Thursday 22 August 2013

On Rhys Davies

The Welsh writer Rhys Davies died thirty-five years ago yesterday, on 21st August 1978.

I'm currently reading a very fine biography - Rhys Davies: A Writer's Life by Meic Stephens, to be published this Autumn by Parthian. It's the best kind of biography in that it makes the reader (or this reader, at least) keen to seek out the subject's books, of which there are many.

Davies was a remarkably gifted writer. He was a grocer's son born into a working class mining community in South Wales who left school at 14, moved to London aged 21 and worked for seven years as a draper's assistant in the unglamorous suburb of Ilford before publishing his first novel. For much of the rest of his life all he did was write.

He was an intensely private man - a virtual recluse in fact, living a few months at a time in rented rooms, or borrowed flats. He never learned to drive, couldn't type, owned no furniture and kept all his worldly possessions in a small trunk. He had no serious relationships, few close friends or confidantes, belonged to no circle, and earned money only from his writing. He was discreetly and promiscuously homosexual, with a taste for hard-up Guardsmen from the Knightsbridge barracks, but he also maintained an improbably durable friendship with one woman - the writer Anna Kavan, a lifelong heroin addict. 

Until reading the biography I'd only heard of Davies as the editor of three posthumous Kavan novels, for which he wrote the introductions. He also cropped up in the Kavan biography by my near-namesake David Callard. Davies is worth discovering.

One startling revelation in the biography - which is strongly recommended -  is that, at different times and for practical, non-sexual reasons, Davies shared a bed with D. H. Lawrence (in a Paris hotel in 1928) and Dylan Thomas (in a Maida Vale basement during the Blitz). Thomas had nowhere to stay one night and Davies offered to put him up. Dylan wet the bed, after which the friendship cooled.

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