I decided to read How Green Was My Valley for this year’s #Dewithon for several reasons. The first, and most obvious reason, is the Welsh setting of the book. Secondly, the book was actually on my TBR pile. Thirdly, the author’s surname is the same as my Nan’s maiden name – it’s weird how a shared name can make one feel a sense of kinship to a complete stranger.
|Photo by Jack B on Unsplash|
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Huw and his large family. It’s hard not to love the Morgan’s. They’re big-hearted, community-minded, salt-of-the-earth folk. But it quickly became apparent to me that there were a number of issues surrounding this work and the author.
My first alert was when Karen @Booker Talk mentioned (in a comment/post that I cannot now find) that Llewellyn was not a Welsh author after all. I googled.
Wikipedia discretely told me that Llewellyn was born in 1906 to Welsh parents. “Only after his death was it discovered that his claim that he was born in St Davids, West Wales, was false.”
But Britannica.com still publishes his birth place as being St David’s, Wales, not Hendon, London, where he was actually born.
The next controversy surrounds Llewellyn’s claims about how he attained his knowledge to write this book. He claimed to have spent some time down the mines in Gilfach Goch, whilst visiting his grandfather, but there is no record of him ever having done so. It is now believed, that at best, he had conversations with miners from Gilfach Goch, but every bio site I checked had conflicting information around this.
It’s quite possible for authors to research their topic and write a fabulous story, without actually experiencing it themselves. Authors do it all the time. The problem lies when you claim to have had that actual experience that you’re writing about, that somehow there is an element of memoir in your story. The trust between writer and reader becomes diminished by the deception.
The other confusion, for a number of the websites I looked into, was around dates. Llewellyn wrote HGWMV in the late 1930’s before publishing in 1939. A number of sites also claimed that the book was set during this period of time. However, the book was set much earlier, during the reign of Queen Victoria, which means the majority of the book was set during the 1890’s. Given that several of Huw’s older brothers were also instrumental in establishing a miner’s union in their area, the time frame could be even a decade earlier as most of the South Wales unions were first established during the 1880’s. I’m also sure I remember one of the characters referring to the Queen’s Jubilee early on which would probably be her Golden Jubilee in 1887 rather than her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. In 1895 one of Huw’s older brothers went to Windsor with the Welsh choir to sing before the Queen and one of the big moments towards the end of the story, centred around the disastrous miners strike of 1898. There were several passages describing the effects of the sliding scale on the community as well as the impact that the six month long strike had on the miners and their families.
My initial love for the story was tempered by these confusions and misconceptions. It was a case of google getting in the way of an entertaining, heart-warming tale.
Despite these reservations, I learnt a lot about the mining industry of southern Wales. The slag heap issues were particularly alarming, as the piles slowly, gradually, inevitably crept down the hills eating farms, rivers and homes, until entire villages were drowned in slag. I also loved Llewellyn’s use of the local Welsh dialect throughout the book.
A sense of nostalgia oozed through the story from the kind-hearted, socially-conscious, politically aware Morgan family, to the scenery of the Welsh hills. Most of the time I happily went along for the sentimental journey, but every now and again it was so saccharine sweet, that I had to put the book down for a while!
All along the river, banks were showing scum from the colliery sump, and the buildings, all black and flat, were ugly to make a hurt in your chest. The two lines of cottages creeping up the mountainside like a couple of mournful stone snakes looked as though they might rise up and spit rocks grey as themselves. You would never think that warm fires and good food would come from them, so dead and unhappy they were looking.
Our valley was going black, and the slag heap had grown so much it was half-way along to our house. Young I was and small I was, but young or small I knew it was wrong, and I said so to my father.
“Yes, Huw,” he said, and stopped to look. “I told them years ago to start underground, but nobody would listen. Now, there are more important things to think about. That is something that will have to be done when you are grown up. there will be plenty for you to do, indeed.”