the welsh chekhov


When I was young my father owned a factory in Tonypandy, a town in the Rhondda Valley of South Wales. He always disparaged the character of the Welsh, for whom I therefore conceived an affection that has remained with me ever since. You may be said truly to like a people when you are aware of their imperfections and are fond of them still. If one can be a patriot of a country not one’s own, I am a Welsh patriot. My memories of Tonypandy are hazy, for I was younger than ten when my father took me there. In those days, coal mining, not the administration of unemployment and its attendant social problems, was the Rhondda Valley’s major industry. Our civilization at the time was founded, as George Orwell once remarked, on coal, without which we would have lived in unlit and unheated houses. The miners were like Atlases; upon their shoulders a whole world rested. My visual recollection of Tonypandy is monochromatic—of everything begrimed with coal dust; of the slate roofs of tiny terraced houses dull in the perpetual, dirty rain; of black slag heaps lowering over the town. Whether this is a true memory or a reconstruction based on what I subsequently learned, I could not swear in a court of law. Half a century later, while scouring the secondhand bookshops during a sojourn in Wales, I discovered a writer who came from Tonypandy: Rhys Davies, who published 20 novels and about 160 short stories before he died in 1978. Some critics of his day esteemed him highly, calling him the Welsh Chekhov.

more from Theodore Dalrymple at City Journal here.