In The Shadow of the Pulpit

In The Shadow of the Pulpit: Literature and Nonconformist Wales

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 2
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  • Book Info
    In The Shadow of the Pulpit
    Book Description:

    From village to city, the chapels loom large everywhere in the Welsh landscape. But what do they tell us about our past? This book introduces us in simple terms to chapel culture, and shows us how heavily it has influenced the modern world of Wales. In particular, it demonstrates how, from the nineteenth century onwards, the obsession of Welsh writers with the chapels came to shape their novels, plays and poems; and how their attitude towards them changed from sympathy to hostility and outright rivalry.

    eISBN: 978-0-7083-2342-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. General Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vi-vii)
    M. Wynn Thomas
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    On Wednesday 9November 1904, a striking event occurred within the plain walls of Brynteg Congregational Chapel, Penyrheol, Gorseinon, a thriving industrial town on the outskirts of Swansea:

    One of the most remarkable utterances of this remarkable night was that of a woman who gave a vivid description of a vision which she had seen the previous evening. ‘I saw,’ she said, ‘a great expanse of beautiful land, with friendly faces peopling it. Between me and this golden country was a shining river, crossed by a plank. I was anxious to cross, but feared that the plank would not support me....

  7. Preacher’s Wor(l)d
    • 1 A Bluffer’s Guide to Welsh Nonconformity
      (pp. 18-43)

      ‘The dark chapels, squat as toads, raised their faces stonily.’¹ They gave ‘an appearance of grey gloom toWelsh life’,² were ‘narrow’, harboured congregations full of ‘black certainties’,³ became the grim ortresses of an oppressive theocracy. At the same time, they were socially pivotal. They staged an incomparable theatre of spiritual struggle and echoed to hymns dangerously capable of bringing even the hardiest atheist to his repentant knees. Or so they still seemed to some writers and readers during the twentieth century. Even today, outrageously cross-dressed as nightclub, or social centre, or bingo hall, they dominate the physical landscape of every...

    • 2 The Long Nonconformist Century
      (pp. 44-76)

      By the end of the nineteenth century, distinctive Welsh identity seemed inseparable from onconformity. ‘Standing out pre-eminently as the most remarkable phenomenon in the National Life of Wales during recent years,’ wrote W. George Roberts in a 1903 article on ‘Non-conformity: a force in Welsh national life’, ‘is the overwhelming, almost magical, power of Nonconformity.’¹ In 1890,Cymru Fydd, the voice of a Young Wales movement dreaming of bringing the ancient Welsh nation to full institutional and politicalmaturity, confidently proclaimed that, even as rising young Welsh Liberal stars such as T. E. Ellis and Lloyd George were preparing to make...

    • 3 Bringing Nonconformity to Book
      (pp. 77-114)

      As the nineteenth century proceeded, Nonconformity firmly established itself as the default religious culture of the Welsh, and a remarkable body of English-language work appeared from within this culture during the century’s concluding decades that explored the complex, multifaceted implications of this phenomenon. So extensive is this output, including poetry and drama as well as fiction, that it could be argued it represents — along with those texts by ‘outsiders’ considered in the last chapter — the first sustained attempt to produce a Welsh ‘national literature’ in English. Its identification with Nonconformity was, at that time, the definitive feature of the culture...

  8. Writer’s Wor(l)d
    • 4 War of Words: The Preacher and the Writer
      (pp. 116-152)

      ‘I was born, the first child and only son of my parents, on the first of January, 1879, in the parish of Llwchwr, in a village called Rhosfelyn; the GreatWestern Railway had in 1852 rechristened it Gower Road, a name my father later got changed to the hybrid Gowerton.’¹ That is the opening sentence ofFree Associations: Memories of a Psycho-analys. The author was Ernest Jones, one of the earliest and most cherished of the disciples of Sigmund Freud, whose biography in due course he wrote. Jones was not only born but raised in Gowerton, an industrial township in the...

    • 5 Spoiled Preachers
      (pp. 153-181)

      Even after being long settled in Australia, the poet from the Welsh upland country, T. Harri Jones, bitterly confessed himself nevertheless to still be at heart a ‘a member of a narrow chapel, and a boy

      From a hungry parish, a spoiled preacher Guiltily taking the surplus of your sunshine, And still afraid of hell because I’ve been there.¹

      That last phrase is explosively compact. The ‘hell’ referred to is both the one so vividly evoked by the preachers in Jones’s ‘narrow chapel’ at Beulah and the hell that his childhood became because of such preaching. Religion and landscape and...

    • 6 Wales BC
      (pp. 182-224)

      When the autobiography of the eminent Welsh psychoanalyst Ernest Jones was published posthumously in 1959, it was prefaced by his widow’s verses ‘For my husband: on the first anniversary of his death.’¹ In them, Jones appeared as the triumphant victor in an ancient battle for the human mind between the forces of reason and unreason. In the manner of the great epic heroes of legend he had travelled intrepidly ‘through the darkness, thunderous’. ‘Through murk and terror striding’, he had confronted and defeated the fearsome ‘dragons in eternal circles rising’. His widow’s verses thus draw on the archetypal images of...

  9. Individual Worlds
    • 7 ‘Marlais’: Dylan Thomas and the ‘Tin Bethels’
      (pp. 226-255)

      ‘Dylan always had the Caradoc Evans complex about the Welsh parson [sic],’ observed Bert Trick, the poet’s Communist grocer friend.¹ As we know from Glyn Jones, a visit to Caradoc Evans in Aberystwyth in 1934 had been a particularly significant event both for himself and for the young Swansea friend who accompanied him. ‘Last week-end I spent in Aberystwyth with Caradoc Evans,’ wrote Thomas to Pamela Hansford Johnson. ‘He’s a great fellow. We made a tour of the pubs in the evening, drinking to the eternal damnation of the Almighty & the soon-to-hoped-for destruction of the tin Bethels.’² This ‘famous...

    • 8 ‘Fucking and Forgiveness’: The Case of Glyn Jones
      (pp. 256-293)

      As his reminiscences make clear, Glyn Jones’s awareness of being that singular new phenomenon, a Welsh author writing in English, developed only gradually, and somewhat incredulously, between the two World Wars through a series of meetings with other writers. These were indubitably Welsh, he realized, although writing in English like himself. Even as he advanced deeper into old age, he could recall each of these transformative encounters of his youth with a sensuous exactness. He saw them as furtive assignations, moments of cultural (or perhaps counter-cultural) epiphany, shocks of recognition, initiations into a secret brotherhood of Anglophone Welsh writers (no...

    • 9 ‘Solid in Goodly Counsel’: The ChapelsWrite Back
      (pp. 294-328)

      ‘Most of those who tried their hands at the form in English relied too much on the impulse of rebellion against the shackles of their society to make the efforts required to try and understand it.’¹ That is the elderly Emyr Humphreys’s scathing verdict on the ‘Anglo-Welsh’ novelists of his generation. He has in mind their treatment of Welsh Nonconformity, and particularly their failure to recognize how, following the collapse of chapel culture, ‘the Welsh condition represented the spiritual crisis of the West in microcosm’. This has been his own ‘epic’ theme, pursued through the writing of more than twenty...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 330-337)

    We end, then, where we began, with the Revival. More than a century after it occurred, it can still serve, in the literary as well as the popular imagination, as a burning-glass for all the mixed emotions with which Wales continues at times to reflect on its Nonconformist inheritance. The passage comes from Tom Davies’s revised edition ofOne Winter of the Holy Spirit(1984), published to coincide with the centenary of 1904–1905.As this extract suggests, the novel is written to the popular romance formula familiar from innumerable earlier treatments of chapel life, and it runs through the repertoire...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 338-356)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 357-372)