Print of a Hare's Foot
Long before the idea that all biography is fiction became fashionable, Rhys Davies was cheerfully retelling his life story without mention of such minor details as his date of birth, or the existence of brothers and sisters. Despite this deviation from convention, Print of a Hare’s Foot is both compelling and believable; its status as a modern classic thoroughly deserved. Davies was a writer with impeccable skills of characterisation, and the shop-girls, strikers, preachers and writers who inhabit this ’Autobiographical Beginning’ emerge from the book with a powerful vitality equal to the best of his short fiction.
Moreover, this life straddles two very different but equally compelling societies. It begins with Davies’s childhood and adolescence in the Rhondda valleys, where his family are reasonably prosperous shopkeepers, distanced to a degree from the industrial strife and periodic poverty that surrounds them. Chapel sermons are purgatory in a rough flannel shirt; strikers have their heads broken. But unlike many of his contemporaries, Davies maintains an ironic disengagement from the social issues of the time: people interest him more than politics. Leaving life behind the counter, Davies moves to London, to the literary scene and anonymous bed-sitters in Fitzrovia. Alternatively writing and travelling during the 20s and 30s, in France he catches crabs in Nice and discusses Chekhov with D.H. Lawrence, a great friend and important influence. And in Germany, the homosexual Davies is an uneasy witness to the rise of Nazism.
Moving between ’red’ Rhondda; and the artistic and sexual freedoms of bohemia, Print of a Hare’s Foot is a fascinating account of a life lived in two apparently radical societies, viewed from a uniquely individual perspective.
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