Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gwyn Williams' "An Introduction to Welsh Literature" Book Review

This primer efficiently sets out what the title promises. The chapters all are brief, the narrative flows quickly, and while the samples of prose are non-existent and the poetry far too rarely's cited, this gives you an overall view you can read in a couple of hours. I had studied Williams' 1978 history of Wales, "The Land Remembers" (also reviewed by me), and his skill in rendering medieval Welsh in its fabled intricacy impressed me; he followed that book up with a longer study of Welsh identity over the ages, "When Was Wales?"

Compared to those books, this literary survey sometimes provides little more than a guidebook-style quick mention of authors and works undoubtably deserving-- as on any itinerary-- a visit of your own. A short bibliography's provided for more reading in both languages. While at times resembling more a binding of a distinguished critic's lecture notes, this may suit those readers not wanting to be overwhelmed by the two-dozen metrical styles of the bards or the details of Methodism vis-a-vis Romanticism. Political and religious issues keep in the background, although I do note three times a noble medieval poet's acclaimed with the proviso that as an aristocrat, "he was free to write as he wished." It made me wonder about the versifiers less elevated: were they censored or suppressed? Maybe only the monkish scribes knew for sure.

P.S. A reminder that this volume in the Writers in Wales series deals with only those who created Welsh-language texts. It goes from the beginnings to now, by the way, if in a rapid-fire fashion once you leave the Middle Ages behind. For a comparatively concise study of Anglo-Welsh Literature, see Roland Mathias' illustrated history. I reviewed Williams' 124 pp. 1976 edition, but the contents probably have not changed much compared with the 1992 paperback listed here.

(That's my eight-hundredth review on Amazon US, posted yesterday.)

No comments: