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literature

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Welch, Denton (1915-1948)  

Largely autobiographical, the novels of Denton Welch are suffused with homosexuality.

Maurice Denton Welch was born on March 29, 1915, in Shanghai, China, where both sides of the family were established in business. He was educated, unhappily, in England. His life took a major turn for the better when he began art school since his natural aptitude seemed to lie with painting.

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In one of those cruel twists in which disaster hurts the writer and helps art, Welch, while riding a bicycle, was run over by a car when he was twenty. Paralyzing, crippling injuries made him largely an invalid--and a fine writer. Those injuries led to Welch's premature death on December 30, 1948.

Welch wrote poems, mostly immature, and stories, some good, and Michael De-la-Noy believes that Welch's mature canvases mark him as a skillful and significant painter.

Yet, Welch's reputation rests largely on three highly autobiographical novels: Maiden Voyage (1943), In Youth Is Pleasure (1945), the posthumously published A Voice Through a Cloud (1950) (almost but not quite completed by Welch before his death), as well as The Journals of Denton Welch (1984), edited skillfully by De-la-Noy. (An earlier, very abridged version of the journals was edited by Jocelyn Brooke. Welch also left behind unfinished works.)

What is clear from Welch's writing is that his chief limitation is also his chief virtue: his focus on himself. For his time and place, Welch's novels are surprisingly suffused with homosexuality.

More important, they have what might be called a "queenly aura"; that is, Welch's writing possesses a sensibility at once queenly, yet hardly campy or superficial. Nor does he go for the cheap laugh.

His examination of the people around him, very thinly disguised in the novels, and his exploration of his own homosexual feelings and responses to the world show Welch to be a writer of consequence.

If Welch essentially repeated one story in his novels, he refined that story to perfection with his last. As important as the homosexual nature of Welch's books is his writing about his crippling accident and his life as a disabled person in his masterpiece A Voice Through a Cloud.

Here Welch turns his life into art by the depth and distance of his writing about his personal experiences as an odd man out in his culture; few have described physical suffering any better. Unlike his earlier novels, which can have an almost adolescent self-centeredness about them, A Voice Through a Cloud manages to connect the individual's situation to that of everyone.

Welch's literary art is constrained by his focus on himself and, one may conclude, by his lack of worldly experience as an adult.

Unlike another writer, Flannery O'Connor, who was also confined by illness for much of her writing life, Welch never developed greatly the ability to see outside his own world view (although his view can be highly entertaining) or to take the lives of others as raw material for his work.

That he had the natural writer's ability to observe the world carefully is shown most obviously in the Journals and in his last novel. All of Welch's work makes clear what gay literature, and modern literature generally, lost when the accident that made him a fine writer finally took his life.

Thomas Dukes

     

    
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    Bibliography
   

De-la-Noy, Michael. Denton Welch: The Making of a Writer. New York: Viking, 1984.

Phillips, Robert. Denton Welch. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1974.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Dukes, Thomas  
    Entry Title: Welch, Denton  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 23, 2002  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/welch_d.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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