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Tag Archives: Welsh Women’s Classic

Lost Voices: Welsh Women’s Classics

Queens of the Rushes team are: Helena Earnshaw: Cycle/Marketing, Tricia Chapman: Swim/Production, Caroline Oakley/Editorial. Alison Greeley/Finance did the whole thing!

The Queens of the Rushes

The Honno staff recently teamed up to ensure that one of their Welsh Women’s Classic titles: Queen of the Rushes by Allen Raine is brought back into print.

Queen of the Rushes sold over 300,000 copies at the beginning of the 20th century, when it was first published. It was made into one of the first British silent movies and was the first title in Honno’s Welsh Women’s Classics series. It is hugely deserving of remaining in print and the Honno staff swam, cycled and ran in the DYFI DASH triathlon on April 7th to raise money for a new edition to ensure it continues to be read. It is a tale that maps out a distinctly Welsh literary landscape and demonstrates Raine’s powers as storyteller, delineator of character and social historian.

Thank you to all who have supported our fundraising so far. There is still time to support us at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/honno

Jane Aaron, editor of the Welsh Women’s Classics explains why they are so important, below.

ps. we all completed the event successfully and had fun doing so!


Lost Voices: Welsh Women’s Classics

The aim of the Honno Welsh women’s classics series is to bring back into print the lost voices of Welsh women’s writing, and what they have to tell us of Welsh women’s history, for the benefit of new generations.

It’s over thirty years since Honno Press was founded, and one of the first books the Press produced was the autobiography of the Welsh nurse and traveller Betsy Cadwaladyr, originally published in 1857 but out of print for over a century, during which time Betsy’s story was virtually forgotten. Born and raised near Bala, Betsy told the tale of her global adventures, which included nursing with Florence Nightingale in Balaclava, to the then eminent but also subsequently forgotten historian and poet Jane Williams, who set it down in print. Before 1987 Betsy and her story were virtually unknown in Wales, and it is unlikely that she would be enjoying her current fame without that Honno Press publication. Deirdre Beddoe, who wrote the introduction, gave a copy of the book to a professor in the Department of Nursing at the then University of Glamorgan; that professor subsequently named a student’s training hospital ward at the University the Betsy Cadwaldr Ward. Thus remembrance of Betsy’s name and her story was revived in medical circles, and ‘Betsy Cadwaladr’ was finally established as the name of the Health Trust in north Wales.

Honno’s Welsh Women’s Classics series has also had an impact on the teaching of Welsh writing in English at Higher Education levels. In the 1980s, though what was then called ‘Anglo-Welsh Literature’ was being taught at Aberystwyth, Swansea, Bangor and Lampeter universities, very few women authors were included in the syllabus. In 1990 only one woman writer was included in the Welsh writing in English modules at Aberystwyth University – the Welsh-language novelist Kate Roberts, taught in translation. Since then the ratio of women authors to men on these syllabuses has been transformed, and Honno can take a large part of the credit for this change. 33 women writers, compared to 44 men, featured on Welsh university syllabuses in 2013, and 21 of those 33 women appeared in the Welsh Women’s Classics.

The question then arises: why were these women’s books ever allowed to fall out of print in the first place? The publishing career of Menna Gallie helps to explain that process. A mid-twentieth-century author from Ystradgynlais in the south Wales valleys, Gallie is today an important figure within the Welsh canon because not only was she an excellent novelist, witty and empathic, but also because she was one of the few writers recording in detail the experience of working-class women in the coalfields during the heyday of King Coal. But Gallie’s reputation was affected by the double disadvantage which all Welsh women writers pre Honno suffered, that is, she was Welsh and she was a woman.

Before the 1970s, and the development of English-language publishing in Wales,  most Welsh writers in English, including Gallie, were published in London, where their work tended to be categorised as ‘provincial’. Secondly, and this is true for all women writers, of course, publishers, like critics, reviewers and university lecturers, tended until quite recently to be predominantly male.

But with her re-emergence in the Welsh Women’s Classics series, Gallie’s voice was rediscovered, along with that of many another writer, some of whom experienced a yet further disadvantage, being not only Welsh and female but also of another ethnic minority. It is particularly important in these post-Brexit days that we value the contribution to Welsh culture of such writers, Lily Tobias, who was raised in Ystalyfera in the 1880s and 1890s, was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland. When her novel on conscientious objectors during the First World War, Eunice Fleet, which first appeared in 1933, was republished by Honno a reviewer in the journal Mslexia remarked

This is an important book to be made available and I found myself wondering why it had ever been lost.

Traditionally it was supposed that women, by and large, had little to say about political issues apart from feminist ones. But that supposition is only arrived at by those who neglect the actual evidence of women’s voices often raised in political protest. In order to give Welsh women’s political voices a hearing once more, the historian Ursula Masson and I brought out an anthology of Welsh women’s political writings, The Very Salt of Life.

Until quite recently it was thought that Welsh women had not made much of a contribution to the pre First World War suffragette movement. That misinformation is now being corrected, in part because of Honno’s resurrection of voices like that of Rachel Barrett, whose ‘Autobiography’ written in 1924 only existed in manuscript form in the Museum of London’s archives before Honno republished it in The Very Salf of Life. Rachel Barrett writes:

I was born in Carmarthen of Welsh, Welsh-speaking parents.  In 1905 I became science mistress at Penarth County School…and it was during this time that I became interested in the new movement for woman suffrage…Adela Pankhurst came to Cardiff as WSPU organiser [the militant branch of the suffragette movement] and I helped her in her work

Christabel Pankhurst asked me to give my whole time to the movement…. I was sorry to give up my work at the School and all that it meant [she was by then studying for doctorate in science – it meant giving up on a career] but this was a definite call and I obeyed…I became organiser for Wales…

In the autumn [of 1912] I was asked to take charge of the new paper The Suffragette…In April 1913 when we were making up the paper a group of CID men appeared and the staff of the paper were arrested…At the Old Bailey trial I was sentenced [to 2 months in prison]… …I was released on licence after a 5 days’ hunger strike…. In about 3 weeks time, I was re-arrested. This time I was in for 4 days…. When I had recovered I was re-arrested. This time I did the thirst strike as well as the hunger strike and was released after, I think, 5 days feeling very ill…I was smuggled into Kingsway House under the eyes of the detectives. I lived there bringing out The Suffragette as before, never leaving the office and taking my exercise on the roof.[1]

She carried on editing The Suffragette till it came to an end with the suffrage movement’s cessation of activities at the outbreak of the First World War, by the close of which, of course, women had won the vote. Her contribution to the Women’s Cause went unnoticed for years, but it was an essential one, and it is now being recognised – there’s a detailed entry on Rachel Barrett in Wikipedia, for example. Another lost voice restored, thanks to the Welsh Women’s Classics series.


Jane Aaron: Emeritus Professor of Literature at the University of South Wales,  is the editor of the Honno Classics English-language series (known as the Welsh Women’s Classics). Born in Aberystwyth, she has now returned to the town and taken up her old place on the Honno Committee once again. Her publications include Pur fel y Dur: Y Gymraes yn Llên Menywod y Bedwaredd Ganrif ar Bymtheg (1998), which won the Ellis Griffith prize in 1999, and Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing in Wales (2007), winner of the Roland Mathias Award in 2009. She also co-edited the essay collections Our Sisters’ Land: The Changing Identities of Women in Wales (1994), Postcolonial Wales (2005) and Gendering Border Studies (2010).

 

[1] Rachel Barrett, ‘Autobiography’, mss c. 1924, in Museum of London, ref. 57.116/47, in The Very Salt of Life, pp. 298-302

Celebrating LGBT History Month – LGBT Themes in the Welsh Women’s Classics

Honno Press have over the years published a number of novels, short stories and poems with LGBT+ themes, many of them in the Welsh Women’s Classics series.

Amy Dillwyn’s novel Jill, for instance is the story of an unconventional heroine, much like the author herself, and is based on the author’s own passionate attachment to a woman she called her wife, but who she couldn’t have. Jill is a poignant story of same-sex desire and unrequited love and is an under recognised lesbian novel, written 45 years earlier than The Well of Loneliness which is often hailed as the first British lesbian novel.

The editor, Kirsti Bohata, writes in Diva magazine that:

Writing against the patriarchal assumption that two women could only set up home together as a last resort, her novels validate lesbian love as a desirable alternative to marriage and family duties. In her novels, she turned to literary codes which emphasised a challenge [to the social order – her characters cross boundaries of gender, class and the law – in order to depict a same-sex desire that she wanted to be paramount, not a last resort.”

In Welsh Women’s Poetry, 1460 – 2001,  the first bilingual anthology of Welsh women’s poetry, in both the Welsh and English languages – Honno have published several lesbian poets. Gwerful Mechain [1462-1500], the most well-known Welsh female poet from this period, often challenged ideas of gender in her writing. Her poem ‘I’r Cedor’ for instance subverts the expected medieval odes to women on their beauty and is instead written to female genitalia.

Sarah Jane Rees (1839 –1916), another lesbian figure in Welsh writing, edited Y Frythones, (a monthly Welsh language periodical for women), from 1878-1889 as well as writing her own poetry under the name Cranogwen. Examples of her passionate poetry to women can be found in Welsh Women’s Poetry, 1460 – 2001 as well as a poem written in loving admiration of her – ‘Cranogwen’ – by Buddug, another key female Welsh poet of the time.

Author Margiad Evans had an affair with Ruth Farr whilst married and lesbian themes are explored in her short story ‘A Modern Adornment’, published in A View Across the Valley: Short Stories by Women from Wales c.1850-1950, through the relationship between Miss Allensmoore and Miss Plant, elderly women who ‘lived together for many years in a cottage outside a small village’.

Another writer, Bertha Thomas, was a nineteenth and twentieth-century ‘New Woman’ known for writing in support of women’s suffrage as well as on themes of gender and sexuality, alongside Anglo-Welsh identity, published in the anthology Stranger Within the Gates.

The identities and themes of gender, sexuality and national identity that run through the writing of many of the great Welsh women writers of the past  highlights the importance of keeping in print women’s historical writing to illuminate sexuality and gender in Welsh history.

You can find the texts listed above and below on our Classics page: Also check out our collection of lesbian novels, classic and contemporary, on offer for LGBT History month at: https://www.honno.co.uk/catalogue/fiction/novels/lesbian-fiction-collection/

With thanks to Mair Jones for her research on exploring LGBT themes in Honno’s books. Mair was writing an MA Dissertation on the Queer History of Wales while studying MA History of Wales at Aberystwyth University, and provided the material for this blog while volunteering for Honno.

 

 

Bibliography
Aaron, Jane ed. A View Across the Valley: Short Stories by Women from Wales c.1850-1950 An Anthology. Wales. 2002.
Aaron, Jane ed. Nineteenth Century Women’s Writing in Wales: Nation, Gender and Identity. Cardiff. 2010.
Bohata, Kirsti. Postcolonialism Revisited: Writing Wales in English. Cardiff. 2004.
Bohata, Kirsti & Gramich, Katie ed. Rediscovering Margiad Evans: Marginality, Gender and Illness. Cardiff. 2013.
Dillwyn, Amy. Bohata, Kirsti ed. Jill. Wales. 2013.
Dillwyn, Amy, Gramich, Katie. The Rebecca Rioter. Wales. 2001.
Dillwyn, Amy, Favre, Alison. A Burglary: Or ‘Unconscious Influence.’ Wales. 2009.
Gramich, Katie & Brennan, Catherine ed. Welsh Women’s Poetry 1460-2001 An Anthology. Wales. 2003.
Painting, David. Amy Dillwyn. Cardiff. 1987.
Roberts, Harri Garrod. Embodying Identity: Representations of the Body in Welsh Literature: Writing Wales in English. Cardiff. 2009.
Thomas, Bertha. Bohata, Kirsti ed. Stranger Within the Gates: A collection of short stories. Wales. 2008.

The fascinating Margiad Evans

Margiad Evans (1909-1958) was Peggy Whistler’s pen name. She was born in Uxbridge, but claimed the Welsh Border country around Ross-on-Wye as her spiritual home from her first visit to an uncle and aunt’s farm as a child. The Whistler family moved to a house just outside Ross later when Peggy was twelve. That is where her writing career began, the towns and landscapes of the area a barely disguised backdrop to her fiction.

Her first novel, Country Dance (1932) has a beautifully balanced structure representing the movement across the border of Ann Goodman, a young woman with a Welsh mother and English father, and the rivals for her love, Evan ap Evans whose name proclaims his heritage, and the Englishman, Gabriel Ford. The autobiographical fiction The Wooden Doctor came out in 1933, and Turf or Stone the year after that. Creed (1936) was her last and most ambitious novel, not remotely autobiographical and yet curiously representative of the total passionate commitment she displayed towards her beloved countryside, to her lovers, and to her writing.  Evans also wrote short stories, collected as The Old and the Young (1948), Poems from Obscurity (1947), Autobiography (1943), and finally the brave and heart-breaking Ray of Darkness (1952), an account of the onset and treatment of seizures caused by a brain tumour, the illness from which she eventually died at the age of 49.

Throughout her life Evans wrote incessantly. Her husband Michael Williams donated many of her letters, journals and diaries to the National Library of Wales after her death. The 1930 years are written in bound volumes; later exercise books, or scraps of paper document her frenetic emotional responses to relationships, as well as always testifying to her abiding love of nature. A picture of an emotionally intense family life emerges in the earliest entries: quarrels with her mother, sometimes bitter rivalry with her sister Nancy, spats and arguments with friends. In The Wooden Doctor (1932) the narrator’s detached but shocking comment ‘our home among the quiet fields became a cage of savagery’ neatly sums up one aspect of her family’s relations documented in her journal.

The narrator and protagonist of her novel The Wooden Doctor is Arabella, significantly a name Evans often used to refer to herself in her journals. She burned the early ones from her adolescence, but the novel tells the story of the years of her obsession with the family’s real life G. P., Doctor Dunlop, who becomes the fictional eponymous ‘wooden’ Dr Flaherty, a middle-aged man unresponsive to her adolescent declaration of love. The painful self-exposure evident in the fiction is the more remarkable once one reads in her diary that Dr Dunlop even failed to acknowledge the copy she sent him.

A picture also emerges in the journals of Evans as an unconventional young woman who took great sensual delight in her body. Several times she records swimming naked in the river Wye with her sister Nancy, on one occasion ‘two astonished men’ stared at them from the opposite bank’; elsewhere she says ‘we looked white and sparkling like jewels when we climbed out of the water and crouched under the banks drying ourselves on our knickers in the wind and sun’.  She was proud of her body and observed that nakedness changes one’s behaviour, ‘One acts strange when one’s naked: the shoulders swing, the arms glide, the back arches and the breasts expand in the air…’ The sisters shared a lack of inhibition.  One afternoon Peggy, in the kitchen making coffee, heard Nancy calling from the garden, ‘Sister…sister, come and dance for Harry’. ‘Harry’ was flying dizzy circles above their garden in his monoplane. Peggy picked up her skirt and chased ‘slowly and ridiculously about Nancy’ who was already ‘whirling and twirling in her chintz coat and her bushy hair floating’.  Peggy remarks in her diary that ‘Last time he flew in our sky I remember we were washing up on the grass, and the time before we were naked’.

Evans expended a great deal of emotional energy on writing her final novel Creed. Her diary entries for the period of its composition have none of the fun evident in the episodes described above.  Life was hard and emotionally exhausting, and it is difficult not to see some of that leeching into the fiction. Creed was never reprinted after it first appeared in 1936, so Honno’s new edition is especially welcome. It is not a polished novel, it conveys a sense of being deliberately rough-hewn, as rough and uncompromising as its characters. It takes on and challenges ideas about love, belief and wickedness, and although the rain is practically incessant throughout, the descriptions of drenched nature are acutely and imaginatively observed, powerful testimony to Evans’s attention to detail, to her imaginative and unusual perceptions, and her skill as a writer.

Sue Asbee

 

 

Margiad Evan’s novels – The Wooden Doctor and Creed have been republished by Honno, with introductions by Sue Asbee. You can buy them both through our website.

With thanks to Jim Pratt (nephew of Margiad Evans) for the pictures of Margiad Evans.

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