It’s taken more than a decade but a government-backed initiative to celebrate the English-language literary heritage of Wales is on the cusp of a significant milestone. Since the Library of Wales project got underway in 2006, 49 titles have been published, many of them books that had been forgotten or were out of print. The 50th is due to hit the bookshops in a few months.
The Library of Wales series is a selection of English-language classics from Wales, ranging from novels to short stories, biographies and poetry. It’s funded by the Welsh Assembly Government through the Welsh Books Council as a way of sustaining the country’s heritage. When the project was announced in 2006 the intention was to o “…include the best of Welsh writing in English, as well as to showcase what has been unjustly neglected. ”
Have they succeeded?
It would be hard to challenge the inclusion of Raymond Williams in the list of books selected by the series editor Professor Dai Smith. Williams, who came from Monmouthshire, was one of the leading literary academics in the UK in the 1970s and 80s. His writings on politics, culture, the mass media and literature were influential in the developing field of Marxist criticism of literature. He has two titles in the Library of Wales series: his novel Border Country was actually the first book to be published in the Library of Wales series. Published in the 1960s it had been out of print for several years. I was expecting The Country and The City, in which he used alternating chapters on literature and social history to consider perceptions of rural and urban life, to be included. But instead we another novel, The Volunteers. Personally I would have opted for another of his academic works instead of the latter.
No surprises either to find the Rhondda author and broadcaster Gwyn Thomas included, also with three titles. I’ve read only one of these The Alone to the Alone and though I enjoyed it, I wonder if it’s too much a novel of its time and will not resonate as well in modern-day Wales.
Equally unsurprising to see the big guns Alun Lewis, Glyn Jones, Emyr Humphreys and Jack Jones amongst the selected authors.
A few choices did cause some raised eyebrows in the Booker household however. Carwyn by Alun Richards is a biography of one of the big names from the golden era of Welsh Rugby. I can’t help wondering if this is on the list because of the popularity of the subject rather than because it’s the best biography written by a Welsh author. I’m also lukewarm about the choice of autobiographical novel, Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve by Dannie Abse. I would have expected his inclusion to be more for his poetry than his prose.
The question of how decisions were made what to include came up in a discussion panel at the Hay Festival about the Library of Wales initiative. Unfortunately Dai Smith was ill so couldn’t attend to answer a challenge from an audience member so it was left to Phil George, Chairman of the Arts Council, to defend the selection. He didn’t convince the questioner that this wasn’t “The Dai Smith Library of Wales” rather than a generally acceptable selection of the best from Welsh writers.
But the Library of Wales is to continue. The series publishers, Parthian Books, will be issuing the 5oth title in September, with a new book from Stevie Davies who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001 with The Element of Water. It’s likely to find favour with one of the other Hay panelists, lecturer Tomos Owen, who wants to see more contemporary authors selected.
Here are all the 50 books in the series. Click on the title to read the description and order the book direct from Parthian.
- A Kingdom, James Hanley
- A Rope of Vines, Brenda Chamberlain
- A Time to Laugh, Rhys Davies
- All Things Betray Thee, Gwyn Thomas
- The Alone to the Alone, Gwyn Thomas
- Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve, Dannie Abse
- The Battle to the Weak, Hilda Vaughan
- Black Parade, Jack Jones
- Border Country, Raymond Williams
- Carwyn, Alun Richards
- The Caves of Alienation, Stuart Evans
- Congratulate the Devil, Howell Davies
- Country Dance, Margiad Evans
- Cwmardy, Lewis Jones
- Dai Country, Alun Richards
- Dat’s Love and Other Stories, Leonora Brito
- The Dark Philosophers, Gwyn Thomas
- Farewell Innocence, William Glynne-Jones
- Flame and Slag, Ron Berry
- Goodbye, Twentieth Century, Dannie Abse
- The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen
- The Heyday in the Blood, Geraint Goodwin
- The Hill of Dreams, Arthur Machen
- Home to an Empty House, Alun Richards
- I Sent a Letter to My Love, Bernice Rubens
- In the Green Tree, Alun Lewis
- Jampot Smith, Jeremy Brooks
- Make Room for the Jester, Stead Jones
- Old Soldier Sahib, Frank Richards
- Old Soldiers Never Die, Frank Richards
- Poetry 1900–2000, Meic Stephens (ed.)
- Rhapsody, Dorothy Edwards
- Ride the White Stallion, William Glynne-Jones
- So Long, Hector Bebb, Ron Berry
- Anthology of Sport, Gareth Williams (ed.)
- The Library of Wales Short Story Anthology Volume I, Dai Smith
- The Library of Wales Short Story Anthology Volume II, Dai Smith
- Turf or Stone, Margiad Evans
- The Valley, The City, The Village, Glyn Jones
- Voices of the Children, George Ewart Evans
- The Volunteers, Raymond Williams
- The Water-castle, Brenda Chamberlain
- We Live, Lewis Jones
- The Withered Root, Rhys Davies
- A Man’s Estate, Emyr Humphreys
- The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp W. H. Davies
- Young Emma, W.H. Davies
- In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl by Rachel Tresize
- Selected Stories, Rhys Davies
An Update: July 3, 2018
After I published this post, Richard Davies, the mastermind at Parthian, graciously pointed out that I had miscounted. I thought there were already 50 books published and the 51st would come out in September. But I inadvertently added a Raymond Williams text that isn’t really part of the Library of Wales series. I’ve now corrected my post.