Challenging Subject Matter; in the Rst of a Series of Essays from Writers Shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year, Meic Stephens Talks about His Rhys Davies Biography AUTHOR'S NOTES

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

Challenging Subject Matter; in the Rst of a Series of Essays from Writers Shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year, Meic Stephens Talks about His Rhys Davies Biography AUTHOR'S NOTES


HYS Davies wasn't an easy choice for a biographer.

r. For a start, he was wont to tell [euro]bs about himself.

He always gave 1903 as his date of birth, but in fact he was born in 1901.

He was known in the family as Vivian, not Rhys; his real name was Rees. His birthplace, he said, was Clydach Vale, but really Blaenclydach, near Tonypandy in the Rhondda.

Small dierences, perhaps, but such [euro]ne points need to be checked by the diligent biographer.

Another thing: Davies wrote at great length about the Rhondda he'd known in the inter-war years but towards the end of his life he took against the valley's workaday grime and the narrowness of its chapel culture. His love-hate relationship with south Wales never faltered.

He died in a London hospital, alone, in 1978, and his funeral was attended by only [euro]ve mourners.

en there was his secretive nature. He gave very little of himself away, even to friends who thought they knew him.

By temperament a loner, he kept himself apart and had no lasting relationship with any other person. A homosexual in the days before the Sexual Oences Act of 1967, he took care to 'act straight'.

With the women who found him attractive - good-looking, witty, kind and altogether charming - he maintained strictly platonic friendships.

e only woman to whom he was drawn was Anna Kavan, a fellow-novelist and heroin addict, whom he saved from suicide twice.

But because they lived in the same part of London and saw each other almost daily, they rarely corresponded, so there are precious few letters on which a biographer might draw.

Neither admired the other's work. He was befriended by DH Lawrence, the only living writer he admired.

Protecting his privacy and fearing intrusion into his inner life, which he prized above all else, he kept others at arm's length, observing them but never becoming involved with any of them, man or woman. Above all, he detested displays of raw emotion, especially in women.

Although he could often be seen in the pubs of Fitzrovia, and sometimes took solitary holidays in France and Italy, he believed the writer's proper business was to be writing.

He kept 'oce hours', working in the bedsits which friends had temporarily vacated, and kept all his worldly possessions in a small trunk. His aim was to write a thousand words a day until the story was [euro]nished. Nothing and nobody was allowed to interfere with his work-schedule. …

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