In this groundbreaking critical study of Dorothy Edwards, Claire Flay draws on a wide range of sources to investigate the identity – both personal and literary – of this much overlooked twentieth-century Welsh writer. Edwards's diaries, unpublished stories and correspondence, and the autobiographical recollections of those who knew this promising and intriguing author are used to complement Flay's analysis of Edwards's compact published oeuvre.
Flay's approach is biographical; she takes her cue from Edwards's assertion that '[y]ou must be realist or you must invent a personal isolated odd universe composed exclusively of your own experience'. In order to illuminate Edwards's own 'isolated odd universe', Flay makes sensitive use of the material before her, especially the author's confessional and often suicidal letters to her close friend Beryl Jones. Flay's elucidation of the circumstances of the construction of Edwards's collection of stories, Rhapsody, throws light upon some of the recurring themes that characterise the work. For example, the author's desire to escape her humdrum existence in Cardiff, and her travels around Europe, manifest themselves in the trope of the life-changing holidays, or visits, that so many of her characters embark upon.
This study has a roughly chronological structure, placing Edwards's personal development from 'ideological' to 'physical' displacement in parallel with the varying receptions with which her work has been met. The first chapter is centred on Edwards's early life and her family background, which is accompanied by analysis of the parochial, romanticised literature against which Edwards has traditionally been judged as 'too remote – not a Welsh writer in English'.
The chronological scheme of Flay's study means that the reader is able to gauge the changing concerns of Edwards's narratives against the shifts in her opinions and the people to whom she was exposed. Edwards's interactions with the Bloomsbury group, chaperoned by David Garnett, catalysed the socialist credentials that had formed such a large part of her family's identity during her childhood. Flay's use of Garnett's biographical recollections is apt: his desire to foster a 'Welsh Cinderella', and Edwards's determination to disappoint him, exposes Garnett as motivated by much the same romanticised notions of colonised nations – and their women in particular – that drive many of Edwards's narrators.
Flay's in-depth textual responses to Rhapsody and Winter Sonata seek to vindicate Edwards from the charge of not adequately reflecting her Welsh identity in her fiction. Rather than eschewing her identity, Flay argues, Edwards's ventriloquism of colonial and patriarchal voices – through the dominance of white male narrators in her fiction, for example – is an attempt to deconstruct their authority. The short story 'Mitter' – unpublished until 2005 – was a turning point for Edwards in her later work, Flay argues, as a narrative that deals with cultural osmosis from an Indian perspective.
This study does justice to Edwards's ability to write from very different stances of relative power, in terms of race, class and gender, and Flay has achieved a necessary reclamation by comprehensively explaining the biographical reasons for Edwards's stylistic choices. She has cleared the way for other readers to appreciate the experimental dexterity of Edwards's language, in and of itself.
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.
Claire Flay holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Glamorgan. She has recently edited and introduced Dorothy Edwards’ 1928 novel, Winter Sonata, in the Honno Classics series.
Combining close textual analysis with comprehensive biography, this book brings to light previously unpublished material, and considers Edwards' work in the light of her views and experiences. Claire Flay argues that Edwards' upbringing deeply influenced her perception of gender, class, and nationality, and ultimately led her to that creation of a small but fascinating body of work in her 1927 short-story collection Rhapsody and 1928 novel Winter Sonata. Edwards was raised in a radical socialist household during a period of political debate and industrial strife. And yet despite her upbringing, readers of Edwards’ work could be forgiven for initially believing hers to be the work of a middle-class English author.
The paradox between upbringing and the literary world that she chose to create is central to Dorothy Edwards. The first of the book’s four chapters focuses on Edwards’ biography; informed by new manuscript material, it outlines the period from Edwards’ birth and upbringing, to the writing of Rhapsody (1927) and Winter Sonata (1928). The second chapter constitutes a reading of the short-story collection Rhapsody in the light of gender theories, while the third section offers the first in-depth study of Edwards’ only published novel, Winter Sonata. Finally, the book returns to discuss the year leading up to her suicide on 6th January 1934, which Edwards largely spent in London living with Bloomsbury author David Garnett and his family, and the impact that this experience had on her understanding of national and class divisions. Previously unpublished letters and diary entries offer an insight into her feelings and experiences during this turbulent period.