A Human Condition

‘A Human Condition’ is a collection of short stories by Rhondda-born Rhys Davies.  Despite growing up in a Rhondda mining community, Davies moved to, and worked from, London, where he remained until his death in 1978.  In London, he wrote largely of the Welsh industrial experience, rejecting the novel genre in favour, predominantly, of the short story.  The group discussed the impact of Davies’s choice of genre, and generally agreed that the format was well suited to capture snapshots of the trials, relationships, and hardships experienced in coalfield communities.

Davies’s themes largely revolve around small town life under a microscope, marriage, relationships, and in particular, the plight of women.  Many of the narratives show a sensitivity to women, trapped by tradition in the domestic setting, looking after men, and maintaining respectable Nonconformist values.  When Davies’s women do veer away from convention, they are punished in some way.  Mrs Mitchel in ‘The Fashion Plate’, for example, likes fabulous fashion and does not subscribe to the misery that is conventional in chapel life, and is subsequently at the receiving end of vicious village gossip.  Sian Prosser in ‘The Darling of Her Heart’ verbally attacks, and actually headbutts (!) the mother of a girl who dared to seduce Sian’s darling son.  Davies captures the predicament of women as the choices available to them include a life of confinement in the home, or face exclusion by society if they choose to behave more experimentally.

As a group, we considered the text from a queer reading critical perspective.  Rhys Davies, as a gay man, would not have been able to write direct accounts of homosexual relationships, as homosexuality was illegal at the time of writing.  Therefore, Davies may have been displaying coded references to queer issues through the guise of a critique of heterosexuality.  None of the heterosexual relationships in his stories are happy ones, indeed, they are manipulative, spiteful and cold at best.

There are many themes which can be liberated from Davies’s short stories when they are read closely and critically.  However, it was agreed by the group on the whole, that whatever level a reader wishes to engage with Davies’s stories, they are sensitive, humerous and rich accounts of Welsh industrial communities.