Rhys Davies was born Rees Vivian Davies and spent his youth in Clydach, a Welsh coal-mining village, where, according to his autobiography, “wages and God were grim.” Davies’ easygoing father and thrifty mother owned a grocery shop, the Royal Stores. The parents, five children, and a servant lived in rooms behind and above the store.
Life was restrictive for young Davies. He disliked wearing an itchy wool shirt to church and hearing the hwyl (impassioned preaching) of a Nonconformist minister every Sunday, so in adolescence he joined the Anglican church. After dropping out of school at fourteen, Davies educated himself by observing people, listening to gossip, absorbing Celtic legends, and reading Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616) and books by Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, and Anton Chekhov.
In 1920, Davies traveled to London, where he roomed in boardinghouses. He supported himself as a salesman of men’s clothing and lived frugally, except for the purchase of a pair of spats and a malacca cane. He began writing poetry and plays but soon discovered that short stories were his forte. In London, he associated with avant-garde artists such as H. E. Bates, Liam O’Flaherty, Hugh McDiarmid, Nina Hamnett, and Anna Kavan.
In 1926, Charles Lahr, owner of the Progressive Bookshop, published six of Davies’ short stories in The New Coterie magazine. With an advance on a novel from an American publisher, Davies traveled to France. Through Lahr, he met D. H. Lawrence and his wife at Bandol. Lawrence greatly influenced Davies’ writing.
Residence in London allowed Davies personal freedom, where his sexual ambivalence was accepted. Many acquaintances believed he was homosexual; however, he later maintained a close and devoted relationship with Anna Kavan, another writer. None of his writing, including his autobiography, reveals his sexual orientation.
Only when Davies was short of money did he ever return to Wales, where he lived in his parents’ home and wrote prolifically. Quiet and mild-mannered, he followed a rigorous, disciplined writing schedule. He wrote a first draft on lined tablets, revised, and then recopied on another lined tablet. A heavy smoker, Davies died of lung cancer in 1978.