Caradoc Evans Essay - Critical Essays

Evans, Caradoc


Caradoc Evans 1878–-1945

(Full name David Caradoc Evans) Welsh short story writer, novelist, and playwright.

Although he gave his first collection the apparently sentimental title My People, Evans is known for his caustic portrayal of his homeland and his neighbors. So fierce was Welsh sentiment against him that two galleries in Wales refused his portrait, and while it was on display in London, Evans's visage was slashed across the throat. In spite of the controversy, he is remembered as one of Wales' most important short story writers in English and is often compared to James Joyce.

Biographical Information

Evans's background is closely tied to the tradition of Welsh Nonconformism, the Protestant movement that rebelled against the Church of England. In Wales, adherence to the Church of England was seen as adherence to England; therefore, the union of Evans's Anglican father with his Liberal mother constituted a mixed marriage. Evans was four years old when his father died, leaving the boy's mother with limited means for raising Evans and his four siblings. She ultimately became a tenant farmer, and Evans's childhood was one of extreme poverty—a factor that influenced the bitterness of his later writing. At age fourteen, he was forced to go to work as an apprentice draper, a position equivalent to that of a clerk in American dry goods stores of the era. In 1906 he sold two short sketches to a newspaper and decided to become a full-time writer. During the next decade, he wrote for a variety of publications, including T. P.'s Weekly and Ideas. He served as editor of the latter from 1915 to 1917 and published his first two collections of stories during World War I. My People and Capel Sion brought him instant notoriety in Britain. Evans continued to work as a journalist, becoming editor of T. P.'s Weekly in 1923, but losing his job when the periodical folded in 1929. In the early 1930s Evans broke all ties with journalism, remarried, and moved to the country to become a full-time novelist. Yet except for a period in the late 1930s when he experienced a brief surge of creativity, most of his last twelve years were unhappy ones. He died on January 11, 1945, after a bout with pneumonia.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Evans's most noted works are his first two collections My People and Capel Sion. Formerly, rural Wales had been known chiefly to literature through Allen Raine, who idealized it as Dylan Thomas, Richard Llewellyn, and others would do to a lesser extent in later years. Evans's fictional town of Manteg offered a portrait so fiercely sardonic that Welsh policemen harassed booksellers daring enough to offer the book for sale. The tales are written in a spare style, largely devoid of authorial comment or attempts to influence the readers' opinion; furthermore, Evans uses an unusual amalgam of Welsh and English—both modern English and the English of the King James Bible. The stories in My Neighbours offer similar characterizations, with the chief distinction being the fact that they take place in London. The stories collected in Pilgrims in a Foreign Land and The Earth Gives All and Takes All offer a kinder and gentler Evans: there are glimmers of goodness among the characters in these later collections.

Critical Reception

Because of his antipathy toward the land of his birth and his inventive use of language, Evans has been compared to a more famous contemporary, James Joyce. Like Joyce, he effectively burned his bridges to his Celtic past, but won over an English audience—and ultimately a younger generation of compatriots, a group that in Evans's case included Dylan Thomas. Critics also compared him to ancient Greek dramatists, Jonathan Swift, and Maksim Gorky. On the other side of the Atlantic, H. L. Mencken, who saw in Evans's Wales a mirror of the American South that he had often excoriated, echoed the praise of British critics. In Wales, Evans's unflattering portraits of his homeland brought on an anger that bordered on hatred. Later, a few critics viewed these harsh stories as satires and not realistic portrayals of the Welsh peasantry. Commentary has often focused on stylistic aspects, particularly his use of transliterated Welsh words and sayings, unnatural dialogue, and the humor in his stories.

Principal Works

My People: Stories of the Peasantry of West Wales 1915

Capel Sion 1916

My Neighbours 1919

Pilgrims in a Foreign Land 1942

The Earth Gives All and Takes All 1946

Selected Stories 1993

Taffy: A Play of Welsh Village Life (drama) 1923

Nothing to Pay (novel) 1930

This Way to Heaven (novel) 1934

Morgan Bible (novel) 1943


Edwin Pugh (review date 1915)

SOURCE: “A Book of Novels,” in Bookman, Vol. 49, No. 291, December, 1915, p. 97.

[In the following review of My People, Pugh praises the harsh depictions of the Welsh people, maintaining that “the justification of this book consists in its ineludible truth.”]

Comparative criticism is the last ditch of the defeated. The critic who, confronted with the new work of a new author, can only compare it with the work of other, older authors—almost always to the older authors' advantage—is manifestly either shirking his task or confessing his incompetence. To say that one book is like or unlike, better or worse, than another, is as informing and illuminative as to say that a parsnip is like or unlike, better or worse, than a beetroot. They are wholly distinct and different things, as each piece of literature must be wholly distinct and different from any other piece of literature. If it fall short of this canon, if it be frankly imitative and yet not a parody, then it is outside the pale of art.

I am moved to these reflections by the book which lies before me as I write. It is so very new. It is new as the New, and at the same time old as the Old, Testament. Its style, by the way, would seem to be founded on that of the Bible. It displays the same limpid simplicity in narrative. It is forceful without being violent, and direct without being harsh. Each line is packed with significance. There is nothing superfluous, nothing redundant. Often, in a few words, a man or a woman is limned so clearly and convincingly that we seem to have known him or her all our lives. A whole life-story is epitomized in a sentence. There is not a tale in the book but contains the essence of a tragedy or an epic, or at least a novel. Indeed one might almost describe My People as a book of short novels rather than as a book of short stories.

On the paper wrapper round the cover we are warned that this book “is not meat for babes,” and it is explained that “the justification for the author's realistic pictures of peasant life, as he knows it, is the obvious sincerity of his aim, which is to portray that he may make ashamed.” But to me this warning and explanation seem quite unnecessary, because, in the first and second place, neither babes nor the kind of people—My People—the Welsh Peasantry—with whom...

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The Nation (review date 1918)

SOURCE: A review of Capel Sion, in The Nation, Vol. 107, December 21, 1918, p. 779.

[In the following essay, the anonymous critic questions the authenticity of Evans's bitter portraits in Capel Sion.]

Not long ago a young Welshman signing himself Caradoc Evans electrified England, or at least the reviewers of England, by issuing a little “first book” called My People. It was a book of sketches about the peasantry of West Wales, a people who had not been used in fiction before. It possessed the prime asset, therefore, of a new local color, an atmosphere, which is a matter no longer easily to be discovered even in patchwork Britain. But it had something...

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The Nation (review date 1920)

SOURCE: “Beauty and the Beast,” in The Nation, Vol. 110, April 17, 1920, p. 522.

[In the following essay, the reviewer provides a mixed assessment of My Neighbors.]

Caradoc Evans seems to continue in My Neighbors his indictment of a whole people. It is an extract of ferocity that he flings at his Welsh fellow-countrymen. He sees nothing but lies and lechery, callousness and craft. Mothers still love their young even in Wales. But he describes such love in “A Widow Woman” only to exhibit more glaringly the brutishness of the woman's son. The stories are like blows—dull and yet fierce. By a mingling of scriptural phraseology with literal translations of...

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T. L. Williams (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: “Taffy at Home: The Humour and Pathos of Welsh Village Life,” in Caradoc Evans, edited by T. L. Williams, University of Wales Press, 1970, pp. 29–99.

[In the following excerpt, Williams offers an extensive study of Evans's work—including the text of an early story in its entirety—and examines aspects of his psychohistory.]

Caradoc quite possibly gained great psychological relief from the publication of My People, but thenceforth he had the mark of Cain upon him, and however much he might protest his love for Wales (and nothing better illustrates the “love” half of his relationship with Wales than his regular “sermon-tasting” at New...

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Trevor Williams (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: “Caradoc Evans's ‘Sayings’: An Approach to the Style of His Later Work,” in The Anglo-Welsh Review, Vol. 24, No. 53, Winter, 1974, pp. 58–66.

[In the following essay, Williams examines Evans's satirical use of “sayings” in his fiction, viewing it as a “successful integration of style and theme.”]

One of the best of Caradoc Evans's late stories is the title story of The Earth Gives All and Takes All, published posthumously in 1946. “The Earth Gives All” concerns a farmer with a “tree of wisdom” in his head who decides to marry, for he needs a wife who will tend his land while he goes around the countryside delivering his...

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Mary Jones (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: “The Satire of Caradoc Evans,” in The Anglo-Welsh Review, Vol. 72, 1982, pp. 58–65.

[In the following essay, Jones discusses the pastoral qualities of Evans's satire.]

“Satyr is a sort of Glass,” writes Swift, “wherein Beholders do generally discover everybody's Face but their Own; which is the chief Reason for that kind Reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it”.1 Swift might have been amazed at the reception of Caradoc Evans' work. Perhaps no event has made the Welsh public react so like the savage caricatures of them portrayed in My People as the publication of that volume of short stories in...

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John Davies and John Harris (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: “Caradoc Evans and the Forcers of Conscience: A Reading of ‘A Father in Sion,’” in The Anglo-Welsh Review, Vol. 81, 1985, pp. 79–89.

[In the following essay, Davies and Harris consider stylistic aspects of Evans's “A Father of Sion.”]

“It is not by confining one's neighbour that one is convinced of one's own sanity.”

Dostoievsky, Diary of a Writer.

“A Father in Sion”1 treats of manners and hypocrisy in an introverted, capelcentric community, where individual conscience is violated and social esteem gained by self-pronounced religious justification....

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Mary Jones (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: “A Changing Myth: The Projection of the Welsh in the Short Stories of Caradoc Evans,” in The Anglo-Welsh Review, Vol. 81, 1985, pp. 90–6.

[In the following essay, Jones traces Evans's use of myth in his short fiction.]

When reviewers of Caradoc Evans' first volume of short stories claimed it revealed “primeval beings who still live within a six hour railway journey of London,”1 and “ferocious primitives”2 whose “sacrifices are made to that which is older than Paganism and as old as human sin,” they were reacting in a way that must have delighted Caradoc Evans. For he responded to the storm of protest that followed the...

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Nicholas Wroe (review date 1993)

SOURCE: “A Welsh Joyce,” in TLS, May 7, 1993, p. 20.

[In the following favorable review of Selected Stories, Wroe concludes that “despite offering no solutions, little hope and a vision of almost unremitting bleakness, these stories remain vibrant and are curiously refreshing.”]

Caradoc Evans, who died in 1945 after a career as a draper, writer and journalist, gloried in his own description of himself as “the most hated man in Wales”. John Harris, in his excellent introduction to this collection, illustrates some of the ways this, entirely accurate assessment manifested itself. He had, “his books suppressed, a play howled down in the West End, a...

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Chris Hopkins (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: “Translating Caradoc Evans's Welsh English,” in Style, Vol. 30, No. 3, Fall, 1996, pp. 433–44.

[In the following essay, Hopkins provides a systematic analysis of Evans's use of language and translation, asserting that it profoundly influences the meaning of his stories and their impact on English readers.]

Though the Welsh writer Caradoc Evans has not achieved the same worldwide recognition as his Irish contemporary James Joyce, he is a writer who resembles his more famous counterpart in a number of ways. Like Joyce he wrote a first book about his own nation that caused much offense and public controversy, making its author immediately notorious. Like...

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Further Reading


Corke, Hilary. Review of My People. The Listener 77, No. 2 (16 February 1967): 237.

Favorable assessment of My People.

Review of Capel Sion. Punch 151 (20 December 1916): 435.

Considers Evans's stories bitter and brutal, but “that he is a writer of quite unusual courage and artistry is beyond question.”

Review of My People. TLS (16 February 1967): 132.

A laudatory review on the occasion of the reissue of Evans's first book.

Additional coverage of Evans’s life and career is contained in the following source...

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