DENTON WELCH: The Making of a Writer by Michael De-la-Noy

DENTON WELCH: The Making of a Writer

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Alexander Pope spoke of ""this long disease, my life,"" and Denton Welch (1915-48) might have, too. But Pope was a great artist and transcended his pain, Welch a minor novelist-painter who never outgrew an obsession with his own suffering ego. Not that he can be blamed for this: Born in Shanghai to a wealthy Anglo-American family, he had a classic miserable childhood--spoiled but neglected (his mother bathed him until he was nine, but until that age no one bothered to teach him how to read), a lonely waif shuttling back and forth between China and barbarous (to him) English schools; a timid, masochistic homosexual, etc. Welch's boyish wretchedness was capped by the death of his mother when he was 11, but the supreme disaster came at age 20 when he was run over by a car. The next 13 years were a protracted dying, staved off by drugs and sheer willpower. Before he finally succumbed, Welch managed to write three novels, various short stories, and long journals, all intensely and unremittingly autobiographical. Some readers, notably Edith Sitwell, hailed his books; but a generation later, they seem thin; Welch had a naturally keen eye and a deft, fluent style, but not much else. Like the many scattered bits of evidence (letters, journal entries, reminiscences by friends) De-la-Noy assembles here, the fragments of Welch's published work constitute a vivid, minute, and not altogether appealing self-portrait. Welch could be manipulative, catty, shrill. He largely ignored the world-historical trauma of the late '30s and the war years. His broken (and semi-impotent) body was a sensitive recording instrument, but of narrow range. De-la-Noy does about as well as possible under the circumstances. His narrative is clear and fair-minded, but ultimately claustrophic, like an overlong visit to a sickroom.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking