This, the third volume in a splendid series of scholarly studies edited by Professor Wynn Thomas entitled Writing Wales in English, confirms the critical significance of the work of his Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language of Wales. Kirsti Bohatas accessible and refreshingly original readings of selected twentieth-century Anglophone Welsh authors (generally preceded by heavier but nonetheless illuminating engagement with literary and postcolonial theory) mark a significant advance in our understanding of the contemporary Welsh condition.
That condition, as Glyn Jones impressed upon us, is one in which the dragon has two tongues - two heads also, if a recent English critic, quoted here, is to be believed! English did not become the majority language of Wales until the end of the nineteenth century, and many twentieth-century Welsh intellectuals have been content to argue that the historically recent Anglophone majority in the twentieth century are not able fully to realise their national identity. The Welsh speaker, heir to one of the most enduring literary traditions in Europe, can thus claim the moral high ground as both cultural survivor and minority victim. The degree of complicity of many of the Welsh in their own cultural deracination is contested by Welsh historians, the flowering of whose talents in the last quarter of the twentieth century complemented the Anglophone literature of Wales in its function of remembrance. In the final chapter of this book, devoted to Hybridity and Authenticity, the author engages perceptively with the novels of Christopher Meredith. Keith, the Anglophone protagonist of Shifts, trying to make sense of his 1970s present through a study of the history of his native Gwent, realises that the local topography is named in 'a language that was his own, but that he couldnt understand'.
That the application of postcolonial theory to contemporary Wales is highly problematic is fully understood here: Kirsti Bohata savours the paradoxes and relishes the contradictions of a society at once participatory in English imperial advance and internally colonised. She demonstrates that, even as much early twentieth-century Anglophone writing originating in Wales was distorted by refraction through London publishing houses it returned home to an audience lost to Welsh culture through the impact of several generations of English state education. In Brittany, state registered teachers were told that their job was to kill off Breton, the closest living language to Welsh, for the sake of the cultural unity of France. For their readers, Arthur Machen and Bertha Thomas portray the Welsh peasantry as exotics, whereas, in another perceptive reading, the author sees R. S. Thomass gaze as emanating 'from the imperial metropolis, not from the land of his fathers'. A parallel reading of Forestry Commission propaganda illuminates the familiar laments of D. J. Williams and Gwenallt for the erasure of place and the communities contained within it in the hills around Rhydycymerau, less economic adjustment than cultural annihilation. In this analysis, a Wales increasingly deprived of Welsh is necessarily diminished in time and space.
Yet there are other models. A distinctive Anglophone literary culture has survived over the water in Ireland in spite of the collapse of the native tongue, where the English education system was preceded by famine. As the 1997 referendum results amply demonstrated, the predominantly Anglophone valleys of south Wales the 'My Wales' of Dai Smith and Tim Williams, given short shrift by Kirsti Bohata remain steadfastly Welsh in their loyalties. It is the south Wales valleys where Welsh-medium education has made the most remarkable progress, as a host of Keiths send their daughters and sons to the new Welsh-medium schools. Yet elsewhere, over large parts of the country, contemporary Anglophone Wales is the result of English settlement, the completion of a westward migration across Britain that has taken a millennium and a half to complete. The latter movement has created cultural spaces that are either ignorant of the idea of Wales or hostile to it. Meanwhile, both Anglophone communities are wide open to the influence of a Hollywood culture alien to the native Welsh tradition, a new relevance, perhaps for that long-running American Wales metaphor. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether 'Writing Wales in English' is a connecting door within a healthily bilingual culture or an exit door into an Anglo-American sea. For those Writing Wales in English, Kirsti Bohatas seminal work will be an invaluable guide to an increasingly fraught but necessary occupation.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatad Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Kirsti Bohata is Research Associate at the Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language for Wales. She has taught at Swansea University, and the Universities of Glamorgan and Stuttgart and has been involved in contemporary Welsh writing in English through her work at the Welsh Books Council.
Postcolonialism Revisited is a ground-breaking book, the first to explore and analyse Anglophone Welsh writing, both literary and otherwise, in the context of contemporary thinking about colonial and post-colonial cultures. Kirsti Bohata considers how far the paradigms of postcolonial theory may be usefully adopted and adapted to provide an illuminating exploration of Welsh writing in English, while simultaneously considering the challenges that such writing might offer to the field of postcolonial theory.
In addition to dealing with a range of theorists in the field, including Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Charlotte Williams and Homi Bhabha, the book looks at how Wales has been constructed as a colonized nation in nineteenth- and twentieth-century writing. Themed chapters include the treatment of place in English- and Welsh-language writing of the 1950s and 1960s; hybridity and assimilation; the position of the Welsh as 'outsiders inside'; the women's movement in Wales during the fin de siècle; and postcolonial understanding of linguistic power struggles. A variety of forgotten writers have been unearthed in this study and are considered alongside more famous names such as R. S. Thomas, Margiad Evans, Arthur Machen, Christopher Meredith and Rhys Davies.
Written in an accessible style, Postcolonialism Revisited will be required reading for those involved in the study of Welsh writing in English.