How Green Was My Valley revisited
(says book's original title was 'Slag')
Letter No. 267 | November 9, 2001
I found your review of HG and the film version on the net. It
was interesting to find a semireligious vision of the novel; I'm working
on a PhD including HG and other Welsh texts.
On location, you were right to suggest that Cardiff seems far away.
Although the city is only twenty miles from the valleys, it was unimportant except for the docks, and wasn't declared the capital until 1951. The valleys were geographically restricted and parochial. There's a (probably apocryphal) story about two Valleys men meeting at O'Hare airport. One asks the other where he's from and he replies "Aberdare," to which the other one says, "Don't generalize, man; Upper or Lower?"
If I could make one small criticism of your piece, it's that like John
Ford (whose vision is as much about the Ireland of his parents; he said
"They're all Micks and Biddies"), you pretty much ignore the political elements. As I see it, HG is a semifascist modernist response to issues of organized labour and the First World War; imperialist, reactionary, and displaying the fear of the "mob," whom he calls variously "lice," "monkeys," and "beasts." In reality, the men turned from the religiose leadership of those like Huw (the Gwerin) because the chapels and the Liberal party became instruments of English capitalism rather than as voices of difference as they were during the expansionary period of the English colonization, culturally and materially.
Anyway, I enjoyed your piece. If I might presume on your time for a
moment further, if you have an older edition of HG, could you describe the cover art for me? I'm interested in the production of the novel; how titles, artwork, names and language were ordered so that readers could work out what sort of a book it is. Did you know that the original title was going to be "Slag"?
By the way, there's an interesting article on Welsh-American culture in
a 1984 book, called Wales! Wales? by Dai Smith, mostly concentrating on Scranton, Pa.
Reply: It's been four years since I read the book and wrote the review, and unfortunately I don't find it in my library now. Was hoping I could scan the cover to display it, but alas.... I will continue to look. Thanks for writing and best wishes on the Ph.D. project. jk