Dylan & Caitlin

April 12: Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Thomas met Caitlin McNamara on this day in 1936, at the Wheatsheaf Pub in London (a pub also popular with George Orwell and other writers, and still in operation). The most recent biography, Andrew Lycett's Dylan Thomas (2004), warns that some details of this legendary first meeting may well have been embroidered—for example, that when Thomas slipped out of his trousers later that evening at the Fitzrovia Hotel, the trousers were so dirty they stood in the corner by themselves; and that the two lovers managed to charge their room to Caitlin's current boyfriend (and father of her earlier boyfriend), the painter Augustus John. In any case, their relationship was immediate and their marriage lasted for sixteen years, despite the famous battles and infidelities, and the truths told in one of Thomas's early love letters:

…you're weeks older now, is your hair grey? have you put your hair up, and do you look like a real adult person…? You mustn't look too grown up, because you'd look older than me; and you'll never, I'll never let you, grow wise, and I'll never, you shall never let me, grow wise, and we'll always be young and unwise together. There is, I suppose, in the eyes of the They, a sort of sweet madness about you and me, a sort of mad bewilderment and astonishment oblivious to the Nasties and the Meanies…. I know we're not saints or virgins or lunatics; we know all the lust and lavatory jokes, and most of the dirty people; we can catch buses and count our change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But our innocence goes awfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don't know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don't care that we don't."

Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas begins with her memory of this first meeting—Thomas suddenly putting his head in her lap as he continued his monologue to those at the pub, and later at the Fitzrovia Hotel Thomas hopping out of pants so dirty they stood in the corner by themselves. Caitlin's book came from a series of tape-recording sessions in the mid-1980s; in his preface, the recorder and editor, George Tremlett, notes how moved Caitlin was by her decades-old memories, which flooded up from a full range of emotion:

I want you to understand, before we go any further, that I never had an orgasm in all my years with Dylan, and that lies at the heart of our problems.... You must understand that our lives were raw, red, bleeding meat.... There was something magic between us; I think it was an affinity of souls; I felt that right from the first moment I met him….

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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