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‘Blighted be the valleys’: Welsh industrial literature and the environment

Armstrong-Twigg, Seth 2021. ‘Blighted be the valleys’: Welsh industrial literature and the environment. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Abstract

This thesis offers the first ecocritical reading of Welsh industrial literature in its examination of environmental degradation within four texts published in the 1930s that depict the nation’s coal industry. To date, these texts have largely been examined from a socio-political perspective and, as a result, reflect historical concerns. This thesis shifts the focus of criticism from the interpersonal to the ways in which human beings interact with the environment; it is thus symptomatic of contemporary concerns, and echoes a change in the perception of culture, where environmental issues are irremovable from works of art. Although the main chapters focus on texts from the 1930s, the prologue of this thesis returns to the nineteenth century and examines four travel accounts that record the town of Merthyr Tydfil and its infamous ironworks. This section is positioned as an introduction to the 1930s and as a means of explaining how the fire and fury of Merthyr’s ironworks prompted an artistic shift in which environmental degradation was brought to the foreground. The first chapter remains in Merthyr with Jack Jones’s Black Parade (1935) and examines the depiction of river pollution. In the first part, I argue that an emphasis on toxicity reveals the innovation of Jones’s writing, before reimagining the novel as a work of environmental protest. Chapter Two, on deforestation in Idris Davies’s Gwalia Deserta (1938), first explores the place of trees in Welsh literary history, in order to locate a foundation for the poem’s pairing of woodland and people. The second half of the chapter considers the identity of treeless places and explores how compromised environmental exteriors create polluted interior states. Chapter Three’s emphasis on air pollution in B. L. Coombes’s documentary account, These Poor Hands (1939), begins underground by revealing the true human and non-human cost of mining, whilst the second part returns aboveground in order to trace the impact of polluted air on humanised environments. The final chapter on Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley (1939) investigates the mismanagement of land through spoil tips, whilst also connecting the novel’s fascism with its depiction of the environment. The first part examines the corruptive encroachment of the spoil tip on pastoral land, and how its cumulative growth threatens the narrator’s beloved mountain. The second part considers the metaphorical meaning of pastoral corruption, and how the description of Welsh land in sacred terms renders the presence of the serpentine spoil tip an act of demonic desecration. The thematic structure of this thesis is informed by the Classical elements, adapted to include wood. This holistic approach mirrors the ecocritical methodology that seeks to emphasise the interconnectedness of the human and non-human world. Throughout the following chapters, I connect literary texts to historical and contemporary environmental issues, and in doing so, argue for the value of literature, and academic research, in educating people about the urgency of the current climate crisis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Funders: South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 7 October 2021
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2021 12:34
URI: https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/144726

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