Denton Welch born 27 March 1915 (d. 1948)
Maurice Denton Welch was an English writer and painter, admired for his vivid prose and precise descriptions.
Welch was born in Shanghai and spent his childhood in China — he recorded this in his fictionalised autobiography of his early years, Maiden Voyage (1935). With the help and patronage of Edith Sitwell and John Lehmann this became a small but lasting success and made for him a distinct and individual reputation. It was followed by the novel In Youth is Pleasure (1943), a study of adolescence, and by Brave and Cruel (1949). An unfinished autobiographical novel A Voice through a Cloud was published posthumously in 1950.
Welch did not set out to be a writer. He originally studied art in London with the intention of becoming a painter. At the age of 20, he was hit by a car while cycling in Surrey and suffered a fractured spine. Although he was not paralysed, he suffered severe pain and complications, including spinal tuberculosis that ultimately led to his early death. He met his companion, Eric Oliver, in November 1943 while he was convalescing. Oliver was a farm-worker living in Maidstone, and was a regular visitor. He acted as nurse for Welch, then his secretary, and finally as his literary executor when Welch died at the age of 33.
His literary work, intense and introverted, includes insightful portraits of his friends, and minutely observed portraits of the English countryside during World War II. A close attention to aesthetics, be it in human behaviour, physical appearance, clothing, art, architecture, jewelry, or antiques, is also a recurring concern in his writings. Shorter works include the essay on the painter Walter Sickert which, published originally in The London Magazine brought him to the notice of Sitwell. He continued occasionally to paint; there is a fine self-portrait (in the National Portrait Gallery), and some line illustrations in the first editions of his books.
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. 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 an over-looked one.
William S Burroughs cited Denton Welch as the writer who most influenced his own work, and dedicated his novel The Place of Dead Roads to Welch.
It may be that his most lasting work will be his posthumously published Journals, in which he is frank about his homosexuality.
Painting of Denton Welch by Gerald McKenzie Leet, 1935
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