London-Welsh writing 1890-1915: Ernest Rhys, Arthur Machen, W.H. Davies, and Caradoc Evans
Owen, Tomos Llywelyn
This thesis explores the emergence of a Welsh voice in exile in London at the turn of the twentieth century. Through readings of works by four London-Welsh writers active during the period 1890-1915 - Ernest Rhys (1859-1946), Arthur Machen (1863-1947), W. H. Davies (1871-1940) and Caradoc Evans (1878-1945) - it argues that the London context of these works makes possible the construction of various modes of Welsh identity. The introduction begins by noting how theorists of national identity have identified cultural practices, including literature, as important in shaping the imagined community of the nation. It then incorporates, and adapts, Raymond Williams's thinking about the interplay of residual, dominant, and emergent currents operating within a culture by arguing that residual elements within a society can be harnessed and endowed with the potential to become newly emergent. The introduction concludes by identifying Matthew Arnold's description of the Celt in his On the Study of Celtic Literature (1867) as a residual element. Nevertheless, it points out how, in various ways, Arnold's Celt is recuperated by London-Welsh writers (among others) at the turn of the twentieth century. Chapter One argues that the work of Ernest Rhys constructs a self-conscious Welsh literary tradition by reclaiming Welsh-language literature and Arnold's Celt and mobilising them as part of a cultural-nationalist aesthetic London is an important influence on this development for material and aesthetic reasons. Chapter Two considers how Celtic history and mythology haunt the representation of the Gwent border country in the work of Arthur Machen, arguing that Machen's Celt is also derived from Arnold but recast as a spectral, ghosdy figure. Chapter Three discusses Machen's fellow son of Gwent, W. H. Davies. Davies's work, both poetry and prose, frequendy contrasts country and city, yet this chapter argues that Davies's work articulates a hybrid voice which anticipates several of the themes and techniques present in later Welsh writing in English. Chapter Four extends this by considering the early work of Caradoc Evans, whose early 'Cockney' stories carry structural and thematic similarities with both Davies's poetry and his own later collections. By this reading, Evans's My People (1915) stands as a text which inherits earlier works and draws on an already-existing London-Welsh literary culture. This thesis concludes by arguing that the London context to these writers' works makes possible the consolidation of a Welsh literary structure of feeling into an emergent literary voice in English: London enables each of these writers to reassess their relationship with a Wales left behind, but a Wales which nonetheless provides an impetus to new creative developments.
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