Allen Raine, forgotten Welsh writer

Wednesday 8 June 2011, 15:20

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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Allen Raine, the pen name of Anne Adaliza Puddicombe, was one of the best-selling authors of the late Victorian/early Edwardian age.

Her books sold millions of copies, not only across Wales but in the whole of Britain, and yet these days she is largely forgotten or ignored.

She was born Anne Adaliza Evans on 6 October 1836 in Newcastle Emlyn, the eldest child of a lawyer father and a mother who was a granddaughter of the noted Methodist preacher Daniel Rowland.

When Ada (as she was known in the family) was 13 she and her younger sister were sent to Cheltenham to be educated and trained by the Reverend Henry Solly. It was a common enough process in those days but the sudden and perhaps unexpected jolt to the senses of the two girls, taken from the rural idyll of Newcastle Emlyn and deposited in the middle of a modern, cosmopolitan town like Cheltenham can only be imagined.

It was something, however, that Ada thoroughly enjoyed and she threw herself into the experience. The Reverend Solly was a learned and worldly man - he knew Dickens while George Eliot and Bulwer Lytton were regular visitors to the house and area. It was certainly an intellectual and literary atmosphere in which to grow up and come of age.

After Cheltenham came a period of living in London and its suburbs - where, among other delights, she saw the fireworks on Primrose Hill to celebrate the end of the Crimean War. It could not last, however, and with more than a degree of disappointment Ada returned to the family home at Newcastle Emlyn in 1856.

No matter how much she loved the Carmarthen and Cardigan area there was not the same sense of excitement as she had found in London.

Ada soon settled back into Welsh life, however, and spent the next 16 years in what now seems to have been something of a stagnant bubble. Then, in April 1872, when she was well over 30, she met and married Beynon Puddicombe, foreign correspondent for Smith Payne's Bank.

The couple settled down to married life at Addiscombe near Croydon but the life of a banker's wife did not suit Ada particularly well. She wanted more.

In 1894 she entered a competition at the National Eisteddfod for the best serial story, in English or Welsh, that was characteristic of Welsh life. Much to her surprise her story Ynysoer won the competition. The serial was duly published in the North Wales Observer but did not appear in book form until after her death when it appeared as Where Billows Roll.

Despite the fact that she was now living south of London, Ynysoer was set on the Cardiganshire coast, around Tresaith and Llangrannog, an area that was to be the setting for every one of her future books. To begin with, however, success as a novelist seemed to elude her.

Her second book, A Welsh Singer, was rejected by six different publishers before Hutchinson finally decided to take a chance with the unknown author who had now taken to calling herself Allen Raine - the name, she claimed, having come to her in a dream.

The reluctance of London publishers to accept the book has sometimes been seen as prejudice against Welsh characters and Welsh settings. Yet Ada was not going to change either her locations or her style.

She was a romantic novelist who loved to create good characters and tell an engaging story - exactly the qualities that the emerging middle classes were looking for in their literature. A Welsh Singer was an immediate success with the public and, like the rest of her books, sold in its thousands.

In February 1900, Beynon Puddicombe began showing signs of mental illness and he was forced to give up his work. He and Ada retired to Wales, to Bronmor, close to Tresaith in what is now Ceridigion.

Beynon died in 1906 and sadly, Ada had only two more years left to her, dying on 21 June 1908. She continued to write, enjoying good relations with the public and with the literary critics. As one of them felt obliged to write when reviewing Hearts of Wales:

"Allen Raine has from her cradle been used to looking at Welsh life, not with borrowed but with her own eyes, and it is this, as a writer of Welsh fiction - - - that gives her such an advantage over those who only know the country and its folk from tourist's descriptions or the experience gleaned from a brief holiday."

Allen Raine was a romantic novelist but her unequalled knowledge of Welsh life and Welsh society mark her down as an influential and distinctive writer who captured the essence of a country still trying to find its place in the modern world. She deserves far more recognition than has yet been accorded.

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    Comment number 1.

    One Welsh writer and publisher who has of course worked for years to get Allen Raine some of the recognition she deserves is Sally Roberts Jones, who managed Alun Books for many years and who wrote the monograph on Allen Raine in the Writers of Wales series.

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    Comment number 2.

    You're right of course, Robert, Sally Roberts Jones has laboured for years to get Raine just some of the recognition she deserves. I wonder, possibly, does lack of recognition come from the fact that she is perceived as a "romantic" writer and therefore lacking in depth. If that is the case then it's assuredly not so and says a lot more about the pre-conceptions of her so-called critics and detractors than it does about a writer of obvious quality and skill. And, of course, little has changed - popular writers are still regarded as inferior to the intellectual few, even though they sell many more books and influence many more people than the academic elite.

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    Comment number 3.

    I suspect that in many minds, both Welsh and English, there's a perception that the actual ideas of "Welsh writer" and "romantic writer" are mutually exclusive - that to be Welsh is to be rather earnest and Druidical, to be romantic is to be part of the larger popular culture. So has Raine lost out maybe because the Welsh see her as too romantic and the lovers of romance see her as too Welsh?

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    Comment number 4.

    Nicola Heywood-Thomas did a Radio programme in 2008 on Allen Raine. when the Allen Raine Society was founded. Please add this to previous comment

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    Comment number 5.

    I agree that the label 'romantic' can be seen as a derogatory term. But too often in the wider world sometimes the term 'Welsh writer' - unless applied to Dylan Thomas - is sadly too often also used in a derogatory fashion. Allen Raine/Adalisa Puddicombe celebrates Welsh language and culture and we have always had wonderful Welsh writers including to the present day writers like Trezza Azzopardi. Thank you for this blog which helps publicise them!

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    Comment number 6.

    I've just remembered that there is now an annual Allen Raine Short Story Prize, administered by the Allen Raine Society and based, I think, near Newcaste Emlyn.


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