Super-Tramp: Essays on W. H. Davies – contributors sought

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Super-Tramp: Essays on W. H. Davies – contributors sought

Abstract deadline: November 30 2018



The book:

This book, edited by the critic and poet Rory Waterman, will bring together, for the first time, a collection of articles from leading scholars on the writing, and literary and social contexts, of the ‘tramp-poet’ and memoirist W. H. Davies (1871-1940).


Though Davies is a well-known and unique literary figure of the early twentieth century, most famous now for The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp and poems such as ‘Leisure’, which came 14th in the BBC’s search to find ‘The Nation’s Favourite Poems’, no volume of essays or critical monograph concentrates on his work. This book will not only provide a reassessment of Davies, putting him in his literary and cultural context (as a Welsh writer in English, the ‘tramp-poet’, a prominent Georgian poet, and a disabled writer), but will also shed light on the many central literary figures he encountered and befriended, among them Edward Thomas, George Bernard Shaw, Edith Sitwell, Alice Meynell, D. H. Lawrence, and Joseph Conrad.


The aim of this book, then, is to reconsider his major works, and his place in the literary and cultural milieu of his period. Davies spent several years in North America as a young man, traversing the continent and living mainly as a tramp, and losing a leg in the process, as he attempted to jump aboard a freight train in Ontario. These experiences are at the heart of his famous memoir, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908), which was edited by Edward Thomas and introduced by George Bernard Shaw. Davies also established a reputation as a poet, and was included in all five of the immensely popular Georgian Poetry anthologies between 1912 and 1922. He continued to write, in particular about his life, and later books include many volumes of poetry and memoirs such as: A Poet’s Pilgrimage (1918), which details a walking tour across southern Britain and the people he encountered; Later Days (1924), about the literary and artistic communities he had recently belonged to; and Young Emma (written in the late 1920s but not published until 1980), a thinly anonymised memoir about how he met his wife, almost thirty years his junior. They are unique products of a unique life. Nonetheless, despite his centrality to British memoir, travel writing and poetry in the early twentieth century, Davies has largely been neglected by literary critics.


This book’s essays will logically grouped. Following an introduction to the author, his critical reception, and his contemporary significance, there will be five chapters on the major works in each of the genres in which Davies worked, followed by eight chapters on his major literary and cultural contexts.



The call for papers:


Authors are sought for essays of 5500-6000 words on the three topics outlined below. Alternatively, you may submit an abstract for a proposed essay on another aspect of Davies’s life and/or work, though essays engaging with the texts or ideas mentioned below are especially welcome. Please reshape a proposal outlined below, or develop one, and send abstracts of c. 200 words to Rory Waterman by November 30 2018, along with a list of your previous publications. If your proposal is accepted, the deadline for essay completion will be January 2020. The book has received strong interest from a significant academic publisher, and you will not be expected to work on your essay until a contract for the book has been issued, at which point you’ll have a year or more to complete the essay.


Davies the literary critic

In later life, Davies was in demand as an editor of anthologies, and as a writer of introductions for authors such as Robert Burns and Daniel Defoe. This essay considers the aims and influence of the prose he wrote for these projects, his biases and critical attitudes, and the extent to which he was cast – and cast himself – in the role of outsider as a result.


The novels and drama of W. H. Davies

Davies wrote two novels and a libretto, but these were not commercially successful and he came to disavow them. This essay provides a critical assessment of these works, a discussion of their reception and the reasons for it, and their influence on his other writing.


Davies: a Welsh writer?

Though he was born and grew up in Newport, South Wales, and made frequent returns to the country throughout his life, Davies spoke no Welsh, and routinely described the Welsh as though he was not one of them in memoirs such as A Poet’s Pilgrimage. Nonetheless, Wales inspired much of his poetry and memoir. So, to what extent can we consider Davies a Welsh writer? This was a question posed by Nicola Heywood Thomas on the Radio Wales programme Supertamp in May 2016, and the fact it needs to be asked might have some bearing on the fact Davies is not much championed as an author of Wales. This essay will explore these matters in more detail, both in terms of Davies’s work and the social mores and conventions surrounding Welsh identity in and beyond the early twentieth century.

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Dr Rory Waterman, Nottingham Trent University

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