Bangor University Conference on ‘the best–hated man in Wales’

A hundred years after the publication of a book which gained its author the title of “the best-hated man in Wales”, a Conference is to be held at Bangor University to mark the centenary. 

The book, My People by Caradoc Evans, was a collection of short stories set in an imaginary west Wales community, based on Evans’s native Rhydlewis in Carmarthenshire.  It ferociously satirised the rural, Welsh-speaking people as avaricious, hypocritical and brutal, their obedience to the rigid codes of the Chapel only emphasizing their emotional repression.

One of the conference organizers, Professor Tony Brown of the University’s School of English, commented: “The London publisher, aware of the likelihood of controversy, printed on the dust jacket: ‘These stories of the Welsh peasantry, by one of themselves, are not meat for babes’. The claim was that the stories were a realistic portrait of life in west Wales, and the London press took this at face value, praising My People as “a triumph of art” and seeing Evans as being “as scrupulous and relentless as Zola” in showing the darker side of everyday life. The reaction in Wales, however, was one of outrage. The Western Mail described it as “a squalid and repellent picture … a farrago of filth”.

Professor Brown continued: “It is certainly a powerful collection of stories. In one story a farmer keeps his wife locked in the harness loft, taking her out only at night, strapped into a cow’s halter. In another story an old woman starves herself to death in order to contribute towards an ornate bible for a departing minister.   It is no wonder that the book received such a hostile reaction in Wales. Evans was not only attacking the gwerin, the country folk, who were seen at the time as the essence of Welshness, he was doing it in a book published in London! 

But, while the book is a ferocious satire of Welsh Nonconformist values, drawing on deep personal animosity, it is not realistic; it is satire which depends on exaggeration and the grotesque. The proper comparison perhaps is with satirical cartoonists today like Ralph Steadman or Steve Bell.  Its style was also influential on Welsh writers in English who followed, including Dylan Thomas, who visited Caradoc Evans in Aberystwyth in the 1930s.”

Speakers at the conference will consider My People from a number of perspectives, including a comparison with James Joyce, and there will be a showing of a recent S4C documentary film on Evans.

The conference is to be held at Bangor University on Friday 3 July, starting at 10.00. The cost of the day is £20 (£12 unwaged) to include lunch and drinks. Details are at: http://mypeople.bangor.ac.uk. The organisers are Dr. Tomos Owen and Prof. Tony Brown.

Publication date: 25 June 2015