Dylan Thomas 'an image-obsessed caricature', say Welsh academics

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The Independent Culture

One of the leading literary figures is Wales has condemned Dylan Thomas, claiming the country's best-known poet was an image-obsessed caricature addicted to the "three Welsh Ss" of "singing, swinging and shagging".

Not only his personality but also many of the poetic phrases for which Thomas is best known are subjected to a critical mauling in a television documentary to be shown in Wales on Friday.

Terence Hawkes, emeritus professor of literature at Cardiff University, says on the HTV documentary series, Tin Gods: "He's the picture of what, popularly, people think poets should be.

"He's the romantic poet who drinks, who falls over and is sick, and puts his hand up ladies' skirts. He fell quickly, I think, into a caricature and worse than that, he played up to English notions of what a Welshman, and particularly a Welsh poet, might be like ­ a person addicted to singing, swinging and shagging, the three Welsh Ss, that he seemed to want to embody."

Other Welsh literary figures appear on the programme and support the professor's comments. Fellow lecturer Chris Wigginton, of Trinity College in Carmarthen, compares Thom-as's work to a verse on a Hallmark Christmas card. He is joined in his attack by Sam Dawson, a colleague of the late writer Sir Kingsley Amis.

The presenter of Tin Gods, Patrick Hannan, concludes: "Perhaps the most remarkable of all is the sheer persistence of the Thomas legend across almost half a century."

Thomas died, aged 39, in New York in 1953 after a massive drinking bout. Before his death, he produced poems such as The Force That Through The Green and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, and the radio play Under Milk Wood. He had a turbulent relationship with his wife Caitlin Macnamara. When she arrived at his bedside after his final binge, she asked: "Is the bloody man dead yet?"

Drunken revelries may have been a way to increase his popularity, Professor Hawkes says. "I think sadly it was a way to the top. It was a way of playing a Welsh card that got him noticed and made it easy for people to understand him," he said.

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