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Emyr Humphreys: The Little Kingdom

Humphreys was a committed Welsh nationalist so it is no surprise that Welsh nationalism is a key feature of this book. However, the book starts with Richard Bloyd, an elderly, embittered widower, who is definitely not a nationalist. He owns and runs a farm, which he is thinking of selling. We later learn that there is a plan to build an aerodrome and he owns much of the land on which it will be built. Bloyd has a daughter, called only Nest, who is very ill and dying. Indeed, we first meet her moments after she has died. He has also brought up his nephew, Owen Richards, both of whose parents died when he was still a child. Owen was sent to boarding school in England, where he was bullied because of his Welsh origins, but, because of both his intellectual and athletic abilities, he did well at school and was very popular. His teachers wanted him to go to Oxford but he declined, preferring to go to a Welsh university. He is now a lecturer in history. He is now coming home to his uncle’s house, though we soon learn that there is no love lost between uncle and nephew. Bloyd had considered picking his nephew up from the station but then decided against it. Owen gets home before his uncle, who is out on business, and it is he who discovers the dead Nest.

Owen is a committed nationalist. On the train back, he meets the local (Labour) M.P. and, while polite to him, is very scathing later of the man. Back home, however, the key issue is the proposed construction of the aerodrome. It is seen very much as a nationalist issue, with the fear of more English intervention in the valleys. Not everyone is opposed to it, as it will bring more jobs in an area where collieries are closing. Owen is friends with Rhiannon and Rhys, brother and sister, and children of the local minister. Indeed, it is the minister who is chair of the committee opposing the aerodrome. Owen’s friend, Geraint, also comes and he soon falls in love with Rhiannon. She, however, is clearly in love with Owen. At the meeting of the committee, with everyone bemoaning the lack of resources and the futility of the fight to oppose the aerodrome, though still feeling the need to make their pro-Welsh speeches, Owen thinks to himself that only he can take charge and steer the group in the right directions, which he does.

Though, of course, the book is in English, it is made very clear to us that the characters are generally speaking Welsh. This is brought home when an Englishman dining in the local hotel hears the friends speaking Welsh and wonders what they are saying. Humphreys uses something of an unusual style. The book is generally, though not always, told in the first person, but the person concerned differs from chapter to chapter, so that that we get the thoughts of the different main characters. Owen is the most interesting character as we see that he is much admired by many but disliked by some, such as his uncle, particularly but not only by those who envy him. However, when we hear his thoughts, he is revealed to be less than perfect. Before discovering his cousin dead in her bed, he wishes both her and his uncle dead, so that he can inherit the money and use it to fight the aerodrome. His thoughts that only he can steer the meeting in the right direction are very arrogant. Gradually we see his arrogance extending, as he reaches for power and, as he himself say, is only interested in his place in history, with the cause of nationalism and fighting the development of the aerodrome all being a means to the end of his greater glory.

Humphreys was a religious man and he shows Minister Morgan as a well-meaning man, hesitant to act, but essentially very decent. When Owen moves away from Morgan, even while moving closer to Rhiannon, Morgan’s daughter, Owen is, in Humphreys’ view, moving away from his Welsh roots. Nationalism must, Humphreys, feels have a religious basis, as Wales is a religious, Christian country. Humphreys tells his story well, even if he may overdo the character of Owen. However, he does anticipate by thirty years the actions of Meibion Glyndŵr and the move of a segment of Welsh nationalism from conventional politics to a more violent approach. This book is long since out of print, though not too difficult to obtain, and well worth reading.

Publishing history

First published by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1946