Anna Kavan reviews Denton Welch’s In Youth is Pleasure

Denton Welch and L. P. Hartley comment upon a hooligan-ridden world from more personal standpoints. Instead of describing situations resulting from a regime of violence, the work of these writers provides material which concerns the origin of such situations, and which is for that reason most relevant to considerations of emotional age. Both In Youth is Pleasure and The Shrimp and the Anemone are above the general level as regards execution as well as interest.
In Denton Welch’s case it is the style which is primarily striking. Mr. Welch writes with gaiety and verve and a vivid individual power of observation. His phrasing is highly imaginative; there are passages of poetic brilliance in his work; yet the charm of his writing is largely due to the fact that words like ‘polished’ and ‘sparkling’ are inapplicable to it. There is a feeling of real spontaneity throughout the book, which describes the summer holiday of a fifteen-year-old schoolboy, rather regrettably named Orvil Pym. Orvil belongs to the cultural minority. He is certainly not on the side of the destroyers, to whom he is none the less linked by the very over-sensitiveness which divides him from them. Orvil is afraid to grow up. The eternal fourteen-year-olds are, of course, unaware of their immaturity, while Orvil consciously clings to his boyhood, even to the extent of asking God to save him from the calamity of becoming adult. In an intelligent upper-class boy, naturally destined to some social responsibility, this is a dangerous attitude. Arising out of a sort of squeamishness, it is the basis of a deliberate self-blinding process that may lead him ultimately to tolerate, or even encourage, violent destructive elements to which his own repressed instincts are really opposed. In emotional development, Orvil is already ahead of the gangster boys; except for the persistence of some infantile sadism, as displayed in an incident which Mr. Welch describes terrifyingly well.

Anna Kavan, Horizon, July 1945, pp. 63-68

7 thoughts on “Anna Kavan reviews Denton Welch’s In Youth is Pleasure

  1. Great you found this! After reading it, I went looking for anything she might have written about A Voice Through a Cloud. No joy though. She must have read it. And enjoyed it.

  2. Brilliant post – one cherished writer of mine writing about another. I have quite a few copies of Horizon in my library, including all the numbers where Denton had a piece included. They are wonderful to look through.

    Have you got around to reading any of Anna Kavan’s fiction yet, Anthony?

  3. I’ve never read (or even heard of) Denton Welch outside of your blog, but last night I was looking through some sale listings to top up an order for free shipping (without going too far) and found a copy of In Youth is Pleasure coupled with I Left My Grandfather’s House, marked down. So I ordered it, of course.

    • Once again, Des (@FarSouthProject) steered me towards Denton Welch for which I am infinitely grateful. Both of those stories are remarkable, especially In Youth is Pleasure. Denton deserves a greater readership and recognition for a singular body of work.

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