DEWITHON 20 WEEK 4: One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard

A brief recap of chapters 12-15 and a few shared thoughts

Death and madness are themes of the book, and as we peer through the moonlight we gradually realise that we are witnessing a slow descent into insanity.”
Jan Morris

ONE MOONLIT NIGHTHere I summarise the last few chapters of One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard for the final week of Reading Wales 2020.

Last week we left the unnamed narrator feeling downcast because his mother was unwell. Today we look at chapters 12 to 15, which are steeped in sadness and misfortune, yet the boy’s naivety remains touching, and his memories are compelling to the end.

He first takes us back to a “lovely day” when he and Mam went “over the mountain to visit Auntie Ellen at Bwlch Farm.” She was, he says, “a nice woman” but he “never saw her laugh.” She shared her home with her son, Guto and his younger sister, Catrin – a girl of about fifteen who, as a baby, was scalded when a “kettle fell off the fire”, leaving her disfigured. She spends her days reading or knitting stockings” but never goes out or says “how are you to anyone”.

He is admiring of the older Guto, whom he describes as “a big strong lad” and he goes to help him in the “Big Field” while Mam and Auntie Ellen prepare a meal of lobscouse. He has enormous fun that day picking fruit and learning to swim in the “Swirling Lake”, but unfortunately “comes a cropper” in the hay barn when falling off the hayrick and breaking his arm. The local doctor resets the break and, much to the boy’s distress, his mam leaves him there to convalesce until she returns the following week. As it happens, he enjoys his stay on the “nice little farm” so much that he tries to persuade her to let him stay longer, although he has been tormented with peculiar dreams at night.

As an aside, at the start of this chapter, when he and his mam are walking to the farm before his accident, she chats contentedly to him about the past and surprises him by saying she “went into service in Manchester” in her youth. She describes the great city in northwest England as “a fine place” and promises to take him there one day so he can “see the Lion Show at Belle Vue.” By complete coincidence, my great-grandmother’s brother owned this old zoo and amusement park in the early 20th century – it had been in the family’s hands since the 1800s. I have memories of my Nan (my Mum’s mother) telling me stories of visits to this once fabulous place where she rode on an elephant and was permitted to enjoy the rides for free. While not directly connected to the novel, I couldn’t resist sharing this snippet of information with you.

In this same chapter, the boy also remembers his first glimpse of the sea (“it stretched far far away and then joined the silver wall of Heaven in the far distance”) on a day trip with his church choir to Glanaber. He fondly recalls holding hands with Ceri as they as they walk up the hill to admire the view.

…with the mist rising from the grass and the gorse just as though someone was turning back the bedsheets and there was a green blanket underneath.”

Chapter 13 becomes considerably darker, when the boy discovers the body of Will Ellis Porter on the floor in the school toilet block, with such “a great gash in his throat” that, for a moment he thinks the man’s “mouth is open”. The place is “swimming in blood” and a large, butcher’s knife is nearby. He runs “like the devil to tell Price the School”, shaking so much the teacher can’t understand what the boy is saying.

He is deeply shocked but keeps his emotions in check. When he returns home, however, his mam is nowhere to be found. He waits for her to return, and eventually heats up some lobscouse in readiness for their meal, but when she still doesn’t appear, he eats alone while reading The Pilgrim’s Progress. He then goes to meet Huw but is hit with yet-more unhappy news. He learns his friend is moving to South Wales the following day to work with his father in the coal mines. The boys promise to write to each other, but he never again sees or hears from Huw.

After coming back to an empty house, he goes to fetch his gran and they return to find “Mam sitting in the chair with no hat on and her hair all over the place […] still wearing her coat and […] soaking wet.” She takes no notice of the boy, who is sent next door for some bread and butter while she is put to bed, but merely speaks to “someone she thought was standing behind her.” The following day, in chapter 14, mother and son are collected by Little Will Policeman’s Dad and Little Davey Corner Shop’s Dad in the “Corner Shop Motor” and driven to “Denbigh”.

I should like to clarify here that Denbigh (which translates as ‘Little Fortress’) is a pleasant market town in North Wales, best known for its historic castle built by King Edward I in 1282. When I was a child, however, it meant only one thing – the name evoked images of a dreadful place where the insane were incarcerated and forced to undergo degrading treatments. I well remember that if ever someone said in a lowered voice: “They were sent to Denbigh”, the matter would be left with only a shudder and an exchange of knowing looks. Its reputation came about because it is where the enormous and distinctly creepy-looking North Wales Hospital (Ysbyty Gogledd Cymru) – originally known as Denbigh Asylum – stood.  Built between 1844 –1848, it served as a refuge for Welsh-speaking mental patients, housing up to 1,500 before it was closed in 1995.

Mam never returns from Denbigh and, in chapter 15, the boy runs away one night to avoid being sent to work in the quarry. He leaves a note for his gran saying he’s “gone away to work, just like Huw”, but promises to return one day “with a lot of money” to buy her “loads of posh clothes.”

The novel culminates in a shocking act of madness, which takes the reader unawares, though I won’t offer any spoilers here in case some of you haven’t finished reading. I will merely reveal the ending is obscure – there are clues but no certainties. I’m inclined to agree with the novelist Niall Griffiths who suggests in his excellent Foreword, the book’s “slipperiness is one of its best qualities.”

About the Author

CARADOG PRICHARDCaradog Prichard (1904-1980) made his name in Wales as one of the writers of the Caernarfonshire quarrying district. Born and raised Bethesda, a tiny town and community on the River Ogwen, he spent his career as a journalist, eventually moving to London and becoming a sub-editor on the foreign desk at the Daily Telegraph. During this period, he penned four award-winning odes in addition to this remarkable novel. He remained in the English capital for the rest of his life.

Dew, I’d never cried like that before, and I’ve never cried like that since, either. I’d love to be able to cry like that again, just once more.” 

DENBIGH ASYLUM

A north-east view of the hospital at Denbigh, for the treatment of the insane.

Please share your thoughts on chapters 12-15 of One Moonlit Night.



Categories:Wales Readathon

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24 replies

  1. I’m still reading and have avoided your catchup as don’t want to spoil ending. I’m loving and will be in touch soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve also skimmed, Paula, picking up enough to know that this is a book I will want to read but holding back on the close details.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Even though there were moments of darkness in this story throughout, I really wasn’t expecting things to go in this direction. I mean, it makes “sense”, looking back on it all, but sheesh. I’m really glad to have read this one. And I really love the ambiguity of it all. Not in a loosey-goosey way, but in a no-single-truth way. This is a book I can imagine re-reading. Well, I mean I can imagine OTHER people rereading it. 😀

    With so little of my reading being from Wales, I’m very happy to participate in your hosted events for #Dewithon. Thank you for nudging us in new directions! In the rest of the year, it does impact my awareness of Welsh literature (I see books by writers I considered for the event, thinking I’d have more time to read something else as well and register that they are Welsh – which I never thought of before) and maybe next year I’ll actually manage to read more than a single book for the month!

    Liked by 2 people

    • This work will always stay with me. Partly, I think, because elements of it ring true in a personal sense – by that I mean I’ve known people (now long gone) who put me in mind of characters in the novel – but also because it has such humanity and depth. It’s good hear the opinions of an impartial reader whose views I respect. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Marcie.

      I love the expression ‘loosey goosey’. I’ve made a note and will use it at the first opportunity. 😃

      Liked by 1 person

  4. WEEK 4 (12-15)

    In my opinion, one has to be in a good place to read parts of this book. Certain chapters were emotionally gruelling for me. Others containing the boy’s reminiscences, like chapter 12, have a flowing, almost whimsical storyline. The day the boy learned to swim, broke his arm in the hay barn, ate bilberry tart, and where he sees the sea for the first time. [Thank you for that lovely Belle Vue Lion Show family snippet, Paula]

    A great description ‘It was raining stair rods in the morning and I was sitting in school with wet feet cos my shoes leaked’ and while in search of dry socks, he discovers a dead body. Suicide, perhaps murder? The quest to find out what happened dissolves into idle yet revealing chatter between Huw and the boy. Then disaster strikes. Boy is hit with two farewells in his young life, losing two important people. On page 150 he is sent to fetch a doctor named Doctor Pritchard. Interesting choice of surname, considering the author apparently dropped the ‘t’ in his own name for artistic reasons.

    That ride to the asylum in Davey Corner Shop’s Dad’s motor car was quite wrenching. Again thank you to Paula for background info on the Denbigh Asylum. I got the feeling Prichard may have written from family experiences. During the journey, I liked the oh so subtle reference to what may have happened to evil Uncle Will. In retrospect, I think everything in this story is subtle, the nuances are small but pack a thoughtfully aimed punch.

    Now I reach the inimitable chapter 15, and what can I say? ‘My innocence sought out the mysteries of the woodland; and deciphered the prophecy and music the melody of the birds.’ Unusual prose, an old man’s ramble, religious fervour? There is an interesting word ‘streuth’ which is not in the glossary. In 20th century Australian slang a similar word is spelled ‘strewth’ which is an abbreviation of god’s truth. Perhaps originating from Wales?

    On that note, I will sign off with apologies for the length of my four-week ramble but I hope I didn’t give too much away to future readers because there is much, much more tucked away in this fine little book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much your fabulous analysis over the four weeks of this book. Please forgive me for not responding more rapidly or in more depth – like you I haven’t been tip-tapping away quite so much in recent days. Your summation very definitely isn’t a ramble (far from it), you’ve raised many interesting points and I will go back to the book as I re-read your comments in greater detail.

      A brief observation on ‘streuth’. I believe it was the Tudors who used expressions like ‘God’s truth’ and ‘God’s teeth’. Our version of it is spelled ‘strewth’ but it definitely comes from the former turn of phrase. Incidentally, the original Tudors of Penmynydd (on the isle of Anglesey) were a politically influential, aristocratic family and from them arose Owen Tudor who, in turn, gave rise to the Tudor dynasty. I have no idea if any of this relates to ‘streuth’ originating from Wales but it’s an intriguing suggestion.

      ‘Raining stair rods’ is a saying with which I’m familiar. I believe this is an English expression rather than a Welsh one but I have certainly heard it used by Welsh speaking people.

      Take care, Gretchen and many thanks for your all your contributions to Dewithon 20. You’re a trooper. 🤗🌼

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, Paula, it has been my pleasure to participate. You did an excellent job with Dewithon20. If I could work out how to send emoji flowers you would get a bunch of blooms right here…….

    And thank you for that background information, two sayings which are now clarified for me 🙂 Those Tudors certainly made their mark and it proves a good ‘swear’ word can last a long long time.

    I am working on a separate blog review of ‘One Moonlit Night’ and came across ‘film-noir surrealism’ which got me wondering about its untapped movie potential.

    Good health and happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. At last I am writing down some of my thoughts on this marvellous book. I was behind finishing it but was also rather shocked by the end and had to go back and read the last couple of chapters again. I then read Jan Morris’ foreword and agreed then that the hints about the tragic happenings were there for all to see. Only then though In Hindsight did I feel this way.
    It had crossed my mind a couple of times about the many awful and tragic happenings within but had also thought that as a child you don’t remember the many sunny days. What stands out is the more morose and shocking events. Finding a man on the floor with his throat cut would be an extreme of course.
    The last couple of chapters are a little obscure, did he or didn’t he kill the girl and did he actually run away or not.
    So much to think about. I especially loved the chapters about church and the singing. His friendships were fascinating too. And when Huw announced his departure our unnamed narrator would have felt great sadness and shock.
    Sorry to go on so but want to thank you so much for introducing me to this wonderful writer and for the opportunity to participate ? I will definitely join the readathon again. Next year I will try to finish on time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, Penelope. I’m so glad you found reading One Moonlit Night a positive experience. I really appreciate your input over the month.

      With regards to the narrator, my interpretation is that he did kill the girl, but his memories are recalled as an adult, many years later, as he walks through the village. This book is elusive in so many ways, but I think, if anything, that makes it more powerful.

      I’m delighted you’ll be joining us next year. Hope to see you around in the meantime. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My mentor talked about intertextuality and I think this applies, especially to the ending. As the boy climbs over the stone wall he wonders why “it only comes up to my knees” indicating he has grown-up and I think he has been released from prison.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. There’s a lot to ponder in this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My thoughts on this little gem have remained locked in my head but I did want to thank you for introducing us to this book, Paula. Jan Morris writes that she reads it regularly and finds more in it each time and I can certainly see that. I like to think that I’ll read it again ready for next year’s Dewithon and I’ll find yet more in it to enjoy and experience. It is a conundrum: such delight in the charactarisation and sense of place, such tragedy and hardship in many places in the story and then those disturbing jolts where we are suddenly pulled out of the tale into a world peopled by darkness and insanity. The enigma around the novel intrigues me too: Prichard said so little about it so far as I can see, and it seems so far removed from the rest of his professional life. A book he simply had to write perhaps? To get the past out of his system? Anyway, thank you! Hope all is well in your corner of Wales and you’re both staying safe and well 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Sandra. I’m really pleased you enjoyed this book – you describe many of my feelings about this work so well.

      We’re doing fine here, thanks, but my book posts have all but ground to a halt. I lack concentration at the moment, I’m afraid. I hope you are healthy and coping with the lockdown in Cornwall. I fear we may be in for the long haul. 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      • Concentration is a problem for many of us at the moment. We’ll get through this, one day at a time. But yes, it’s going to be quite a while I fear. Take good care, Paula 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks

  1. Winding Up the Week #114 – Book Jotter
  2. Wales Readathon 2020 – Book Jotter
  3. Are You Ready for Wales Readathon 2020? – Book Jotter

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