I found this book at the most recent book sale held at my local library. I’m glad I picked it up. Monica will most likely be the only work I read by Saunders Lewis (not to be confused with author Lewis Saunders) because it is the only novel by him that is published, easily accessible and translated. Lewis is an author who is little known in the United States but is considered “the” most important figures of the twentieth century where Welsh literature is concerned. Saunders Lewis is known more for his writing of plays and poetry than his novel writing. However, Lewis is probably best know for is politics. He was a founder of the Welsh Nationalist Party ensuring independent recognition for Wales. In 1937 he was imprisoned together with D. J. Williams and Lewis Valentine for his action in setting fire to an RAF bombing school at Penyberth. His greatest accomplishments came in his fight to retain the Welsh language. In his famous speech entitled 'Tynged yr Iaith' (The Fate of the Language) he went over the history of language oppression and lamented that the Welsh must do all they can to defend their language and in effect their sovereignty.
Anyway, I digress, onto the novel. Monica, was Lewis’ first novel and created quite a stir in Wales when it was first published in 1930 because of its dealings with prostitution, infidelity, and venereal disease. In addition it is considered one the the first Welsh psychological novels. The story follows the passion, love, insecurity of the main character, Monica. After leading a sheltered youth with little positive sexual experience, Monica wins over the love of her sister’s beau through means of manipulation and physical passion. But after her marriage, Monica finds herself pregnant and extremely unhappy and insecure with her relationship to her husband Bob. She begins to resent the “romantic” love her marriage has developed into. She soon chooses to punish her husband by renouncing her bond to him, by neglecting her health and her own general well being by staying in bed all day and refusing to eat, wash, or allow contact from anyone, even if it results in the death of her unborn child. This sparks off a chain of emotions and actions among the characters that eventually catches up with Monica.
What causes all this is the unnatural way in which we middle-class people live. Our idea of marriage is to take a young man and woman away from their families and isolate them, each inexperienced couple on their own, leaving them to work out their own marital salvation as best they can. And heaven help the young couple who get themselves talked about. Each household has to keep the lid down tight on its own boiling cauldron, so that sometimes we have no alternative but to explode. I often think that the working-class life of the slums, with half-a-dozen families sharing the same house and being involved in one another’s troubles all higgledy-piggledy, is a more normal and human way of living than what goes on in our rows of well-kept purgatories, each with a garden of flowers at the front.