Tony Brown reviews Alun, Gweno & Freda by Gee Williams

Alun Gweno & Freda

Seren, £14.99

In 1972 John Pikoulis published an essay on Alun Lewis’s poem ‘The Way Back’. Written in India, in 1943, it seemed to be a love poem and yet the opening lines (‘Six days and two thousand miles…’) indicated that the poem could not be to his wife Gweno, at home in Wales. In 1975 John Pikoulis was contacted by Freda Aykroyd, whose affair with Alun Lewis in India in 1943 was at that point unknown. She had read his essay and revealed that the poem was written to her. Thus began the events at the core of this book, described by the author as ‘a hybrid work, a biography of a biography as well as a biography proper’. There is much that adds significantly to our understanding of Lewis’s life and work, but for the most part the book details John Pikoulis’s years of research for his landmark biography of Lewis (Alun Lewis: A Life, 1984) and, centrally, Pikoulis’s complex, emotionally fraught relations with Freda and Gweno; as his meetings and correspondence with Freda and with the Lewis family develop, they come, John Pikoulis writes, ‘to regard me as a go-between’. At one point Freda writes ‘you know I have always loved you because you became a sort of surrogate Alun for me’; it is an extraordinary and, one might feel, unenviable position for an academic biographer to be in.

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