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Dylan Thomas: Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Dog (original 1940; edition 1968)

by Dylan Thomas

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Member:shurayuki-hime
Title:Dylan Thomas: Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Dog
Authors:Dylan Thomas
Info:New Directions (1968), Paperback, 123 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog by Dylan Thomas (1940)

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With a title nodding at James Joyce, Thomas' first prose collection (after several volumes of poetry) was published in 1940. Also autobiographical, these ten somewhat bittersweet stories cover different periods in the author's childhood, later youth and early adulthood. These stories are tenderly written, though they have more than a fair share of humour and are definitely written with a twinkle in the eye. They give an interesting insight to the lower-middle class childhood and coming of age Thomas had in 1920s & '30s south Wales. Here is a little flavour of the stories:

The Peaches -

Young Dylan is staying with Aunt Annie, Uncle Jim and older cousin Gwilym at their farm. The dusty and snug summer country routine is broken when arrangements are made for the apparently posh Mrs Williams' son Jack to come and play.

"'Is Mrs Williams very rich?' asked Gwilym.
I told him she had three motor cars and two houses, which was a lie. 'She's the richest woman in Wales, and once she was a mayoress,' I said. 'Are we going to have tea in the best room?'
Annie nodded. 'And a large tin of peaches' she said.
'That old tin's been in the cupboard since Chistmas,' said Gwilym, 'mother's been keeping it for a day like this.' 'They're lovely peaches,' Annie said. She went upstairs to dress like Sunday."

A Visit to Grandpa's -

"It was the first time I had stayed in grandpa's house. The floorboards had squeaked like mice as I climbed into bed, and the mice between the walls had creaked like wood as though another visitor was walking on them."

Dylan's eccentric (and probably senile) Grandpa proceed's to behave very strangely - in a way that alerts a well-drilled corps of villagers to prompt action: 'Dai Thomas has been to Llanstephan, and he's got his waistcoat on' is the uncoded cry that goes up shop by shop...

Patricia, Edith, and Arnold -

A winter scene this time as young Dylan is witness to the family help's despair. The reality dawns on her best friend (the next door girl) and her that their beau-in-common has been a cad. Tears and snowball sodden letters.

The Fight -

Two boys have a fight and end up the best of friends. Dylan visits Dan at his house later that day and they decide to start a magazine called 'The Thunderer'. Dylan reads some of his poetry at the family dinner table.

Extraordinary Little Cough -

"One afternoon, in a particularly bright and glowing August, some years before I knew I was happy, George Hooping, whom we called Little Cough, Sidney Evans, Dan Davies, and I sat on the roof of a lorry travelling to the end of the Peninsular."

So begins an entertaining tale of adventure and girls as the boys go on holiday in the Gower.

Just Like Little Dogs -

An off-season seaside town. Three men shelter from the rain under a railway arch one windy and dark evening.

"Families sat down to supper in rows of short houses, the wireless sets were on, the daughters' young men sat in the front rooms. In neighbouring houses they read the news off the table cloth, and the potatoes from dinner were fried up. Cards were played in the front rooms of houses on the hills. In the houses on tops of the hills families were entertaining friends, and the blinds of the front rooms were not quite drawn. I heard the sea in a cold bit of the cheery night.

One of the strangers said suddenly, in a high, clear voice: 'What are we all doing then?'
'Standing under a bloody arch' said the other one."

Where Tawe Flows -

"Mr Humphries, Mr Roberts, and young Mr Thomas knocked on the front door of Mr Emlyn Evans's small villa 'Lavengro', punctually at nine o'clock in the evening."

The four men proceed to sit and discuss their collaborative attempts at writing together "a novel of provinicial life" chapter by chapter and week by week each Friday at nine o'clock sharp.

Who Do You Wish Was With Us? -

Dylan and his friend Ray embark on a walking trip - once again it's the beautiful Gower Peninsular, so close to Thomas' Swansea.

Old Garbo -

Now Cub reporter at the Tawe News, just before Christmas, Dylan is reviewing a performance called 'The Crucifixion' on his Saturday afternoon off. A masterful character study follows where we see the young writer observing the comings and goings in various local drinking holes.

One Warm Saturday -

Possibly the strongest piece in this collection, it's well suited closing out the collection as it's atmosphere and imagery really linger long after the reading. In a seaside-set story, a young man falls heavily for a girl he sees briefly sitting on a bench reading a book. By chance they meet again later in a nearby pub. An ensuing 'party' sees the frustrated love-struck couple accompanied by a bevvy of other drinkers, chaperones and assorted hangers-on. In an unexpectedly Kafka-esque denouement they somehow manage to lose each other.

Overall, this was an interesting collection I'm glad to have read. I didn't like all of it, but there was enough here to make me want to read more of Thomas' short stories. I particularly liked 'The Peaches', 'A Visit to Grandpa's', 'Just Like Little Dogs', and 'One Warm Saturday' ( )
  Polaris- | Dec 9, 2013 |
I don't like Dylan Thomas' short stories nearly as much as his poetry and Under Milk Wood, but he certainly has a way with words, with descriptions that are fresh and different. For that it gets an extra star than I would normally give it.

A couple of these stories -- 'A Visit to Grandpa's' and 'One Warm Saturday' -- are really going to stick in my mind.

As with Under Milk Wood, likely to reward rereading: I'd read 'The Peaches' and 'Extraordinary Little Cough' before, and I liked them more this time. I also liked them more in the context of the other short stories in the volume, somehow, although they aren't directly connected, other than that they're all at least somewhat autobiographical. There's a wryness about some of them that's appealing, too. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
There's a great deal of interesting characters to these stories and though they don't really knock you over the head, they tend to stick with you for awhile in all their small subtleties. What I really enjoyed about this book is, and excuse me for being very Holden Caufield-y but none of the characters are fake or phony even the guy who convinces two women he loves them both. There's a sense of innocence to these Welsh human beings even when their intentions are not so good and there's also a huge range of people to discover from the preacher man to the grandfather losing his wits to the burgeoning poet who gets a chance to share his words with others. You can't help but feel a love and affection for them.

In a small way, it bears a crucial similarity to James Joyce's Dubliners in that all of these characters could in fact exist and be based on townspeople...yet, the polar opposite nature lies in the fact that none of these people seem to be filled with such depraved crooked malice. ( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
The ten short glimpses into Dylan Thomas’s youth in Wales are a joy to read. I particularly liked “The Peaches”, “Extraordinary Little Cough”, “Just Like Little Dogs”, and “Where Tawe Flows”, but Thomas’s writing is lyrical and poignant throughout.

Quotes:
On walking at night, feeling both solitude and a oneness with the world at the same time:
“I liked to walk through the wet town after midnight, when the streets were deserted and the window lights out, alone and alive on the glistening tram-lines in dead and empty High Street under the moon, gigantically sad in the damp streets by ghostly Ebenezer Chapel. And I never felt more a part of the remote and overpressing world, or more full of love and arrogance and pity and humility, not for myself alone, but for the living earth I suffered on and for the unfeeling systems in the upper air, Mars and Venus and Brazell and Skully, men in China and St. Thomas, scorning girls and ready girls, soldiers and bullies and policemen and sharp, suspicious buyers of second-hand books, bad, ragged women who’d pretend against the museum wall for a cup of tea, and perfect, unapproachable women out of the fashion magazines, seven feet high, sailing slowly in their flat, glazed creations through steel and glass and velvet. “

Also this one, another night scene:
“A train raced over us, and the arch shook. Over the shore, behind the vanishing train, smoke clouds flew together, rags of wings and hollow bodies of great birds black as tunnels, and broke up lazily; cinders fell through a sieve in the air, and the sparks were put out by the wet dark before they reached the sand. The night before, little quick scarecrows had bent and picked at the track-line and a solitary dignified scavenger wandered three miles by the edge with a crumpled coal sack and a park-keeper’s steel-tipped stick. Now they were tucked up in sacks, asleep in a siding, their heads in bins, their beards in straw, in coal-trucks thinking of fires, or lying beyond pickings on Jack Stiff’s slab near the pub in the Fishguard Alley, where the methylated-spirit drinkers danced into the policemen’s arms and women like lumps of clothes in a pool waited, in doorways and holes in the soaking wall, for vampires or firemen. Night was properly on us now. The wind changed. Thin rain began. The sands themselves went out. We stood in the scooped, windy room of the arch, listening to the noises from the muffled town, a good train shunting, a siren in the docks, the hoarse trams in the streets far behind, one bark of a dog, unplaceable sounds, iron being beaten, the distant creaking of wood, doors slamming where there were no houses, an engine coughing like a sheep on a hill.”

On childhood memories one isn’t proud of:
“I let Edgar Reynolds be whipped because I had taken his homework; I stole from my mother’s bag; I stole from Gwyneth’s bag; I stole twelve books in three visits from the library, and threw them away in the park; I drank a cup of my water to see what it would taste like; I beat a dog with a stick so that it would roll over and lick my hand afterwards; I looked with Dan Jones through the keyhole while his maid had a bath; I cut my knee with a penknife, and put the blood on my handkerchief and said it had come out of my ears so that I could pretend I was ill and frighten my mother; I pulled my trousers down and showed Jack Williams; I saw Billy Jones beat a pigeon to death with a fire-shovel, and laughed and got sick; Cedric Williams and I broke into Mrs. Samuels’s house and poured ink over her bedclothes.”

On approaching girls:
“I could have swept the ground with my cap, kissed my hand gaily, called them senoritas, and made them smile without tolerance. Or I could have stayed at a distance, and this would have been better still, my hair blown in the wind, though there was no wind at all that evening, wrapped in mystery and staring at the sun, too aloof to speak to girls; but I knew that all the time my ears would have been burning, my stomach would have been as hollow and as full of voices as a shell. ‘Speak to them quickly, before they go away!’ a voice would have said insistently over the dramatic silence, as I stood like Valentino on the edge of the bright, invisible bull-ring of the sands. ‘Isn’t it lovely here!’ I said.”

On ‘love’ as a boy:
“Although I knew I loved her, I didn’t like anything she said or did.”

On memories:
“We wanted to run down to the beach, Dan and Sidney and George and I, to be alone together, to walk and shout by the sea in the country, throw stones at the waves, remember adventures and make more to remember.”

And this one, on memories that take us back to youth and which will be with us until we die:
“I watched the queue outside the Empire and studied the posters of Nuit-de-Paris, and thought of the long legs and startling faces of the chorus-girls I had seen walking arm in arm, earlier that week, up and down the streets in the winter sunshine, their mouths, I remembered remarking and treasuring for the first page of The Merciless Ladies that was never begun, like crimson scars, their hair raven-black or silver; their scent and paint reminded me of the hot and chocolate-covered East, their eyes were pools. Lola de Kenway, Babs Courcey, Ramona Day would be with me all my life. Until I died, of a wasting, painless disease, and spoke my prepared last words, they would always walk with me, recalling to my dead youth in the vanished High Street, nights when the shop windows were blazing, and singing came out of the pubs, and sirens from the Hafod sat in the steaming chip shops with their handbags on their knees and their earrings rattling.”

Lastly this one drew a smile:
“Mrs. Evans heard the last remark as she came into the room. She was a thin woman with bitter lines, tired hands, the ruins of fine brown eyes, and a superior nose. An unshockable woman, she had once listened to Mr. Roberts’s description of his haemorrhoids for over an hour on a New Year’s Eve and had allowed him, without protest, to call them the grapes of wrath.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Aug 27, 2012 |
As you would expect, a poetic evocation of Wales in the early part of the twentieth century. ( )
  wrichard | Jul 13, 2012 |
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Claus, HugoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Includes: The Peaches; A Visit to Grandpa's; Patricia, Edith and Arnold; The Flight; Extraordinary Little Cough; Just Like Little Dogs; Where Tawe Flows; Who Do You Wish Was with Us; Old Garbo; and One Warm Sunday.
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Thirteen short stories filled with memorable characters of Thomas's youth.

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