aberystwyth University Prize for an Essay Collection this summer with essays offering a ‘sound map’ of literary fiction, including our own authors Niall Griffiths, Lewis Jones and others.

Buy this book at gwales.com



       


previous review: Up Top: From Lunatic Asylum to Community Care: A Century of the Mid Wales Mental Hospital
next review: The Snow Leopard, The Ice Bear, Tell Me A Dragon (Jackie Morris Retrospective)



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