‘The Conquered’ by Dorothy Edwards

I’ve been commissioned to write a play about the life and work of Dorothy Edwards, the Bloomsbury lot’s ‘Welsh Cinderella’ (as her patron-of-sorts David Garnett used to introduce her). The play has been a real passion project (and if all goes to plan it’ll be touring Wales and further afield in 2023) and an important part of the process has been to frequently remind myself why I am doing it in the first place. Edwards’ fiction (she published a short story collection and a novel before her suicide in 1934 at the age of thirty-one) is strangely enigmatic, the very epitome of the work being done in the spaces between what is written. Her work is uniformly sublime. She wrote in her journal about her fiction being the place where she could arrange her thoughts “pure and unclouded” and that gives a sense of what her prose does. “The Conquered” is perhaps her most famous work, although I’d argue she is largely forgotten, especially when you compare her to other women writers who moved in similar circles, like Katherine Mansfield. Some Welsh writers, such as the novelist and poet Christopher Meredith, and academics like Claire Flay, did good work on bringing her back into the fold over the last twenty years, and I wouldn’t have ever read her had it not been for their revivalism (and then my wife reading her on her MA in Cardiff). ‘The Conquered’ is frequently anthologised and sometimes I feel it is to the detriment of her other stories, and her novel A Winter Sonata. But this is her only story that really touches on Wales – it is set in the marches but also “the conquered” of the story can be interpreted as the colonised people of Wales embodied by the self-loathing collaborative spirit of the Welsh upper-class characters the narrative introduces us to.

First published in Rhapsody, Wishart, 1927; subsequently anthologised and republished by Virago in 1986, and Parthian as part of the Library of Wales series in 2007. Available to read on the Library of Wales website here

‘La Penseuse’ by Dorothy Edwards

“It was the first time since Mary’s girlhood that she had been in a library which was the possession of and the expression of the tastes of a single person.” Public libraries are all very well, but, alas, I reserve especial interest and (often) admiration for other people’s personal libraries. Dorothy Edwards has the female protagonist of this story enter such a library, and it is as quietly astonishing a scene as one could wish for. I like this Dorothy Edwards. ‘La Penseuse’ is a story of three intelligent, interesting people who grow close because they live in the same Welsh village; then, who would have thought it, things change. It is both sad and happy. I am not sure I will ever get over it, nor Edwards’s way with telling the story in the first place.

from Rhapsody, Parthian, 1927