Denton Welch

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Denton Welch
Denton Welch, Self-Portrait.jpg
Self-Portrait (c.1940–42; National Portrait Gallery, London)
Maurice Denton Welch

(1915-03-29)29 March 1915
Shanghai, China
Died30 December 1948(1948-12-30) (aged 33)
Middle Orchard, Crouch, near Sevenoaks, Kent
OccupationWriter, painter
Partner(s)Eric Oliver (6 October 1914 – 1 April 1995)

Maurice Denton Welch (29 March 1915 – 30 December 1948)[1] was an English writer and painter, admired for his vivid prose and precise descriptions.


Welch was born in Shanghai, China, to Arthur Joseph Welch, a wealthy English rubber merchant, and his American wife, Rosalind Bassett.[1] Welch spent his childhood in China – he recorded this in his fictionalised autobiography of his early years, Maiden Voyage (1943). With the help and patronage of Edith Sitwell and John Lehmann this became a small but lasting success and made for him a distinct and individual reputation. It was followed by the novel In Youth is Pleasure (1944), a study of adolescence published by Herbert Read at the publishers Faber and Faber. Read said he was happy to publish the book, and enjoyed it himself, but he warned Welch that many people would find its hero perverse and unpleasant.[2] A collection of short stories, entitled Brave and Cruel followed (1949). An unfinished autobiographical novel A Voice Through a Cloud was published posthumously in 1950.

Welch did not set out to be a writer. After leaving Repton, he studied art at Goldsmiths' in London with the intention of becoming a painter.[3] At the age of 20,[1] he was hit by a car while cycling in Surrey and suffered a fractured spine. Although he was not paralysed, he suffered severe pain and complications, including spinal tuberculosis that ultimately led to his early death.

His literary work, intense and introverted, includes insightful portraits of his friends, and minutely observed portraits of the English countryside during World War II. A close attention to aesthetics, be it in human behaviour, physical appearance, clothing, art, architecture, jewellery, or antiques, is also a recurring concern in his writings. Shorter works include an essay on the painter Walter Sickert which, published originally in Horizon brought him to the notice of Sitwell. He continued occasionally to paint; there is a fine self-portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, and some intricate line illustrations in the early editions of his books.

William S. Burroughs cited Welch as the writer who most influenced his own work[4] and dedicated his 1983 novel The Place of Dead Roads to him.


  • Maiden Voyage (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1943), ISBN 0-241-02376-9. (Exact Change, 1999), ISBN 1-878972-28-6.
  • Brave and Cruel and Other Stories (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1948).
  • A Voice Through a Cloud (London: J. Lehmann, 1950). (London: Enitharmon Press, 2004), ISBN 1-904634-06-0.
  • A Last Sheaf (London: John Lehmann, 1951).
  • The Denton Welch Journals (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1973). As The Journals of Denton Welch (London: Allison & Busby, 1984).
  • Dumb Instrument (London: Enitharmon Press, 1976).
  • I Left My Grandfather's House (Allison & Busby, 1984; London: Enitharmon Press, 2006), ISBN 1-904634-28-1.
  • In Youth is Pleasure (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1985), ISBN 0-525-48161-3.
  • Where Nothing Sleeps: The Complete Short Stories and Other Related Works (North Yorkshire: Tartarus Press, 2005), ISBN 978-1-872621-94-4.
  • A Lunch Appointment (Elysium Press, 1993)
  • When I was an Art Student (Elysium Press, 1998)

Further reading[edit]

  • De-la-Noy, Michael, The Making of a Writer (1984).
  • Methuen-Campbell, James, Denton Welch, Writer and Artist (Carlton-in-Coverdale: Tartarus Press, 2002), ISBN 1-872621-60-0 and (2003) ISBN 1-86064-924-6.


  1. ^ a b c De-la-Noy, Michael. "Welch, (Maurice) Denton". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/38116. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ James King, Herbert Read: The Last Modern (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990) p. 220.
  3. ^ John Lewis (1994). Such Things Happen: the life of a typographer. Stowmarket, Suffolk: Unicorn Press. p. 34. ISBN 0-906290-06-6.
  4. ^ W. S. Burroughs, The Cat Inside, Penguin Books, 2002, p. 67.

External links[edit]