Classic Welsh Short Stories

Jones, Gwyn and Elis, Islwyn Ffowc eds.

Classic Welsh Short Stories is a collection of twenty–five stories from the twentieth century and includes fifteen stories originally written in English and ten translated from Welsh. There is a striking vitality to these stories, which offer a good insight into Welsh culture and the breadth of its literature.

Traditionally the Welsh story is seen as a tale about the exploits of some colourful character living in an agricultural or mining community. In this vein Rhys Davies’ entertaining ‘Canute’ describes the events when a group of men leave a south Wales valley for London, off to see the England vs. Wales rugby international: ‘You had the impression that the place would be denuded of its entire male population, as in some archaic war. . .  In black mining valleys, on rustic heights, in market towns and calm villages, myriads of house doors opened during the course of the night and a man issued from an oblong of yellow light, a railway ticket replacing the old spear’. Davies has affectionately set up the men for satire, and later the ‘myriads’ find themselves in a sorry state. In their deep drunkenness they become ‘casualties’, and the train station seems like a ‘bloody battlefield’ with men incapacitated and sick from booze. One character in particular suffers a humiliation which he will never be allowed to forget.

‘The Wedding’ is by John Gwilym Jones, an author who rejected parochial tendencies in Welsh writing. The influence of the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique as in Virginia Woolf is apparent as Jones offers us the innermost thoughts of the six main characters taking part in a wedding ceremony. He generates intensity by showing us the inner struggles they endure whilst an important event is ostensibly taking place smoothly. The characters’ suffering is partly caused by the clash between their Nonconformist values and their desire for personal freedom. The minister battles with a feeling that he is just a performer as he recounts his role in various services over the years: ‘“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes,” says my voice, and my face unknown to me forms the tearful expression expected of it. “I baptise thee, Peris Wyn,” says my voice, and my face involuntarily melts into a smile. “This is my body, this is my blood,” says my voice, and I am clothed from head to foot in the essential, traditional gravity’.

This rather bleak story is touching too; the minister also feels pride in his role, and the bride’s younger sister muses that this day will be something to remember, and as exciting as finding a double-yolk egg.

Kate Roberts, Wales’ foremost short story writer, is represented with a characteristic story, ‘Cats at an Auction’. Elen, like many of Roberts’ heroines,

is a highly sensitive woman who becomes disillusioned with other people. Elen has attended the auction of the possessions of an acquaintance who has died, and as the late Mrs Hughes’s furniture goes under the hammer, her former friends criticise the state of her house. Elen feels distaste at the discussion between the women, whilst her friend, Marged, quickly recovers from what has happened at the sale, and tucks into her bread and butter, enjoying the moment. Elen is moved into deciding that, after her own death, her furniture will be kept in storage until it rots, rather than providing fuel for the idle gossip of unkind females. SPJ


Mrs Jones turned her head up and looked at the walls and the ceiling as if she was scanning the sky and counting the starts. ‘When I die,’ she said, ‘my house won’t be in the state this is in’. The man looked at her through the lower half of his spectacles and grunted a scornful ‘Humph’. Elen felt as if someone had put a cold poultice over her heart, a wave of disgust came over her.

‘Judas,’ said Marged, her teeth clenched. ‘The bitch’.

‘Hush,’ said Elen.

At that moment, Mrs Hughes meant something more to her than the late Mrs Hughes. She came back to life, one of the bunch of women about the chapel, looking at them, smiling, enjoying herself in their company at someone else’s auction. And then she dropped out of the bunch like a wheatsheaf out of a stook.  Kate Roberts ‘Cats at an Auction’ 26