Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: Dylan and Caitlin Thomas

The pissed-up writers seam is always a reliable one to mine for something like Trollied Tuesday. When the writer in question's other half was someone he met in the pub (the Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia, in fact) it seems a bonus.

Apparently there is also some sort of film coming out about this pair, a fact that had pretty much passed me by until I came across this highly entertaining piece in the Mail (no, really) written by Caitlin's great-nephew. So with that in mind, let's have this pair of bohemian boozers this week.

I hope, but do not expect, that the film will include incidents such as the one with Caitlin knocking her hostess to the ground in an attempt to break into the drinks cabinet which had been specifically locked to stop her getting at the booze (this seems an appropriate response to such pointedly inhospitable behaviour, if you ask me). However, what's striking is that depsite such fine anecdotes, and this gem:

Caitlin herself was remarkably free of such bourgeois restraints. After all, when Caitlin and Nicolette's father walked out on the family, they were taken in by the notoriously promiscuous artist Augustus John. He became the children's unofficial stepfather - the other 'flamboyant father' in my grandmother's memoir - and had an affair with Caitlin when she was just 15.

From then on, Caitlin rarely seemed to pass up any sexual opportunity. Apparently she once had sex with 12 Irish labourers, one after the other, in the back room of a pub.

On hearing the news, one sanguine relative remarked: 'At least it wasn't 12 Welshmen.'

the two of them generally seem to have been a pain in the arse. It's true of most so-called 'hell-raisers', really, isn't it?; the fact that the hell they raise will be one of infinite boredom and egotism (more Huis Clos than Paradise Lost, in fact). The other problem with boorish and obnoxious behaviour from literary drunks is that it in all but a tiny handful of cases the drunken part inhibits or overshadows the writing part.

In the case of Dylan Thomas, this is partly his own fault. He was rather prone to self-aggrandising claims about his drinking. There is the legend that his last words, following an evening in the White Horse in Manhattan, were "I've just had 18 straight whiskys. It think that must be the record."


Oh and the story isn't true – certainly they weren't his last words – and it's quite possible he had drunk less than the amount he claimed on the night in question. However the fact that so many people know it shows te dangerous of Thomas's brand of braggardly myth-making. In truth, Thomas probably wasn't really cut out for being a top-class drunk.* It's pretty obvious from looking at the photo that Caitlin could hold her drink far better than Dylan could – a fact which might explain many of their problems.

Anyway, far be it for me to pass judgment on someone who likes to pass the time in boozers in the company of drunken Irish girls with the morals of alley cats, but he might have been better off putting his genius into his art rather than his life.

For Dylan Thomas might make a list of great literary drunks, but he never quite developed his youthful promise as a poet to make it on the list of the 20th century's greatest poets.

Not quite, but it would be a shame to allow the boozing yarns to overshadow his writing entirely. There's definitely something there. Try reciting one his poems next time you are being ejected from a boozer. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night would be perhaps too obvious. Try something like this, rich with the cadances of the chapel, instead:

And death shall have no dominion
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon

When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone

They shall have stars at elbow and foot

Though they go mad they shall be sane

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again
Though lovers be lost love shall not

And death shall have no dominion.

After the first drink there is no other.

* Another literary lush, Anthony Burgess, used to claim that the Welsh weren't really into drink – far preferring sex as their vice of choice – whereas with the Irish it was the other way round. This Hiberno-Welsh couple pretty much reverse the stereotype, however. Perhaps that what was what caused all the trouble. In truth, though, whatever validity there is in this stereotype – and there is some – it is generally applicable only to the men. (Burgess should have known that: his first wife was Welsh and drank herself to death).

Labels: , ,


Blogger Glamourpuss said...

I'm not sure I can bear another period drama with Keira and Sienna - surely we have more interesting actresses.


5:43 pm  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home