Sunday, 11 November 2012

autumn leaves, aa gill, edward thomas, a conscious englishman by margaret keeping, streetbooks

A beautiful autumn day. Or should that be winter's day? Not quite winter, I think. Not least because there are still so many autumn leaves on the trees. The relentless rain seems to have been good for keeping them on, if for nothing else.

A great article on Edward Thomas by AA Gill in the Sunday Times. (Sorry that link won't work for those who don't have access beyond the News International paywall...)  I liked the following especially:

'Barely two of his poems mention the war and then only in passing. But altogether they are an almost unbearable memorial to the trenches, not as dispatches from the front or descriptions of horror, but as a departing view of what was fought for and what was lost.'

The article anticipates the play about Thomas by Nick Dear at the Almeida. Meanwhile, A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping, which will be published by StreetBooks on 7th February 2013 is showing on Amazon, Blackwell, Waterstones and other major online retailers. See also, Margaret's excellent blog, Publishing my Edward Thomas.


  1. I, too, read the article on Thomas in the Times and was irritated (but not surprised given Gill's historic hostility towards the Welsh)by it's title ('The Quiet Voice of England')and not even a passing acknowledgement of his Welsh roots (both his parents were Welsh)of which he was very proud, to the extent that he gave all his children Welsh names (Merfyn, Myfanwy and Bronwen), and note, his son's name spelt the Welsh way, with an 'f' rather than a 'v'. And now here's this book, 'A Conscious Englishman.'
    If, by this, certain English people are trying to stake an exclusive claim on Edward Thomas as being one of their own, then it is a deception that does not bear scrutiny.' There is no doubt that he loved England, but he is more fairly described as an Anglo-Welsh poet.

    1. As you say Frank, 'I am rapidly becoming a conscious Englishman,' was a significant statement in his growing belief that he had to 'do something'about Britain at war. He called himself an 'accidental Cockney', was described by a very close friend as 'A Londoner with a covering of Oxford', and the truth is that English language and literature, writers and preoccupations filled his thinking constantly. His prose 'Beautiful Wales' is lovely, but only two poems relate in any way to Wales - Mountain Chapel and Helen of the Roads - a pity.His poems and 90% of his prose are specifically placed in southern England, no doubt reflecting demand for the prose and daily influence for the poems. So in a way Gill is right.
      But do read Thomas. He saw 'lovers of the Celt'as poseurs:
      'Their aim and ideal is to go about the world in a state of self-satisfied dejection, interrupted, and perhaps sustained, by days when they consume strange mixed liquors to the tune of all the fine old songs which are fashionable...I cannot avoid the opinion that to boast of the Celtic spirit is to confess you have it not.'
      Ouch! You can always rely on Thomas for honesty.

  2. Thanks. The title is a quote from Thomas himself--see, for example, In the novel Thomas' pride in his Welsh roots is made very clear. (I am half-Welsh and appreciate the points you make.)

  3. Of course in that he says,'I am rapidly becoming...' does imply that he was not a conscious Englishman beforehand. He is using England to mean Britain as he disliked that term and thought it meant nothing: people only relate to their own 'holes and corners.' It's annoying but I think it was even more prevalent then than now, when we are a bit more attuned to separate identities.