One of the many great aspects of the South Wales Miners’ Library that I have found in my fantastic week of work experience, is the personally-donated collections. These range widely from writers to politicians, and each one paints a fascinating picture of the donator. As a Literature student, one of the first collections which caught my eye was that of Gwyn Thomas; noted Welsh author and playwright. This past year I have been fortunate enough to study Anglo-Welsh literature as part of my postgraduate course, and Thomas is a name that comes up time and time again. His impact on this subject, (which is all too often consumed by poets like Dylan Thomas), is extensive, and his body of work consists of novels, plays and poetry. Thomas’s voice is a clear and distinctive one, with a knack for humour entwined in social commentary that not many Anglo-Welsh writers can match. The best thing about viewing complete personal collections is the insight that can be gained about that person’s interests, influences and perspectives – and this collection is no exception. My first impression was that Thomas was a kind of modern man of letters, with texts on subjects as diverse as sex in 1960s America to the Bolshevik Revolution! As a school-master who gained a scholarship to study modern languages at Oxford University, it is clear that he was informed about a range of subjects, and this well-rounded intelligence comes through in his writing. His collection of fiction is also impressive, epitomised for me by his beautiful collection of works by Charles Dickens and W. Somerset Maugham. There are also large amounts of texts by other Welsh writers who wrote in English, like Emyr Humphreys.
However, the collection is not completely academic, and contains items like The Best of Sick Jokes, Highways and Byways in South Wales and The Dark World of Witches which make for entertaining reading. This has a humanising effect which helps to portray him in a personal way, which cannot be gleaned by just reading his published texts.
But personally, what I found most interesting was just how far-reaching Thomas’s impact on the global literary stage was. American author Howard Fast relays this well in Literature and Reality:
‘in his [Thomas’s] third book, Leaves in the Wind, he created one of the best achievements in social realism that we know in modern Western literature’.
Additionally, I was surprised to see several translations of Thomas’s works: in Polish, Russian and Italian. Although Thomas enjoyed a hugely prolific period of critical and commercial success during the 1950s; after 1962 he actually retired from school teaching to concentrate on his writing. This was tragically cut short at the end of the 1960s when his health began to deteriorate, and ended in his death just before his 68th birthday. However, thanks to the South Wales Miners’ Library, this collection is stored in its entirety (they have even found a home for his coat and hat!)
For anyone interested in researching Thomas’s captivating life or literary achievements, this collection is an ideal port of call. It is also invaluable for anyone studying Anglo-Welsh literature, or even Welsh literature in general. His wide range of critical works encapsulates many of the concerns present in Anglo-Welsh literature: like nationalism, language and political divide.
By Jacob Ottaway (08/06/2015)