The Size of Wales

Writing about Wales in the LRB archive by Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, Dinah Birch, Lorna Sage, Terence Hawkes, Paul Keegan, Adam Phillips, Thomas Jones, Ian Hamilton, Rosalind Mitchison and John Barrell.

Bring out the lemonade: What the Welsh got right

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, 7 April 2022

Who’s to say that one version of Welsh nationalism is more ‘true’ than any other? The claim that ‘Wales is a nation’ isn’t a descriptive statement: it is – or aspires to be – an illocutionary act. Nations are all imagined communities, in Benedict Anderson’s phrase, and they can be imagined in different ways. The question is how many people can be persuaded to imagine the community in the same way.

Dark Spaces

Dinah Birch, 28 September 1989

One of Raymond William’s polemical purposes in People of the Black Mountains, his final fiction, is to affirm that Wales has its own distinct identity, founded in unremembered time which reaches beyond written records.

Grandma at home

Lorna Sage, 4 November 1993

South Wales was an entirely female country in our family mythology, despite the mines and miners. A female place, an urban place and a place all indoors. Going there was like sinking into fantasy for all these reasons – and for one special reason above all, which was that home was a shop, and we lived over it, and when we were there all the money-horrors were magically suspended.

Hydra’s Heads

Terence Hawkes, 22 February 1996

Glyn Dŵr’s revolt encouraged those Welsh who had felt exiles in their own land since the victories of Edward I to pursue claims made as the original ‘Britons’. Glyn Dŵr had little trouble in linking himself with the long line of Welsh messiahs, including Arthur, who offered to expel the English and regain control of the whole island of Britain.

Mulishness: David Jones removes himself

Paul Keegan, 7 November 2019

When David Jones refers to the predicament of persons of Welsh affinity ‘whose “medium” is English’, his use of the word hovers over its painterly sense, as though a choice were involved. But the impossibility of writing other than in English established an unbridgeable distance from those origins.

In what Dylan Thomas called his ‘impermanent, oscillating, ragbag character’, Welshness was a performance rather than a passion. When he talked about Wales he was talking about himself, the self that wasn’t there.

Short Cuts: The Size of Wales

Thomas Jones, 23 May 2002

Knowing Wales is a valid unit of area (equivalent to 20,770 km2) is much more useful than being prepared to rub noses north of the Arctic Circle. Here are some uses: the Amazon rainforest is being cleared at the rate of a Wales a year; the largest crater on the Moon is three times the size of Wales.

Frown by Frown

Ian Hamilton, 3 July 1997

For R.S. Thomas, the poetry of R.S. Thomas has never been able to shape up to requirements, could never quite be work that he might publicly take pride in. After all, it is ‘in English’, and Thomas has time and again insisted that all Welshmen worthy of the name should write in Welsh.

Modern Wales

Rosalind Mitchison, 19 November 1981

Whereas for Scotland national identity has been emphasised and preserved by formal governmental and legal structures, in Wales these have had to be created and have mostly not been permanent. Welshmen, perhaps because of this lack, have regarded the language as the core of national identity.

In Cardiff: Richard Wilson

John Barrell, 25 September 2014

It is as if the wildly inflated claim that Richard Wilson ‘transformed’ European landscape painting can only be given even a touch of credibility by passing him off as a Londoner, or at least not as a mere Welshman. We learn, however, that he did do some painting in Wales, but then so did virtually every English landscape artist who came after him.

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