Denton Welch’s fiction has been favorably compared to that of Jean Cocteau, Marcel Proust, André Gide, Christopher Isherwood, and Truman Capote. Few writers began their career with the kind of precocious brilliance and searing honesty that characterized the early works of Welch. Dead at age thirty-three after thirteen years of debilitating pain resulting from a bicycle accident in 1935, Welch had been known primarily as a painter until he began writing only six years before his death. His first work garnered high critical praise from a number of respected and established British literary figures, such as Edith Sitwell, Sir Herbert Read, and Cyril Connolly, to name but a few. His direct narrative manner, sexual openness, and dazzling prose style contrasted greatly with the highly realistic war fiction that was being produced throughout the 1940’s. Much of his short fiction documents the fall from innocence to experience that oversensitive young boys undergo when they lose a parent or a friend through death or misunderstanding. A number of his later stories are also superb portraits of the initial stirrings of artistic impulse and demonstrate how creative adolescents learn to trust their imaginations and begin to become artists. An authentically original voice, Welch writes in a style that appears completely nonderivative. Few writers have dramatized so precisely the agony of adolescence, a phase he labeled as “sordid and fearful.”
Crain, Caleb. “It’s Pretty, but Is It Broken?” The New York Times, June 20, 1999. Discusses Welch as the “champion of preciousness,” fascinated with picnics and antiques. Comments on the relationship of Welch’s homosexuality and physical disability to his writing.
De-la-Noy, Michael. Denton Welch: The Making of a Writer. New York: Viking, 1984. This standard biography uses much material never before published. The biographer uses many of Welch’s letters, letters to Welch from his friends, and materials from personal recollections of those who knew him.
Gooch, Brad. “Gossip, Lies, and Wishes.” The Nation 240 (June 8, 1985): 711-713. Gooch praises Welch for his ability to make even the smallest objects into mementos by the precision of his writing. Though Welch seems haunted by death and time, he is never morbid and can, at times, be flippant about tombs and graveyards.
Hollinghurst, Alan. “Diminished Pictures.” The Times Literary Supplement, no. 4264 (December 21, 1984): 1479-1480. Hollinghurst finds Welch’s aestheticism anything but precious. It helped him focus his attention on art objects during times of great physical and mental pain. He wrote to save himself and to enrich his life.
Phillips, Robert. Denton Welch. New York: Twayne, 1974. The only book-length critical treatment of all Welch’s work. Phillips’s interpretations are thorough, though he tends to find Freudian and Jungian patterns most helpful. He also intelligently points out some of the affinities that Welch shared with D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce.
Skenazy, Paul. “The Sense and Sensuality of Denton Welch.” The Washington Post Book World, April 6, 1986, p. 1. A review of The Stories of Denton Welch that comments on Welch’s focus on the texture of social rituals rather than narrative structure and plot tension; asserts one reads Welch not for character revelation but to experience his sensibility; notes that nearly all the stories concern a confused outsider seeking security and love.
Updike, John. “A Short Life.” In Picked-Up Pieces. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975. Updike calls Welch an authentic existential writer insofar as his agony enabled him to create a world particle by particle. He sees Welch’s autobiographical account of his terrible accident as “a proclamation of our terrible fragility.”