Rediscovering ‘lost’ novel of leading Second World War writer Alun Lewis
A previously unseen novel by one of the Second World War’s finest writers, Alun Lewis, is being published to mark the centenary of his birth and will be launched at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth on 22 July.
The novel, Morlais, is being published by Seren. It was written in the late 1930s and reflects Lewis’ own experiences growing up in the poverty-stricken industrial valleys of south Wales.
Lewis was born in Cwmaman near Aberdare on 1 July 1915 and from a young age wanted to be a writer. He won scholarships to Cowbridge Grammar School, Aberystwyth University and the University of Manchester, later working as a teacher.
Despite his Pacifist leanings, he enlisted in the army in 1940 and qualified as a Second Lieutenant. He died in Burma in 1944 in an incident involving his own pistol which is now generally understood to have been suicide.
The only collection of poetry published in his lifetime, Raiders’ Dawn (1942) was well received and re-printed six times. A second volume, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets (1945) includes a foreword by Robert Graves; several collections of poems, letters and stories have been published subsequently.
Lewis’ biographer, Dr John Pikoulis, who has written the ‘Afterword’ to Morlais, will be speaking at the launch of the novel, which takes place at the National Library’s DRWM multi-media auditorium at 1.15pm on 22 July. Admission is free by ticket, available from the Library’s shop, telephone 01970 632548.
The launch also includes an exhibition of Lewis’ work from the Library’s own collection, which houses the archives of many of Wales’ most important 20th and 21st century poets and authors, such as Dylan Thomas, Edwards Thomas, Kate Roberts and T Gwyn Jones.
Alun Lewis’ widow, Mrs Gweno M Lewis, presented a collection of his manuscripts and papers to the National Library in 1998, many of which have been digitised. They are available to read online by searching for the reference Alun Lewis Papers, Poetry MS1 on the Library’s website.
Alun Lewis worked closely with the artists Brenda Chamberlain and John Petts, whose papers and art work are also available for the public to view at the Library.
Dr John Pikoulis, Alun Lewis’ biographer, explains:
“Lewis is one of the best-known English-language poets and writers of the Second World War and his poems and stories, authentic and moving, were popular with readers and critics alike. Morlais, written when Lewis was in his mid-twenties, is an early indication of the talented writer he would become and I’m delighted that after all this time, new audiences will be able to enjoy this vivid work.”
Nia Mai Daniel, National Library Head of Archives and Manuscripts Section says: “I’m delighted Alun Lewis’ work is being highlighted during the centenary of his birth and I welcome readers to come and see the many fascinating papers we hold in our collection.”
For more information please contact Hannah Thomas on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07810 794853 or Lydia Whitfield at Effective Communications on LWhitfield@effcom.co.uk or 07890 953402
- The National Library of Wales can be found off Penglais Hill in Aberystwyth. It is clearly sign-posted along the main roads into the town.
- Entry to the Library is free. The Library is open to the public Monday-Friday, 9:30am-6.00pm and on Saturdays between 9.30am-5.00pm.
- More information on Seren
- Dr John Pikoulis has also written a new book, Alun, Gweno & Freda, which gives an account of Lewis’ life and work through the particular prism of his relationships with his wife, Gweno, and with Freda Aykroyd, an ex-patriot in India whose house provided respite for British officers on leave: www.serenbooks.com/productdisplay/alun-gweno-freda
- More information on Alun Lewis
- One of Alun Lewis’ most famous poems, All Day It Has Rained, where he writes
- about the listlessness of life in camp during the Second World War, can be read here: