How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn is a book that is his autobiography. The story opens when he is grown and is leaving the desiccated and blackened valley, but I get to witness “Huw”‘s childhood, suffering through physical infirmity, and the rise of industrialization and capitalism in a Welsh town.
A coal mine is where most of the men in the town work to earn money. There are other occupations, like baker, smith, and minister at chapel. Then there are unpaid occupations like being born a woman. When the men of the mines face unfair wage cuts and intolerable working conditions, they form a union and go on strike. When the women work for free and rarely get to sit down and are treated disrespectfully and capriciously by selfish, fickle men, they do not form a union. A few go on strike, but they are just called lazy and one of them suicides.
Huw’s father calls unions “socialism” and advises his sons to turn to God instead of strong-arming their employers. His sons disagree and go their own way. They have some success financially and assuage their pride.
The women, like Huw’s mother and sisters, work tirelessly to be hospitable, clean, married, patient, fecund, and faithful. They often face disrespect, abandonment, tragedy, disregard, judgment, and punishment in their community. When any one woman makes a mistake or does not perform these tasks properly, the gavel falls firmly against her. And still they do not form unions and go on strike!
Huw himself has little regard for sound moral instruction and chooses fornication and chooses to denigrate the occupation of fatherhood rather than practice self-control.
And so Marged burns, the valley is buried under slag, and Huw packs his belongings in his mother’s precious head covering.
Llewellyn is a poet, and his book is like a song and like a dance with many dramatic parts and funny and tragic lessons. I learned from him that I am often blind.