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This article is taken from PN Review 277, Volume 50 Number 5, May - June 2024.

On First Looking into Dylan Thomas – II Andrew McNeillie
As was worldwide headline news at the time, Dylan Thomas died tragically, on 9 November 1953, at the Chelsea Hotel, in Greenwich Village, NYC. He was thirty-nine. A serious excess of alcohol was involved but there were other critical factors obscured in the case. And so, prematurely, as W.H. Auden said on the occasion of Yeats’s death, Dylan Thomas ‘became his admirers’. But not only them. He also became his detractors, never in short supply, especially among the university-educated English post-war literati; and the victim too of mythologisers and sensationalists, ardent to present him as a hard-drinking enfant terrible, an inspired Welsh ‘genius’ who knew not what he did. That is, much as was done for Brendan Behan, who has only recently begun to be properly rehabilitated. What’s more, in Thomas’s case, he died just when on the cusp of financial success, the prospect of a collaboration with Igor Stravinsky being firmly established (they met in New York to discuss it), and an end to his terrible money worries in sight. How many ‘British’ literary contemporaries of Thomas ever had such a prospect?

It has to be said that, like Behan, Thomas, who in his youth styled himself as the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive (without, it is said, ever having read Rimbaud)1, had played more than a little into the hands of the sensation mongers and romantics. He was delinquent, both as a schoolboy and occasionally as a man (not least in failing to file tax returns: a Faustian forfeit that did much to turn the screw on his final undoing, luring ...


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