Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Death of Dorothy Edwards

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the horrific suicide of Dorothy Edwards. Edwards was a young and gifted Welsh writer whose only two books Rhapsody (1927) and Winter Sonata (1928) were critically acclaimed upon publication. My 1986 Virago reprints are falling to pieces I've read them so many times.

Her prose, measured, precise, almost minimalist, is beautifully crafted. Beyond playing musical instruments her characters rarely engage in strenuous physical activity. Their feelings too are always kept firmly in check. Beneath the calm surface you feel an explosion of emotion will occur at any moment but it never does.

These claustrophobic stories often take place in country houses and there is usually a musical theme. Her writing owes much to nineteenth century Russian fiction, particularly Chekhov, Turgenev and Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata.

Given the perfect restraint of her fiction her violent suicide is all the more shocking. On January 6, 1934, she threw herself under a train near Caerphilly. The following morning her mutilated remains were discovered between the rails. Protruding from her pocket was a suicide note. It read: "I am killing myself because I have never sincerely loved any human being. All my life I have accepted kindness and friendship, and even love, without gratitude and given nothing in return."

Her battered corpse was fully clothed except for an absence of footwear - no trace of her shoes was ever found. An inquest into her death held at Caerphilly delivered the verdict of: suicide during temporary insanity.

It seems rather odd that she travelled all the way to Caerphilly to kill herself. After all, her home at Pen-y-Dre, Rhiwbina, is situated right next to a railway line. Edwards shared a house there with her mother. It's possible that she didn't want to exacerbate her mother's grief by doing the deed on their own doorstep.

Legend has it she was in love with a married man, a cellist in a Welsh orchestra. Unfortunately he was unwilling to leave his wife. It has been suggested the affair distressed her so deeply it led directly to her self-inflicted death. This theory though seems to contradict the sentiments expressed in her suicide note.

On the day of her death she spent the afternoon in her garden burning letters and personal papers, so we'll never be absolutely certain why she killed herself. She then walked over Rhiwbina Hill, called in on some friends, before departing for Caerphilly.

Dorothy Edwards' body was cremated at Glyn Taff, Pontypridd.