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A beautiful life

22 May 2023

New play recognises searing talent of little-known Welsh writer and contemporary of the hallowed Bloomsbury set

An unrecognised talent of the 20th century writing scene is taking centre stage in a new play by a fellow Cardiff University graduate.

Born in Ogmore in 1908, Dorothy Edwards was a promising singer and author of Rhapsody (1927) and Winter Sonata (1928), highly regarded in her lifetime but now little known. Both books describe the marginalisation of women in the inter-war period.

Welsh, working class and independent, Edwards was a survivor of a societal intolerance of women who refused to obey the moral and social codes of the day.

Her packed life was incredibly short. An outsider of huge talent, she died in 1934, taking her own life and leaving a note that remains famous today.

Well-travelled and well-read, Edwards graduated from Cardiff in 1924 (Greek and Philosophy, BA) before making the move to London to pursue a writing career.

Here she was befriended by writer David Garrett who introduced her to the Bloomsbury set as the ‘Welsh Cinderella’, enabling her to write whilst providing childcare for his family.

Edwards would soon be championed by the artist Dora Carrington, but her social standing and nationalist and socialist background was at odds with the London arts scene. Out of favour, she returned to Wales to support her widowed mother.

New play A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death celebrates the talent of the little-known Welsh writer.

It’s the debut play of broadcaster and writer Gary Raymond and directed by Chris Durnall in a Company of Sirens production. The show’s live score celebrates how Edwards’ writing follows musical notation, capturing the sonata form.

A familiar voice in the arts scene in Wales, Gary Raymond is author of three novels and two non-fiction books, regular presenter of The Review Show and co-founder of Wales Arts Review. His creative writing PhD in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy is looking at the evolution of the protagonist in novels of ecological catastrophe.

The Newport-based broadcaster and writer explains what drew him to this project:

"The attraction to Dorothy was to do with her spirit as much as it was her wonderful writing. She is the author of perhaps the most famous suicide note in literature, and I wanted to reclaim her from that narrow legacy. Those who know her work fall in love with it. And she was, by many accounts, the brightest, sharpest presence in any room she entered.

"Her letters betray a vivid modern voice of a young woman with passions and desires and a soaring intellect. The important thing for me was to create a version of her for the stage which turned people toward her and her work. I think - I hope - this play will be part of the process of establishing her as a major literary figure of Wales and the UK."

The play’s title is inspired by Dorothy’s own words, found in the archives holding her journals and works:

"Life is neither a comedy nor tragedy, but rather it is a beautiful rhythm of life and death".

A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death premieres at Chapter Arts Centre on Tuesday 30 May 2023.

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