Edwards, Dorothy (writer)

Reference: MS 5085Date: c.1912-c.1986Extent: 2 boxes

Dorothy Edwards (1902–1934) was born at Brynteg, Glamorgan, Wales, the only child of Edward Edwards (c.1865–1917), schoolmaster, and his wife, Vida, née Jones (c.1866–1934), schoolmistress.

Dorothy Edwards’ father was part of the Independent Labour Party and the co-operative movement. Like her father, Edwards was a lifelong vegetarian and ardent socialist. She was raised around people such as Keir Hardie and George Lansbury, reciting verses and welcoming them on stage at rallies. Edwards was raised to believe that class and gender-based divisions would soon crumble.

She was educated at Howells School in Cardiff, going on to read Greek and Philosophy at Cardiff University between 1920 and 1924, and became part of a circle of ambitious, unconventional women. She was briefly engaged to her philosophy professor, John MacCaig Thorburn (1883–1970), but this came to a bitter end during her studies.

Edwards was a natural linguist, she learned German, and some Russian and Welsh. Upon graduating, she went to Europe, spending six months in Vienna and nine months in Florence before returning to Cardiff to live with her widowed mother, determined to make a living as a writer.

In 1925–6 three of her stories, ‘A Country House’, ‘Summer-time’, and ‘The Conquered’, appeared in The Calendar of Modern Letters; the former was also included in Edward J. O’Brien’s Best Short Stories of 1926. These stories were collected in Rhapsody (1927), alongside seven others that she had written or revised during the time she spent in Vienna. Winter Sonata, a short novel, followed in 1928. This novel deconstructed social and gender hierarchies through its depiction of a small English village during the winter months.

Dorothy Edwards’ style was unlike that of her South Walian peers during this period, in many of her short stories, she mimicked a male, middle-class voice subtly to devalue accepted power structures.

Following the publication of Rhapsody, Edwards caught the eye of the Bloomsbury author David Garnett who introduced her to the wider Bloomsbury Group, including Dora Carrington. Review work for the Western Mail & South Wales News during 1928–32 provided an unreliable income.

As her home and financial situation grew worse, Dorothy Edwards accepted an offer to stay with David and Ray Garnett at their London flat in Endsleigh Street. In exchange for providing care for their young son, Edwards received board, lodging, and space in which to write. The publisher E. E. Wishart offered her an advance on a new volume based on stories that she wrote during her time with the Garnett family.

Soon however, the ideological differences between Garnett and Edwards became too much. Edwards was feeling frustrated at being dependant on the Garnetts, she was feeling guilty for leaving her ailing mother in the care of a hired companion, and was also reeling after a brief love affair with a married Welsh cellist, Ronald Harding. She decided to return and spend Christmas 1933 in Cardiff. Late on 5 January 1933, after burning letters from Thorburn and an unpublished novel, she committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train.

This collection reflects the aspects of Dorothy Edwards’ life mentioned above, mainly through correspondence between Edwards and her two friends, S. Beryl Jones and Winnifred Kelly. It also contains correspondence from Keir Hardie, David Garnett, Dora Carrington, Martin Lyle, Chatto and Windus, and P. Gilchrist Thompson. The correspondence covers her life, her mental health and feelings about herself and her living situation, details of her time in Vienna, Florence, Wales and London, as well as comments on her work and that of her friends. Works such as Rhapsody and Winter Sonata are discussed in the correspondence.

The collection includes some poems mostly by Dorothy Edwards, manuscripts, drafts and proofs of her work, a diary, testimonials and a few photographs. Amongst the papers of Dorothy Edwards, there is also a hat and a manicure set which belonged to Edwards.

Sources used: Dorothy Edwards entry by Claire Flay on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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