GERAINT GOODWIN: HIS LIFE AND WORK
A new biography by James Whetter. Reviewed by Mary Oldham
Until very recently the life and work of Newtown-born novelist and short story writer Geraint Goodwin was virtually forgotten except by a few enthusiasts, until 2008 when the Welsh publisher Parthian republished his most famous book The Heyday in the Blood in its Library of Wales series. Shortly afterwards Joan How, who encountered Goodwin’s work on visits to Wales and fell in love with it, launched the Geraint Goodwin Society.
Now James Whetter, who tells us that he is distantly related to the Goodwins on his mother’s side, has written a very detailed biography of the novelist’s life. A great deal of research has clearly been involved - the copious bibliography at the end of the book lists a vast range of sources from letters and other documents in the National Library of Wales to the archives of the Montgomeryshire Express, critical works and articles about Goodwin, and his own articles in journals such as the Welsh Outlook.
Primarily, however, his source material is the novels themselves. It is well known that Geraint Goodwin’s novels are set in and around a town he named Moreton but which is really Newtown, where he was born, where he grew up, from where his early career as a journalist began, and where his mother lived all her life. The descriptions of the town in Heyday, Watch for the Morning and Come Michaelmas are so specific that they have become an important source for the history of Newtown, and are greedily read and reread as such by local historians. Furthermore the characters in the novels, especially the young men – poetic, tubercular – desperate to escape small town life – seem to be based on Goodwin himself, his half-brothers, his parents and all the people of the town. It seems inevitable, therefore, that any biographer will make extensive use of the stories to draw a picture of Goodwin’s life, and James Whetter has done so. Goodwin’s work passed out of copyright in 2011, 70 years after his death in 1941, enabling Mr Whetter to quote extensively not only from the novels and short stories but from Goodwin’s articles in the Welsh Outlook which are now hard to come by.
But Mr Whetter has worked hard to back up inferences about Goodwin’s life drawn from the works with supporting documentary evidence from census records, letters and newspapers, which has filled his narrative with information about Goodwin and his family. For example the funeral of Goodwin’s eldest half-brother Richard Nettleton Goodwin at Golders Green Crematorium in 1924 is described in great detail, full list of mourners and all.
A fascinating section of the biography describes Geraint Goodwin’s life as a young writer in London in the nineteen twenties and thirties. We know he met Mary Webb, Augustus John and the novelist George Moore (Goodwin’s first published book was Conversations with George Moore) but he was also to encounter H.E.Bates, David Garnett, Richard Hughes (author of A High Wind in Jamaica) Charles Morgan and many other literary figures. The rather bohemian London atmosphere is reminiscent of the early volumes of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time – one would not have been surprised to find Geraint encountering Mr Deacon and Gypsy Jones selling War Never Pays! as he wandered home from another evening’s conversation with George Moore.
David Garnett’s father Edward was Goodwin’s literary mentor, and Mr Whetter describes this creative relationship in detail. He also reveals Goodwin’s friendships with and admiration for other Welsh writers in English such as Rhys Davies, Wyn Griffiths and Gwyn Jones. These byways of Anglo-Welsh literature are tantalising – especially considering the renewed interest in the academic study of Welsh writing in English – and Mr Whetter does not resist the temptation of venturing down them. In venturing upon critical analysis of Goodwin’s writing, Sam Adams’s monograph on Goodwin for the Writers of Wales series is an essential text, and is duly acknowledged by Mr Whetter in his Preface.
Sadly, the principal character of this biography after Goodwin himself is not George Moore or any other writer. It is a disease, the disease of tuberculosis, which seeded itself into Goodwin’s constitution from his early days and which brought about his tragically early death at the age of 39. The account of his sufferings, his treatments, his periods of remission, the months of convalescence in sanatoria leave the reader full of admiration for his courage in rising above this dread affliction to achieve such an enduring literary legacy of novels and short stories which are imbued with the author’s passion for the countryside, the places and the people of his youth. James Whetter’s biography of Geraint Goodwin places on record a unique life, and a unique achievement.
Geraint Goodwin: His Life and Work by James Whetter Published by Lyfrow Trelyspen 1912 ISBN 0 9539972 7 5 Available from the Fuze Bookshop, Newtown
Or from the publisher’s website www.theroselandinstitute.co.uk
FURTHER REFERENCE LINKS
The following links to other websites making reference to Geraint Goodwin are for interest and information.
Posted by Myfanwy Lumsden (2012) Re People's Collection Wales