Eiluned Lewis was born on 1 November 1900, in a house called Glan Hafren ('Bank of the Severn') in Penstrowed, Newtown, Montgomeryshire, the daughter of Hugh Lewis (1860-1921) and his wife Eveline (née Griffiths, 1871-1958). She was christened Janet Ellen, and adopted the name Eiluned for her creative work. She had two sisters, Medina and May, and a brother, Peter. Her father was a landowner and proprietor of a tannery; her mother had been headmistress of the county school before marriage and was a fluent Welsh speaker. Both parents were JPs and Hugh served as Chair of Montgomeryshire County Council. Glan Hafren was a cultured household which welcomed literary visitors such as the playwright, J. M. Barrie. She attended Westfield College in the University of London and subsequently worked in London on the editorial staff of the Daily News and the Sunday Times in the 1930s. In 1937 she married Graeme Hendrey; they had one daughter, Katrina, and the family moved to live in rural Surrey. She and her husband became friends with a number of literary figures, including Anglo-Welsh writers such as Ernest Rhys, Hilda Vaughan, and Charles Morgan. Later, in 1967, Lewis published an edited volume of the letters of the late Charles Morgan, which also includes a warmly appreciative memoir of him.
Her first novel, Dew on the Grass (1934), was both a runaway bestseller and critically acclaimed, winning the Gold Medal of the Book Guild for the best novel of the year. It is an autobiographical fiction, drawing on her memories of growing up in Glan Hafren, fictionalised as 'Pengarth' in the novel. The novel has a strong sense of place and time, and its narrative point of view is that of an imaginative eight-year-old girl, Lucy Gwyn. The child's point of view is beautifully rendered and is perhaps responsible for the widespread appeal of the book, with its nostalgic tone and accurate recollection of the sensory experiences of childhood. In common with her poetry, Dew on the Grass is a nature-lover's book, conjuring up vivid scenes of the natural world in the landscape surrounding 'the young Severn'. In 1937 she published a non-fiction, topographical book entitled The Land of Wales, co-authored with her brother, Peter, which, again, paints an affectionate portrait of Wales mainly for an English audience. Lewis's later journalism also focuses on the countryside, albeit mostly in rural Surrey where she settled with her family, rather than in the Wales of her childhood. She wrote a regular column for Country Life magazine under the byline 'A Countrywoman's Notes' for more than three decades from 1945 onwards.
Her second novel, The Captain's Wife, was published in 1943 and is based on the memories of her mother who was brought up in St David's (Tyddewi) in Pembrokeshire. It is an historical novel set in the later nineteenth century, evoking the maritime and farming life of coastal Wales in that period. The novel focuses on Lettice Peters, the 'captain's wife' of the title, who has travelled the world on her husband's ships but has now settled with her children in the little cathedral town of 'St Idris', a lightly-fictionalised St David's. The narrative perspective alternates between that of Lettice and her young daughter, Matty, creating a fictional world seen from two, often contrasting, points of view. Like her first novel, it gives an intimate representation of family life, as well as reflecting on historical change, and poignant notions of survival and continuity, ideas likely to have appealed to its Second World War readership.
Her third novel, The Leaves of the Tree (1953), is set in rural Surrey which was by then her familiar home landscape. Its protagonist is a young girl, Sharon Westerly, and concerns her friendship with the household of an eccentric French painter, Victor Lavelli, living nearby. Although the nature writing is familiar from Lewis's previous works, this is very much a Second World War book, centred upon the ways in which the lives of people in rural England are disrupted and sometimes destroyed by the conflict. Wales plays an offstage part in that Sharon is sent to school there and is befriended by the kindly Bowen family. This book has a wider scope than the previous novels and deals more fully with the world of adults. It ends on a note of hope, when Sharon visits the late artist's cottage and finds paintings still on the wall, hidden under the leaves. The novel concludes that 'good things are never lost.'
Her volumes of poetry were December Apples (1935) and Morning Songs (1944). These poems were unashamedly traditional, rhymed and often reminiscent of folk songs in form. Like her prose they focus on the natural world and have a nostalgic tone which Welsh readers might identify as hiraeth. Lewis also published popular volumes of non-fictional prose, such as In Country Places (1951) and Honey Pots and Brandy Bottles (1954), drawing on her Country Life journalism.
Eiluned Lewis died on 15 April 1979.
Published date: 2022-11-17
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