Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A particularly difficult theme of The Old Devils is “Welshness.” What is it? Does it still exist? Is it worth preserving? Amis himself, it should be noted, is not Welsh, though he has lived in Wales and has written on the whole sympathetically about issues of Welsh culture in his collection of essays What Became of Jane Austen? and Other Questions (1970). Briefly, one may say that there is no doubt that there once was a distinctive Welsh culture, which continued its existence long after the loss of Welsh independence. Furthermore, this culture still exists, officially through such institutions as the Royal National Eisteddfod, and perhaps unofficially through deeper-rooted hobbies, habits, and differences, from chapel-going to rugby-playing. Nevertheless, the “unofficial” culture seems less and less distinctive; the “official” culture is increasingly likely to lose popular appeal and to be seen as imposed from above (quite likely, with historical irony, by a London government). One might ask simply whether “Welshness” can survive the loss of the Welsh language as a cradle tongue in industrial South Wales, where the novel is set.

None of the characters in The Old Devils can speak Welsh, not even Alun. All of them are very likely to react with fury at having Welsh forced on them—as it is on Charlie, at one point, by a ridiculous character all too plausibly named Llywelyn Caswallon Pugh, but coming from...

(The entire section is 566 words.)