Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Memories of Dylan Thomas

A diary written in a school exercise book by Caitlin Thomas, two years after her husband Dylan Thomas died, has been put up for sale by Rick Gekoski, an independent London bookseller. In a collection with other letters and books, he’s calling it ‘the finest Dylan Thomas material ever put together’ and is charging nearly half a million dollars (quarter of a million pounds), three times more than anything else in his current catalogue or on his sales website.

Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet born in 1914 but who died of alcohol poisoning before he was 40, became particularly well known for his speaking voice, captivating American audiences during tours in the 1950s, and recording over 200 broadcasts for the BBC. His most famous work is probably Under Milk Wood, a poetical radio play set in Llareggub, a fictional Welsh fishing village.

In July 1937, Thomas married Caitlin MacNamara, and they had three children. After Dylan’s death in 1953, she moved to Italy and had another child with Giuseppe Fazio. She died in 1994. According to Wikipedia’s article, she replied to a question on a talk show about how she remembered her husband, by saying he ‘was an utter shit’. There is also a widely reported anecdote which tells of Caitlin bursting into a hospital room where Dylan lay dying and asking, ‘Is the bloody man dead yet?’ In her autobiographical book - Caitlin: Life With Dylan Thomas - Caitlin not only revealed squalid details of financial distress, infidelity, and alcoholism, but claimed the marriage had turned from a love story to a tragedy and was close to breaking down at the time of Thomas’s death. All of which fits in well with the image of Dylan Thomas as a womanising drunk, which has endured since John Malcolm Brinnin’s 1955 biography Dylan Thomas in America.

Nevertheless, there is another side to the story. According to Library Journal quoted by Amazon and others, Caitlin’s book also recorded ‘the tenacity and tenderness, the barely defined homeliness and dependence gently simmering, like her perennial pot of soup, above the turbulence’. And now a diary written by Caitlin in 1955 in a yellowing exercise school book has turned up, and it reinforces the more positive sides of the marriage.

The diary is part of a larger collection of Dylan Thomas material being sold by a New York enthusiast through Rick Gekoski. On his website, Gekoski calls himself a ‘rare book dealer, academic, publisher, critic, bibliographer, and broadcaster’, and as having been described as ‘the Bill Bryson of the book world’. Gekoski has cleverly attracted substantial publicity from the media for the collection, perhaps by providing a number of extracts. He says it’s for sale at $480,000 or £250,000 million. The collection is not, though, listed on his catalogue yet, where the most expensive item at present is a James Joyce ‘typescript schema for Ulysses’ in a collector’s case and priced at £75,000. On Abebooks, his highest priced item is a first edition of T S Eliot’s Ara Vos Prec, priced at $39,351.

An article in The Independent gives one extract about Caitlin imagining Thomas in his grave: ‘Oh God, oh Dylan, it must be cold down there; it is cold enough on top, in November: the dirtiest month of the year that killed you on the ninth vile day. If only I could take you a bowl of your bread, and milk, and salt, that you always drank at night, to warm you up.’

And the The Times adds this: ‘I am not going into that waste allotment of a T. S. Eliot elegy of a cemetery. Dylan will have to move up, in his single ditch, snug under the cliff, and make room for me; then we can keep each other warm, or cold, or maggot breeding.’ It also quotes this passage: ‘And sometimes I have the nerve to pretend that this Dylan love never was. I can make myself believe in the superfluity of this love for quite a long time; then it catches up with me, and it is all the crosser for being ignored.’

According to WalesOnline, Gekoski said the diary ‘is frantically over-written and overwrought’ and that Caitlin ‘never used one clause when she could use three’. Although, in his opinion, the writing isn’t good enough to be published, it is very frank, and ‘very raw, beautifully so’. He told WalesOnline ‘none of this has ever been seen before’ and that it is ‘the finest Dylan Thomas material ever put together’. He added, ‘when you have material of this quality someone will want it - £250,000 is actually a very reasonable price.’

1 comment:

Anastácio Soberbo said...

Hello, I like this blog.
Sorry not write more, but my English is not good.
A hug from Portugal