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Emyr (Owen) Humphreys Biography

Nationality: British. Born: Prestatyn, Clwyd, Wales, 1919. Education: University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1937-39; University College of North Wales, Bangor, 1946-47. Military Service: Served as a relief worker in the Middle East and the Mediterranean during World War II. Career: Teacher, Wimbledon Technical College, London, 1948-50, and Pwllheli Grammar School, North Wales, 1951-54; producer, BBC Radio, Cardiff, 1955-58; drama producer, BBC Television, 1958-62; freelance writer and director, 1962-65; lecturer in drama, 1965-72, and Honorary Professor, 1988, University College of North Wales. Since 1972 freelance writer. Awards: Maugham award, 1953; Hawthornden prize, 1959; Welsh Arts Council award, 1972, 1975, 1979, for non-fiction, 1984 ; Gregynog fellowship, 1974; Society of Authors traveling scholarship, 1979; Welsh Arts Council Book of the Year, 1992, for Bonds of Attachment. D. Litt.: University of Wales, Cardiff, 1990. Honorary Fellow, University of Wales, 1987. Agent: Anthony Sheil Associates, 43 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LF, England.



The Little Kingdom. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1946.

The Voice of a Stranger. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1949.

A Change of Heart. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1951.

Hear and Forgive. London, Gollancz, 1952; New York, Putnam, 1953.

A Man's Estate. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1955; New York, McGraw Hill, 1956.

The Italian Wife. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1957; New York, McGraw Hill, 1958.

Y Tri Llais (in Welsh). Llandybie, Dyfed, Llyfrau'r Dryw, 1958.

A Toy Epic. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1958.

The Gift. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1963.

Outside the House of Baal. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1965.

National Winner. London, Macdonald, 1971.

Flesh and Blood. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.

The Best of Friends. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1978.

The Anchor Tree. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1980.

Jones. London, Dent, 1984.

Salt of the Earth. London, Dent, 1985.

An Absolute Hero. London, Dent, 1986.

Open Secrets. London, Dent, 1988.

Bonds of Attachment. London, Macdonald, 1991.

Unconditional Surrender. Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, DufourSprings, 1996.

The Gift of a Daughter. Bridgend, Wales, Seren, 1998.

Short Stories

Natives. London, Secker and Warburg, 1968.

Miscellany Two. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Poetry Wales Press, 1981.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Down in the Heel on Duty," in New English Review (London), 1947.

"Michael," in Wales (London), vol. 7, nos. 26-27, 1947.

"A Girl in the Ice" and "The Obstinate Bottle," in New Statesman(London), 1953.

"Mrs. Armitage," in Welsh Short Stories. London, Faber, 1959.

"The Arrest," in Madog 3 (Barry), 1977.


King's Daughter, adaptation of a play by Saunders Lewis (producedLondon, 1959; as Siwan, televised, 1960). Published, as Siwan, in Plays of the Year 1959-60, London, Elek, 1960.

Dinas, with W.S. Jones. Llandybie, Dyfed, Llyfrau'r Dryw, 1970.

Radio Plays:

A Girl in a Garden, 1963; Reg, 1964; The Manipulator, 1970; Etifedd y Glyn, 1984; The Arrest, 1985.

Television Plays and Documentaries:

Siwan, 1960; The Shining Pyramid, from a story by Arthur Machen, 1979; Y Gosb (The Penalty), 1983; Wyn ir Lladdfa (Lambs to the Slaughter), 1984; Hualau (Fetters), 1984; Bwy yn Rhydd (Living Free), 1984; Angel o'r Nef (An Angel from Heaven), 1985; Teulu Helga (Helga's Family), 1985; Cwlwm Cariad (A Love Knot), 1986; Twll Ole (A Hole), 1987; Yr Alwad (The Call), 1988; The Triple Net, 1988; Yr Alltud (The Exile), 1989; Dyn Perig (A Dangerous Fellow), 1990; Outside Time, 1991; Dwr Athân (Fire and Water), 1991.


Roman Dream, music by Alun Hoddinott. London, Oxford University Press, 1968.

An Apple Tree and a Pig, music by Alun Hoddinott. London, OxfordUniversity Press, 1969.

Ancestor Worship: A Cycle of 18 Poems. Denbigh, Gee, 1970.

Landscapes, music by Alun Hoddinott. London, Oxford UniversityPress, 1975.

Penguin Modern Poets 27, with John Ormond and John Tripp. London, Penguin, 1979.

The Kingdom of Bran. London, Holmes, 1979.

Pwyll a Riannon. London, Holmes, 1979.


The Taliesin Tradition: A Quest for the Welsh Identity. London, BlackRaven Press, 1983; revised edition, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1990.

The Triple Net: A Portrait of the Writer Kate Roberts 1891-1985. London, Channel 4 Television, 1988.

The Crucible of Myth. Swansea, University of Swansea, 1990.



A Bibliography of Anglo-Welsh Literature 1900-1965 by Brynmor Jones, Swansea, Library Association, 1970.

Manuscript Collections:

National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Critical Studies:

The Novel 1945-1950 by P.H. Newby, London, Longman, 1951; Y Ilenor a'i Gymdeithas by A. Llewelyn Williams, London, BBC, 1966; The Dragon Has Two Tongues by Glyn Jones, London, Dent, 1968; Ysgrifau Beirniadol VII by Derec Llwyd Morgan, Denbigh, Gee, 1972; Jeremy Hooker and Andre Morgan, in Planet 39 (Llangeitho Tregaron, Dyfed), 1977; Emyr Humphreys, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1980, and "Land of the Living," in Planet 52 (Llangeitho Tregaron, Dyfed), 1985, both by Ioan Williams; "Channels of Grace: A View of the Earlier Novels of Emyr Humphreys," in Anglo-Welsh Review 70 (Tenby, Dyfed), 1982, and article in British Novelists 1930-1959 edited by Bernard Oldsey, Detroit, Gale, 1983, both by Roland Mathias; Emyr Humphreys by M. Wynn Thomas, Caernarvon, Pantycelyn, 1989.

* * *

The preoccupations of Emyr Humphreys are peculiarly Welsh, and since there are very few Welsh novelists writing in English who spring from or have assimilated the Welsh Nonconformist religious heritage, his work has few parallels in that of his contemporaries. Humphreys manifests in his novels a Puritan seriousness about the purpose of living, about the need for tradition and the understanding of it, and about the future of the community (usually seen as Wales) as well as the good of the individual. Welsh Nationalist as well as Christian, he re-emphasised in 1953 that "personal responsibility is a Protestant principle" and saw himself as engaged in writing the Protestant novel. His interest in the non-realist novel is minimal and his technical experimentation is limited to the use, in A Man's Estate, of a number of narrators and, in Outside the House of Baal, to an interleaving of narratives in which the past rapidly catches up with the present.

His first two novels, The Little Kingdom and The Voice of a Stranger, are concerned respectively with idealism betrayed by false leadership and idealism bludgeoned by Knavery. Their conclusions are pessimistic. The earlier of those themes appears again in A Toy Epic. But with A Change of Heart begins Humphreys's concern with the Christian belief in the gradual progress of society towards the good and the means by which good is transmitted from generation to generation. Heredity is soon discarded in favour of answers more complex. Perhaps the finest of the earlier novels which pursue this theme is Hear and Forgive, and of the later, Outside the House of Baal. In this book Humphreys faces the apparently total defeat of his Calvinistic Methodist minister, leaving the reader only with the silence which might make room for faith.

The Anchor Tree is a digression—with the same preoccupations—into his Welsh-American experience; but Humphreys devoted much of his time in the 1970s and 1980s to a series in which he intended National Winner to occupy the fourth position. Flesh and Blood, The Best of Friends, and Salt of the Earth are part of this sequence, while Jones is a single-volume study of the refusal of responsibility. Set during the final days of World War II, Unconditional Surrender recalls Anthony Trollope's The Warden with its complex tale of conflicting loyalties.

—Roland Mathias

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