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Raymond Williams: a Warrior's Tale

Raymond Williams: a Warrior's Tale

Paperback

By (author) Dai Smith

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  • Publisher: Parthian Books
  • Format: Paperback | 450 pages
  • Dimensions: 152mm x 232mm x 26mm | 662g
  • Publication date: 15 January 2009
  • Publication City/Country: Cardigan
  • ISBN 10: 1905762992
  • ISBN 13: 9781905762996
  • Illustrations note: black & white plates, colour plates
  • Sales rank: 705,051

Product description

"Raymond Williams: A Warriors Tale" is a book much in keeping with its subject. Covering the first forty years the book weaves together its subject's life with the times in which he lived. Dai Smith makes the case that the childhood in working class Wales suffering the prolonged effects of 1926, the horrors of war as a front line soldier and the demanding years teaching adult classes in south east England, were formative for the politics, intellect and person that came later. This history is concentrated into the first half of the book, and is the result of prolonged research by Dai Smith during which were recovered people and events, much of which will be little known to many.The later chapters are a interloculum between biographer and their subject's writings and it is these which clearly excite Dai Smith's intentions. For here is an extraordinary find, a series of novels, began, put aside, returned to, gutted, and in important cases finished. It is the story of how a form was developed for which existing writing proved inadequate templates. What, many years later, Raymond Williams would publicly acknowledge as, the Welsh Industrial Novel, had then few examples known outside their own localities: Gwyn Jones, "Times Like These" (1936), Lewis Jones, "Cwmardy" (1937) and "We Live" (1939), Jack Jones "Rhondda Roundabout" (1934) and later "The Dark Philosophers" (1946) and "All Things Betray Thee" (1949) by Gwyn Thomas.In these the peculiar working class experience of demographic upheaval, industrialisation and building of community, had been variously explored. What "A Warriors Tale" brings to us is how Raymond Williams made these experiences his own in the years of writing that would eventually become Border Country. The research for this biography though goes well beyond discovery of the drafts of novels from after the war. For the early chapters there is a social history of south east Wales, the tracing of hitherto little known family relationships and the journeys by a boyhood Williams across England and beyond to Geneva and Paris.There is also the discovery of a potential wife, Margaret Fallas, a source of deep tension in later life. Behind the pivotal stories of war experiences are journeys by Dai Smith to Normandy and on across Europe in the path of the Regiment in which Williams served. In each of these ventures new people and writings are unearthed which go to make up an account of a figure who expressed conflicting responses in the midst of the complex and contradictory experiences they were all living through. In the restricted space that follows I concentrate on discussing the content of "A Warrior's Tale". The emphasis is with the first half because here lies much of the biographical story. The writing that came after the war requires another response and is likely to be the emphasis given by some now the book has appeared. Yet what went into those novels makes full sense only if the experiences that shaped their writing are given due attention.

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Author information

Dai Smith has combined writing, politics, media production, teaching and public office in a manner reminiscent of an earlier time. Presently he combines Chair of the Arts Council of Wales with the Raymond Williams Research Chair for Cultural History at University of Wales, Swansea. Yet a listing of achievements and formal titles hides far more than it reveals and only takes its full significance if the life story in its history is addressed, albeit in the limited manner allowed in the space afforded here. Dai Smith was born in working class Rhondda following the end of World War Two - a fact perhaps more substantial than any in the life that has followed since. In 1945/6, the year of Dai Smith's birth, the coal-workers were achieving an aim that they had fought for since the last war; nationalisation of the mines. Celebrations of the event were captured in biography, lodge minutes, music, photography and fiction. To be born at this time was to be of a generation for whom the defeat of 1926 and what followed, was learned as part of the oral folklore of a place and people. Porth, where Dai Smith attended the County School, lies at the southern end of the Rhondda Valley, and employment had only returned to the area when government away in London decided more coal was needed to fight another war. Like those whose lives have been important for Dai Smith such as Gwyn Thomas, Gwyn Alf Williams and Raymond Williams, he too moved out from his community through the passage of formal learning. Beginning with Barry Grammar School, a path led to first Oxford, then New York and finally a thesis at Swansea. In Smith's own words, he went to Oxford to study literature and read history and to New York to study history and read literature. Such contrariness has been a hallmark of writing and career, where neither 'discipline' has been expressed in isolation from the other. The entwining goes deep into forms of writing in Wales and are essential to any understanding of Dai Smith and the formation from which he comes. Very different in effect has been the period in New York which has had a continued presence in Dai Smith's work where a curious lacuna has been the colonising impact of capitalist commercial culture which instead has been presented as a positive replacement for a mythic Welsh culture. Dai Smith returned to South Wales in 1968 and began a long partnership with the historian and educationalist Hywel Francis. The return was to more than a region, it was to the coalfield, its people, their institutions and common culture. The two men began the task of locating, retrieving, and sorting the disparate records of the South Wales Miners Federation, which, there being few indexes or inventories, was achieved by way of conversations, questions, visits and collections. Their labours were eventually consolidated when the Coalfields History Project was began in 1971. The project was made financially possible by a successful bid to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), though the real source of the achievement was Glanmor Williams the Head of History at Swansea, to where the growing quantities of materials now went. The South Wales Miner's Library (SWML) was established in 1973 and has continued to catalogue and archive the records of the Federation ever since. The on-line Coalfield Web Materials (CWM) stands as a fine monument to the many who have contributed over the years and today offers a remarkable educational resource (www.agor.org.uk/cwm). Smith and Francis own labours were eventually gathered in The Fed (1980), a major study combining the empirical exactitude of the academic discipline, with the political honesty of the social and economic history they practiced.Dai Smith's life has more usually followed a path of his own making rather than any conventional career. Typically controversy has never been far away and in 1993 Dai Smith joined the BBC in Cardiff, first as Editor of Radio Wales before becoming Head of Broadcasts (English Language). The title typifies the nature of the dispute. From the mid sixties there had been a growing movement to promote Welsh as equal to English as a public language. Activists joined to form Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) and, through 'direct action', succeeded in arousing authorities who responded with ignorance, incredulity and, as protesters filled the courts, physical force. Dai Smith was attacked for seeming to foist the coloniser's language, as the media became a focus in the battle for recognition of Welsh. Beyond radio and television, writing afforded a prime site for conflict. Here too lay controversy with Dai Smith championing Welsh writing in English, while his own work was characteristically contentious. A collection of essays was published in 1984 under the title Wales! Wales? (1984). Contained in it were essays complex in style and deliberately ambivalent in conclusion. Honour and respect for a working class, particularly that of his Rhondda home was unquestionable. What was more problematic was the overt rejection of a stereotyped past of a bible fearing, chapel going, Liberal supporting 'folk', which had become part of a history that the red blooded upstarts of the Welsh Labour History Society challenged. In 2001, Dai Smith left the BBC to become Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Regeneration at Glamorgan University. Given his history Dai Smith would appear an ideal person for such a position, however in 2005 he moved again to become the Raymond Williams Research Chair in Cultural History with the Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language of Wales (CREW) at Swansea http://www.swansea.ac.uk/CREW/. The move signalled what was becoming a major venture in his life though its origins dated back to 1989 when Joy Williams had invited him to consider writing the biography of her husband.Dai Smith has spoken of a trunk of papers in little order and with no inventory. Drawing on diaries recording personal reflections and memories, Dai Smith tracked people ranging from long term residents of Pandy, university friends from Cambridge and most remarkably fellow soldiers from the War. The demands though of BBC broadcasting and then from 2001 Glamorgan University inhibited progress and A Warrior's Tale became a stalled project. With the move to Swansea in 2005, writing took on a new tempo and a manuscript once more became realisable. Further impetus came when in 2004 Dai Smith was appointed to advise on a new Library of Wales initiative to re-publish classic texts celebrating Welsh writing in English http://www.libraryofwales.org/. The series included Lewis Jones' Cwmardy and We Live (2006) amongst the first clutch of titles. Paralleling the biography, Dai Smith wrote a Forward to another in the series, Border Country (2006). A Warrior's Tale appeared this year and plans are in place for publication, also by the Library of Wales, of two previously unpublished novels retrieved from the trunk first unearthed nearly twenty years ago. In March 2006 Dai Smith was appointed Chair of the Arts Council of Wales, initially on an interim basis which was confirmed for a further three years in April 2007 Almost inevitably the appointment was made amid controversy with criticism raised of the manner in which it was arrived at. However in the past two years Dai Smith has successfully led the Council through a comprehensive review and committed it to perhaps addressing those whose voice he has for so long sought to sponsor.

Review quote

A Superb Biography Terry Eagleton, The GuardianIt is a remarkable piece of work and will henceforth be essential to the understanding of the making of Raymond WilliamsEric HobsbawmThe Guardian Book of the Week Saturday 24 May 2008the biographer's greatest achievement is to find his own discerning route through what often seems to be a jungle of contradiction... This is a worthwhile book and a very good one... Smith does especially well to illustrate with new and formidable evidence that Williams's enduring appeal is down to his democratic instincts of generosityDavid HareDai Smith has indeed produced a seminal biographyA... sheds new and revealing lightA... deftly managed to move beyond the particulars, to communicate a profound sense of howA...his subject's life was experienced.Daniel G Williams Open Democracy