Obituary: Caitlin Thomas
CAITLIN THOMAS was a committed Bohemian. After she and her husband, the poet Dylan Thomas, had settled permanently at Laugharne, near Carmarthen, in 1949 she would often bathe naked in the mouth of the river Taf, she rolled her own cigarettes, and could be encountered in the market at Carmarthen buying material to make dresses that seemed quite outlandish for Laugharne in those days. The Thomases lived at the time at the Boat House, a small, oldish building standing above the river's edge. There Dylan wrote his poem 'Over Sir John's Hill' and most of Under Milk Wood in the converted garage nearby, and there Caitlin looked after Dylan and their three children - and proved herself a less than committed cook and housekeeper.
Caitlin Thomas's background was quite different from Dylan's. She came from a decayed Irish landowning family, while Dylan's background was largely Welsh Nonconformist. Caitlin was born in London in 1913, the daughter of Francis Macnamara, himself the son of Henry Vee Macnamara, squire of two estates in Co Clare, in the west of Ireland. When Caitlin was four or five, her father started to live apart from her mother, who later took Caitlin, her brother and two sisters to a house at Blashford, near Ringwood, on the edge of the New Forest, where they were close neighbours of Augustus John and his family. Caitlin was a friend of John's daughter Vivien, fell in love with his son Caspar and was seduced by John himself when she started to model for him. She danced in the chorus line in London when she was just 18, studied the Isadora Duncan manner of dancing in Dublin and went with her father when he returned to the Macnamaras' reduced properties in Clare in 1934.
Dylan Thomas and I were both writing for Middleton Murry's magazine the Adelphi when, in 1936, Caitlin first met Dylan, in a pub in Fitzrovia, either the Wheatsheaf or the Fitzroy, both watering-holes where writers and actors met and which Dylan frequented. They were married in Penzance in the following year. The Thomases lived a peripatetic existence, moving from Chelsea to Wales, to Oxford, and abroad to Ireland and Italy, and back to Oxfordshire again before the move to Laugharne, bought for them by Margaret, wife of the historian AJP Taylor, and Dylan's benefactrix.
Caitlin was a very outgoing, attractive and vivacious person. My recollection of them together was that Dylan, the great conversationalist, did most of the talking. In her turn she jealously protected Dylan and his reputation. On one occasion I was preparing a radio series, which included Richard Hughes (the Thomases' friend and former neighbour at Laugharne) and several other writers. I wanted to feature Dylan in the programme, but on the night he was supposed to appear he did not turn up. He wrote to apologise for not coming; it was, he said, because he had had trouble with 'my rib', hinting at the word's biblical associations, and that Caitlin had dissuaded him from coming to the studio for fear that he should give his secrets away.
Dylan Thomas died in New York in 1953. Caitlin was 39. Four years later, she published Leftover Life to Kill, a frank account of her life with Dylan. She would not give help to her husband's biographers in the succeeding years but in 1986 produced with George Tremlett, who runs the antiquarian bookshop in Laugharne, Caitlin - A Warring Absence, an edited text taken from 50 hours of interviews in which she graphically recounted their life together, laced as it was with drinking bouts and infidelity on both sides.
At the end of her life she lived in Italy, first in Rome and then in Catania, in Sicily, with Giuseppe Fazio, a Sicilian formerly in the film business, and their son Francesco, born when Caitlin was 49. A description of the life of the
Fazio-Thomas household forms the opening to Paul Ferris's biography of Caitlin Thomas, published last year in collaboration with her, the last product of her guardianship of the life of the author of Under Milk Wood.
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