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Alun Lewis: Letters to My Wife

Alun Lewis
Gweno Lewis
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
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Soldier and poet Alun Lewis (1915-1944) was an inveterate letter writer who wrote regularly to family, friends and other writers such as Robert Graves. Where they have been published they have attracted wide praise for their humanity and spontaneity, and have been compared by critics to the letters of Keats.

This paperback edition of Letters to My Wife is published to mark Lewis’s centenary. It collects over 240 letters to his wife Gweno Ellis, beginning with his sudden enlistment and continuing until his untimely death on active service in Burma in March 1944. In them the reader is given a unique account of day to day army life, for officers and other ranks, in Britain and the Far East. The descriptions of the dreariness of long years of training in Britain in advance of a European front are as revealing as those of response the journey to India via Brazil and South Africa, and Lewis’ response to the culture shock of India. The insights into service life are authentic and illuminating. As are the insights into Lewis’s character – his inclination towards depression, his conflicted pacifism at the beginning of the war, his unwillingness (and innate unsuitability) to becoming an officer, and, in India his efforts to cheer Gweno having met (we now understand) his muse in Freda Aykroyd. Lewis’s letters testify to his love for his war bride Gweno, whom he married in July 1941 before embarkation.

The letters also shed light on Lewis the writer – he would become the writer of World War Two. Here are his thoughts on poems and stories as they developed and were published, and his excitement at the critical and public response to a burgeoning talent. They also reveal in sometimes devastating detail Lewis’ struggle to become an artist.

“Passionate, tender, kindly, charming, interesting… leaves no doubt about the exceptional charm of the man, and none about the subtlety, intelligence and emotional force of the writer lost to us.” – Andrew Motion

“Fascinating… there is so much detail one had forgotten or never knew.” – Peter Levi

“We are always aware, as in Keats’s letters, of a man who is living his life, and making himself from what he makes of his experience. Keats would have said making his soul, and I do not think Lewis would have disagreed.  … In time Letters to my Wife will surely come to be regarded as a classic telling of the primary human story, the story of love and death.” – Jeremy Hooker

“I was not prepared for the cumulative power of the letters as an account of just what it was like to be a young soldier and in love during World War II. It is all here. …He is a natural writer, continuously aware of the semantic and magic possibilities of the language he is using.” – Vernon Scannell

“It will become a classic in that branch of literature ‘published correspondence’. Letters, in short; letters written as private but whose contents and beauty shift them from privacy into the realm of public relevance and awareness, as vivid documents of people and of their times.” – John Ormond

“In historical and human terms this book rings true. He was a clear-eyed realist, and his letters make compelling reading.” – Michael Duffy, TES

“It is the impression of integrity in the texture of his life that one takes from reading Alun Lewis. It is his achievement to have conveyed this in a few brief years of creative power. It is the patient humanity of a man struggling with the question of how we might live a better life, yet refusing all easy answers that one takes away from these letters. Let that be his testament.” – Greg Hill

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