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

29 March 1915
Shanghai, China
Died30 December 1948(1948-12-30) (aged 33)
Middle Orchard, Crouch, near Sevenoaks, Kent, England
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,[1] and his American wife of Christian Science faith,[2] Rosalind Bassett[1] from New Bedford, Massachusetts.[3] The youngest of four sons, Welch, was sent to a boarding school at the age of 11,[4] after his mother died from wasting kidney disease.[2]

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.[5]

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.[4] 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.[6] A collection of short stories, entitled Brave and Cruel followed (1948).[7] An unfinished autobiographical novel A Voice Through a Cloud was published posthumously in 1950.[8]

Accident and literary work[edit]

At the age of 20,[1] Welch was hit by a car while cycling in Surrey and suffered a fractured spine. Although he was not paralysed, he suffered severe pain and bladder complications, including pyelonephritis[2] and spinal tuberculosis that ultimately led to his early death.[9]

After the accident, Welch spent time at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and then was relocated to Southcourt Nursing Home in Broadstairs, Kent. In July 1936, Welch rented an apartment with Evelyn Sinclair in Tonbridge so that he could get all the medical attention from Dr. John Easton. His friend and housekeeper Evelyn, had travelled with him to various residences until May 1946, when he settled in one of the Noël and Bernard Adeney residences in Middle Orchard, Borough Green with his partner, Eric Oliver. Two years and two months later, his former housekeeper, decided to move in as well, and remained with him till his death on 30 December 1948.[3]

Despite his lethal injuries, he continued to paint and write, which was a way for him to forget the illness. In 1940, he began to write poems, with the first book of them appearing in 1941. Following the success in writing, Welch decided to try his hand in art and in 1941 exhibited his artwork at the Leicester Galleries. Other exhibitions such as in The Redfern Gallery and the Leger Gallery followed. In August 1942, he wrote an essay on the painter Walter Sickert which, published originally in Horizon brought him to the notice of Sitwell.[3] In May 1945, Welch had repaired an 18th century Georgian doll's house from 1783, which was given to him by his friend, Mildred Bosanquet. The doll's house is on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood, department of the Victoria and Albert Museum.[10]


Welch's 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.

William S. Burroughs cited Welch as the writer who most influenced his own work[11] and dedicated his 1983 novel The Place of Dead Roads to him.[12]


  • 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 d 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. ^ a b c Crain, Caleb (20 June 1999). "It's Pretty, but Is It Broken?". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c "Denton Welch: An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center". Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Denton Welch: Dreams of cheap lipstick and Turkish Delight". The Independent. 27 November 2005. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  5. ^ John Lewis (1994). Such Things Happen: the life of a typographer. Stowmarket, Suffolk: Unicorn Press. p. 34. ISBN 0-906290-06-6.
  6. ^ James King, Herbert Read: The Last Modern (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990) p. 220.
  7. ^ Nawrocki, Jim. "You've Never Heard of Denton Welch?". The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. p. 32.
  8. ^ Phillips, Robert (1971). ""A Voice Through a Cloud": Denton Welch's Ultimate Voyage". 15 (2). Michigan State University Press: 218–228. JSTOR 23737757. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Skenazy, Paul (6 April 1986). "The Sense and Sensuality of Denton Welch". The Washington Post.
  10. ^ "The Denton Welch dolls' house". V&A Museum of Childhood. Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  11. ^ W. S. Burroughs, The Cat Inside, Penguin Books, 2002, p. 67.
  12. ^ Burroughs, William S. (1984). The Place of Dead Roads. Calder. p. 306. ISBN 0714540307.

External links[edit]