Magazine article The Spectator

Wale's Oddest Writer

Magazine article The Spectator

Wale's Oddest Writer

Article excerpt

RAM WITH RED HORNS by Rhys Davies Seren, L6.99, pp. 160

The name Rhys Davies does not count for very much on the contemporary literary map. Friendly with D. H. Lawrence, he found himself after his death in the drawing-room of Lady Ottoline Morrell in company with Frieda, but never followed the introduction up. He spurned the salon of Ivy Compton-Burnett, castigating her as 'sooo boring'. While his compatriot Dylan Thomas was pursuing his secondary career as self-publicist in Soho, Davies was in the same pubs playing the Invisible Man. For someone with no money or background and an overwhelming ambition to write, he had an astonishing and genuine indifference to the blandishments of literary fame and fortune. With such an attitude, and occupying an ambivalent position - too Welsh for the English and too English for the Welsh - such reputation as he had was eclipsed with his death.

He was certainly the oddest product of 20th-century Welsh writing: a grocer's son who dropped out of school at 13, eventually winding up in London to reinvent himself as a gay aesthete and habitue of the Cafe Royal. His fastidiously masculine exterior - many knew him for years without suspecting his sexuality -- concealed a deeply feminine heart. He was known as 'Rhoda' among the gay set and, had he been biologically rather than psychologically female, he would have been celebrated by Virago years ago. His work explores female motivation in sentences of Jamesean limpidity justifying that nearoxymoronic description, `Welsh stylist'. Altogether, not what is expected of the Rhondda Valley.

Ram with Red Horns was his final novel. Heinemann nurtured and published him for decades with little material return except for his one best-seller, The Black Venus, which traded on the bottomless British appetite for bucolic sex. When the firm underwent 'rationalisation' in the late Seventies, Davies and his novel proved expendable: he died shortly after. …

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