Library of Wales celebrates the country’s authors
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.
17 thoughts on “Library of Wales celebrates the country’s authors”
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Well, I’m really glad to see a Library of Wales happening, even if it isn’t (yet?) what it should be. I’m embarrassed to see that I’ve never read any of these; I’ve heard of Rhys Davies, but that’s about it. I’ve read many books set in Wales, but they have mostly been fantasy YA novels, I guess, and perhaps usually written by English people?
Good point Jean – better to have it even with its flaws than let good books disappear into the ether. yes a lot of people do use Wales as a setting some more successfully than others of course
Any sort of best of project is not going to have complete agreement about what should be there, but it’s great that it will continue! It has gotten a good response then i take it? Do you feel like Welsh writers are being more recognized in general or do they still get lost in the crowd?
The majority of people in wales will not have heard of these authors. They are never mentioned in school lit classes for example and the only time you would ever come across them is you happened to read one of the Welsh literature/cultural journals.
Somehow that seems kind of sad.
Thanks to your blog, I’d already ordered The Alone to the Alone and a copy of Gwyn Thomas’s selected stories (the latter in another edition) a few months ago, and put Rhapsody on my waiting list. I now think I’m going to add Old Soldier Sahib, which will be *so* out of my comfort zone !
Very interesting. I’m no expert on Welsh literature but I do wonder what drove the choices. No R.S. Thomas? No Saunders Lewis? No Rhoda Broughton? I’m afraid I’ve only read one of the authors but none of these books so I think I may have to explore further… 🙂
I think some of the choices come down to a question of the author/title being out of print. R.S Thomas as far as I know is still in print for example as is Saunders Lewis. But the guy in the audience was right to challenge why they went for such a status-loaded name for the series when, as far as he could tell, it was the choice of one man
Oh dear, I haven’t read any of them… (though I have reviews of 7 novels from Wales on my blog, which is not bad for an Aussie, I think).
But it proves, I suppose, the need for these books to be promoted. In Australia some of our most notable writers went out of print, and recent initiatives to reissue them by various publishers (e.g. Text Classics) have been very well received. And the other thing is that reissuing them under a ‘brand’ makes them easy to find and distinguishes them from the deluge of new (and often not as good) releases.
Dont feel too bad about the fact you’ve not read these – I’ve lived in wales all my life yet not even heard of some of these authors until recent years. Persephone has done a great job in re-issuing long-forgotten but still worthy books, and doing so under that brand does give them more attention as you say. It’s just niggling me that they called it Library of Wales which gives it a kudos that I’m not sure is deserved because it implies that books not under that name are inferior which is absolutely not the case
Yes, I think one of the commercial publishers here has done something similar, which suggests that their commercial fiction has more kudos than other books…
Exactly. So unfair to the other authors
What a great idea, though, even if the selection has had some oddities. I’m afraid the only one I’ve read is Machen’s The Great God Pan, which I loved. Of the ones you’ve read, are there any you would particularly recommend? I’m thinking novels rather than non-fiction or poetry.
I’m still working my way through the list so hard to know what to recommend right now. But I’ll be sure to do reviews on them so you might find something that way that takes your fancy
Thank you for posting the list, Karen. Very interesting.
Have you read any of these? A lot of the authors were new to me I confess.