Richard Llewellyn’s classic, How Green Was My Valley (1939) is a multi- layered book—a coming of age tale, a story of family and relationships, of life in a small mining town in Southern Wales, of simpler times gone by, of the unions, the conditions in which miners lived and worked, of tensions between the Welsh and English, of language politics, and much more. This was my second read for #Dewithon23 and a buddy read with Liz from Adventures in Reading, Running and Working from Home (incidentally, our other read for Dewithon, Sugar and Slate turned out to be common too).

Our narrator is Huw Morgan, a child of six and youngest of the Morgan family when the book opens (a younger sister is born later), with father Gwilym and five older brothers working in the mines. The family does well enough, with earnings used carefully, and difficult periods when there is conflict with mine owners or strike are tided over, help even extended to others in need in the village. An accident which leaves Huw bed-ridden for a time, and his skills in writing lead him to be privy to matters a child would otherwise be kept away from (from matters of the heart to union business), even if he doesn’t quite understand the import of them all. As time moves on, we witness the family’s (and alongside, the village’s) ups and downs—weddings, the birth of children, Huw’s brothers moving in and out of the family home either on getting married, for work, or developing differences, Huw’s education and the path his life takes, the family’s involvement in union activities, and much else, as circumstances change and each begins to pursue their own path.  

Alongside we also see life in a small Welsh village at the time, celebrations and crises, conflict and cooperation, gossip and rumour. Union activities cause a rift (even within the Morgan family for while father Gwilym belives strongly in religion and prayer as the paths to pursue, Huw’s older brothers are for petitioning and agitation), and one sees how families are affected. The village at the time also lives as a sort of self-sufficient unit, chosing for instance to deliver its own form of justice when a crime is committed rather than turn to the law, distrustful of all that is English.

As we follow life in the Morgan family and the village as Huw grows, so do the slag heaps in the green valley, an indicator that life in the valley is never going to be the same again.

How Green Was My Valley turned out to be a quite wonderful read. I started the book without reading (or rather rereading) the blurb, and had gone in expecting a mostly tragic tale. And while the book did have its share of tragedy (something that we are prepared for from the start for the story is told in retrospect), it also had so much more, including plenty of moments of humour and plenty that was rather heartwarming. What I liked most about it all was while it dealt with all manner of grave issues from unrequited love (or rather in most cases, love stories doomed for one reason or another) to bullying and violence in school and the conditions and troubles in the mining industry, much of it is done fairly subtly—be it the conflicts or tensions, griefs or heartbreak, or even the moments of joy.

There are plenty of lovely moments in the story—from Huw winning a prize as a child to getting his very first suit; older brother Ivor getting a chance to meet the queen (I’ll leave you to find out for what), to even simple pleasures like Huw taken by Mr Gruffydd the preacher to see the first daffodils when he is ill. I also loved seeing how the entire village gets together when Huw’s brother and sister are married (a double wedding), from cleaning and decorating to preparing the feast, or how the family helps and supports others when one strike causes many families to be on the brink of starvation. The family bond in the Morgan home is strong, and while differences do creep up (a big one over their approaches to the union), they do also resolve and all the boys know they have a home to return to.

There are some aspects that may stand out to modern day readers be it the strongly patriarchal sentiment expressed at one point or more seriously, the incident of vigilante justice of a sort, but these are things that I think are to be seen in light of time and context.

This is a book which covers a great deal of ground from personal and family dynamics to broader social commentary and one that had me reading all the way through. One I think I will be coming back to as well.


27 thoughts on “Book Review: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn #Dewithon23

  1. A wonderful review! I heartily enjoyed this one too and agree that there is lots of positive content as well as the heartrending tragedy. The families gathering around to support each other reminded me of the 1984 Miners’ Strike, too.


    1. Thank you. I think he balanced the positive and tragic parts fairly well, even if we know what the outcome is going to be. Also the family/broader social picture were both done well.


  2. Great review. It’s been one that I knew I probably should read, but expected it to be more bleak than it seems to be, so never did. You’ve sparked my interest!


  3. Lovely review, Mallika. While I’ve never read the book, I’m familiar with the story from the film adaptation (there may have been a TV series as well!). You’ve captured the warmth and poignancy very well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As I commented on Liz’s review of this, I am gradually overcoming my reluctance to give this modern classic a go – I think I’ve pushed against it merely because having lived in Wales for around twenty years it feels like a book I *ought* to read, doubtless an aspect of pathological demand avoidance which it’s suggested I suffer from! Between you and Liz I think my defences have been breached… 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful review, Mallika. I loved this book when I read it decades ago, after seeing the 1941 film adaptation (which, by the way, is excellent!). I have to admit that I remember the sad sections, not the humorous ones — but knowing these are there makes me eager to reread, despite the book’s length. Thanks for this push.

    Liked by 1 person

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