I am slowly coming to the conclusion that Welsh literature (in the English language) owes its greatest unpaid debt to Caradoc Evans. He was much reviled – famously, his portrait was slashed with a knife as it hung in the National Portrait Gallery in the 1920s and the Western Mail called him Wales’s “best hated man” – he was, even if only legendarily, Wales’s Public Enemy Number One. My feeling on this is one of intense jealousy for his notoriety. I think Wales has always put too much stock in the toeing of the line when it comes to established narratives of what it means to be Welsh. Evans wrote unflinchingly and grotesquely about the village communities her grew up in and his stories are unflattering, to put it mildly – that was bad enough – but what was worse was that he did it from London, where he had been a journalist for a few decades before My People, his first and most controversial collection, was published in 1915. I am now convinced Evans’ detractors have and had a moronic view of both Wales and literature in general – what literature is for and what it can do. I’ve come to view Evans as a hero, even if that’s been a recent appraisal. I am writing a book for the University of Wales Press, a sort of history of Welsh literature, but from a creative rather than academic approach, and as I go on this journey, I keep coming back to an inescapable feeling that My People remains the most important event in Welsh writing. It knocked the stuffing out of everyone and a hundred and seven years later his stories still burn ferociously. I include here ‘A Father in Sion’ because it’s the first and what better place to start, but I could have had anything of his.
First published in My People: Stories of the Peasantry of West Wales, Andrew Melrose, 1915. Available to read on WikiSource here