As the sub-title suggests, this is in no way a survey of the whole field, but a very personal, and therefore necessarily selective view, concentrating on those authors with whom Jeremy Hooker has engaged deeply, and in most cases over decades of re-reading and re-interpretation.
Emyr Humphreys, Alun Lewis, David Jones, Roland Mathias, Tony Conran, John Cowper Powys, are all the subjects of individual essays, while Gillian Clarke appears in two contexts, first with Hilary Llewellyn-Williams and Anne Cluysenaar in a study of three women poets, and once with R. S. Thomas and David Jones in a discussion of juxtaposed Welsh and English cultural elements.
What do these authors have in common from Hooker's perspective? They are mostly borderers in some sense of the word, displaced geographically or linguistically, but by that very token they can serve as bridges by which the author, a Wessex man, can approach the matter of Wales. They are also concerned with the landscape of rural Wales perceived either as history or as the site of numinous experience, or best of all as both, for what characterises Jeremy Hooker is a poetic sensibility that manages to be religious (in the broadest sense of the word) while not losing touch with social reality.
The book is therefore both a dialogue with the authors concerned and a kind of inward quest but it also contains two more general essays which touch, among other things, on Anglo-Welsh criticism, which Hooker has seen develop slowly into an academic discipline. The author's own long commitment to this field, whether living in Wales or England, his staunchly non-metropolitan English perspective, and his willingness to reassess his own earlier reactions and admit misunderstandings, have all earned him the quiet authority to make occasional gentle strictures, as when he deplores our persisting Welsh seeking, despite the growth of indigenous literary studies, of validation from outside.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Imagining Wales is a major new interpretation of literary images of Wales and Welshness in the twentieth century. It is the product of more than thirty years’ engagement with the subject by an English critic who has played a pioneering role in the field, and who brings to it an outsider’s detachment, together with an informed and sympathetic interest.
Jeremy Hooker focuses on a number of modern Welsh writers in English, including Emyr Humphreys, David Jones, John Cowper Powys, Alun Lewis, R. S. Thomas and Gillian Clarke, in order to explore the different ways in which these writers shape visions of Wales in their work and thereby create what R. S. Thomas described as the ‘true Wales of [the] imagination’.
Through careful close readings of the texts under discussion, Jeremy Hooker examines the sense of imaginative possibility that these writers find in the ‘border’ situation between their Welsh and English inheritances and provides a significant analysis of the question of Welsh identity in the twentieth century.
Jeremy Hooker is Professor of English Literature at the University of Glamorgan. In addition to publishing literary criticism, including Writers in a Landscape (1996) and monographs on David Jones and John Cowper Powys, he is the author of ten collections of poems, the most recent of which is Our Lady of Europe (1997).