The image of a lost golden past is as old as literature. Certainly as old as English literature at any rate, for the earliest Anglo-Saxon texts look backwards, haunted by a sense of vanished affection and security. But English is neither the only tradition nor the first language to have grown up within these islands. One of Raymond William's polemical purposes in People of the Black Mountains, his final fiction, is to affirm that Wales has its own distinct identity, founded in unremembered time which reaches beyond written records. People of the Black Mountains is in part an attempted answer to a question which occupied Williams throughout his creative life. How is history made? 'Actual stories are told by both winners and losers. Yet what becomes history is a selection by the winners. This is trustingly read back into earlier times.' Questioning this trust, Williams constructs a different-kind of history. People of the Black Mountains seeks out the origins of the land in which he was born, from the ancient hunters moving across the landscape before the last Ice Age to an emergence in the 15th century into something we are able to recognise as the modern world. 'The Beginning' represents the first part of this long story, ending with the invasion of the Romans.
LRB 28 September 1989 | PDF Download