Charles Morgan — A British Novelist, Playwright & Drama Critic
“ The Flashing Stream was written fast because stage dialogue ought to be written fast…”
In the foreword of the 1938 first edition of his play, The Flashing Stream, Charles Morgan writes:
“ It was written during a month’s holiday spent beside the Llangorse Lake, Breconshire, in the summer of 1937 . I had come there with the unfinished manuscript of a novel, and had intended, during my holiday, to continue it, but I found that I had reached a period of the narrative and could not proceed without an interval in which ideas should mature and imagination be refreshed. It is a peculiarity in me — whether for good or evil, it is hard to say — that I imagine more intensely on paper than when I am idle. The written sheet is a focal point for the mind; the pen’s sound excludes all others; together they produce that happy concentration which gives to the craft of writing and the everlasting patience implied in it an underlying ‘lift’ and joy, so that, while a relative clause is being pared away, ideas ‘come of themselves’, a tangle is shaken out. The subject that engrossed me, on my novel’s account, was singleness of mind. I needed a holiday task that bore upon it, and The Flashing Stream, which I had turned over in my thought long ag, reappeared to supply my need. No one who has spent eight years of his life in composing two long narratives can know what delight there is in attacking a play which will yield a rough draft in four weeks…”
The above perhaps can give today’s new writer (and Morgan was a long established author, as well as the drama critic for The Times) some idea of the difference between writing a novel, and a play.
“ The Flashing Stream was written fast because stage dialogue ought to be written fast…Its subject is singleness of mind and an aspect of love.”
Morgan was an exquisite writer(whether novelist or playwright), with his novels very tightly written, often with gorgeous descriptive elements that often collide with harsh, angry dialogue, especially the titles that deal with WWI, and his own experiences in that conflict. His plays are more open, with, as it should be, the dialogue driving the narrative which, in The Flashing Stream, which centres around a young female character working in a male dominated secret off shore naval weapons establishment. The play, first produced in 1938, was well received, and must have helped female recruitment to the Royal Navy in that year before WWII. The play still reads well today.
I first came across Charles Morgan in a bookshop not far from Bedford Prison in the 1970s, and on my second visit I found a row of small hardback books, all with the same green binding, and all by Charles Morgan, plus a slightly larger volume of The Flashing Stream. I managed to buy them all for £5.
By the time of that purchase back in the 1970s Morgan had been dead for over fifteen years, and was virtually forgotten, but his novels were still very readable, and relevant, especially those dealing with his experiences during WWI, and, in my opinion, a far better writer than Anthony Powell for instance.
And although much honoured in France, in Britain his work was often undervalued in that period of the mid-fifties soon dominated by the so call ‘Angry Young Men’, such as Amis, Wain, and the rest.
A few years after my discovery of those books close to the prison, Morgan’s work began to be republished in paperback, but I fear that is no longer the case.
Of English and Welsh heritage, Charles Morgan was born in 1894, dying in 1958.
Below a list of Morgan’s novels, poetry, essays and plays.
- The Gunroom (1919)
- My Name is Legion (1925)
- Portrait in a Mirror (1929)
- The Fountain (1932)
- Sparkenbroke (1936)
- The Voyage (1940)
- The Empty Room (1941)
- The Judge’s Story (1947)
- The River Line (1949)
- A Breeze of Morning (1951)
- Challenge to Venus (1957)
- The Flashing Stream (1938)
- The River Line (1952)
- The Burning Glass (1953)
- Epitaph on George Moore (1935)
- The House of Macmillan: (1843–1943) (1943)
- Reflections in a Mirror (in two volumes 1944, 1946)
- Liberties of the Mind (1951)
- The Writer and his World (1960)
- Dramatic Critic: selected reviews (1922–1939), selected and edited by Roger Morgan (Oberon Books 2013)
- Ode to France (1942)
- The Collected Poems of Charles Morgan (2008)