Caradoc Evans Critical Essays

Introduction

(Short Story Criticism)

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.