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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

THE SPENT LIE Dylan Thomas, The Collected Letters, edited by Paul Ferris (Dent) £20
Paul Ferris, Dylan Thomas (Penguin) £3.95

In his biography of Dylan Thomas, now reprinted by Penguin in their 'Literary Biographies' series, Paul Ferris has depicted a talent which, after a precocious flowering, showed itself incapable of further significant development. As Ferris points out, Thomas had written about half of the poems subsequently published in the Collected Poems 1934-1952 before he was twenty-two; what followed was less a true development than an often desperate attempt to re-establish contact with the inspiration of his adolescent years.

The material now assembled by Ferris in his collected edition of the letters makes clear how deeply ingrained in Thomas's own personality were the factors which inhibited his growth as an artist. Bernard Spencer, who knew him in the early 1930s, used to refer to him as 'The Ugly Suckling'; and many of these letters suggest the greedy egocentricity of a spoilt child reluctant to assume the responsibilities of adulthood. 'Didn't we work better', he wrote to his friend Dan Jones, in a letter heavy with nostalgia for days and evenings shared in Swansea, 'weren't poems and music better, weren't we happier in being unhappy, out of that world, than in - not even out of - this unlocal, uncentral world where the pubs are bad and the people are sly and the only places to go are the places to go to?' Thomas was twenty years old, newly freed from the constraints of his parents' home, and standing on the threshold of an apparently promising literary career; that ...

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