Wales since 1939 uses novels to illustrate social trends and enliven the text. While some historians shy away from the use of fiction as a historical source it is actually a hugely important resource as long as a degree of caution is employed. The novels I used where ones which tried to portray the world they depicted in a realistic fashion. The characters, events, places and descriptions were all believable because they were realistic. This compensates for the fictive nature of the storylines. Indeed, they are all stories that could easily have happened. Moreover, the authors were also products of the worlds they wrote about. I did not use what might be termed historical fiction, that is writing about periods by people who did not live through them.
Here are some of the novels and writers I found particularly useful.
Islwyn Ffowc Elis is arguably the most important writer to have worked in the Welsh language. This is not so much because of the quality of his writing but because of his impact. He can lay claim to be the first post-war Welsh-language writer to reach a wide audience. He played an important role in demonstrating to young people that writing in Welsh was not just a medium for religion and thus deserves some considerable credit for helping modernize the language’s image. His best known work is Cyscod y Cryman (1953). You may want to throttle several of the sanctimonious characters but it is a great story nonetheless and an important depiction of the tensions within rural Wales just after the Second World War. You can buy it here. The English translation is available here.
Elis also wrote the brilliant Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd. It’s probably the greatest Welsh-language novel never translated into English and it certainly inspired a generation (well, the few that read books in Welsh at least). It’s blatant propaganda but a wonderfully fun tale of time travel and Welsh nationalist aspirations. Neither the nationalist utopia nor the destruction of Wales that the book foresaw came true but the fact that Wales survived and grew was because people fought for it and some of them did that because of this novel. You can buy it here.
You can read The Guardian’s obituary of Elis here.
Roger Granelli , Dark Edge (Seren, 1997) is an evocative view of the family impact of the 1984-5 miners’ strike that belies some of the more romantic writings about this pivotal event in Welsh history. You can buy the book here and read more about his work at http://www.rogergranelli.com/
Christopher Meredith, Shifts (Seren, 1988) is a powerful account of the life of steelworkers, an industry which Meredith himself had worked in. It offers a penetrating account of the nature of work, unemployment and marriage, as well as some telling thoughts on the importance of history in south Wales. You can buy it here. You can read more about Meredith here.
Of all the writers here, Alun Richards paints the most vivid picture of life in post-war Wales. His novels and short stories show a telling eye for the fine detail of place, family and social relationships, a skill which took him into writing scripts for television. He was not always comfortable with the world and direction of the Welsh establishment but that makes him more not less representative of his nation. His best works are the short-story collections Dai Country (1973) and The Former Miss Merthyr Tydfil (1979) and the novel Home To An Empty House (1973). His short stories have been pulled together in a new volume which you can buy here. Richards’ Guardian obituary is here.
None of these writers are well known outside Wales. Indeed, with the exception of Dylan Thomas, no post-war Welsh writer has made a significant impact in England. As a letter to The Times in 1951 about the absence of a Welsh flag at the Festival of Britain’s London exhibition said, ‘One does not need to be a Welsh nationalist to wonder why this is so’. Nonetheless, anyone interested in the English-language literature of Wales should check out Parthian’s Library of Wales series, which is republishing some of the great Welsh novels.