Dorothy Edwards

Staging Dorothy Edwards

Up until now, Gary Raymond has been known as a novelist, critic, and broadcaster, but here he explains the journey of his new play, A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death, and how he found a way to tell the story of “forgotten” Welsh writer Dorothy Edwards on the stage.

Dorothy Edwards came into my life relatively recently. From the moment I saw her face looking out from that photograph of her in the garden, hands on hips, high cheekbones above pursed lips, the dark eyes of the Welsh, she was immediately a presence who lingered. From far back in the reaches of time, she had an unshakeable contemporaneity to her. In a style that I was to learn was familiar to those who knew her, it was quite an entrance; an explosive mixture of the personality that I found in her biography (she had a fascinating life), of the enigma I found in her work (what is it about those quiet stories?), and it was in the look that I found in the magnetic glare. Once encountered, Dorothy Edwards is not so easily forgotten.

So why has she been forgotten by all but the lucky few? Her work was introduced to me by my wife, who had come across Edwards on her literature MA. Edwards’ appreciation in academic circles has grown in the last two decades, but she has not gotten much further than that. Her two books were republished by Virago in the 1980s, and in the twenty first century the pioneering appreciation of people like Christopher Meredith and Claire Flay haven breathed oxygen into the pockets of admiration for her work. But there is no doubt she remains undervalued, and in my experience, unknown to the vast majority of readers. I have no doubt her work should be as well-known as that of Katherine Mansfield, and that her name should always be on the tip of the tongue when discussing great women writers of the first half of the twentieth century.

Dorothy Edwards’ work, which amounts to a collection of short stories and one short novel, is as timeless as it is haunting, an exercise in the art of what is not said, in the spaces between people, the inches and the oceans, of lives going unlived, of love going undeclared. Her stories are bleak, specked with what you can only recognise as hope; they have a distinct musicality to them in their rhythms and structures, and radiate a beautiful melancholy. Her characters are desperately gripped by the restrictions of their class and sex, and by their inabilities to communicate. Her prose is exquisitely poised, and her stories leave a distinct flavour that hints that something very special has just been ingested, something impossible to articulate in something so vulgar as a description. It is the stuff of life.

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A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death by Gary Raymond is on at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff from May 30thto June 3rd and is produced by Company of Sirens. Tickets are on sale via the Chapter website.