About Richard Arthur Warren Hughes
<Daily Telegraph, April 30, 1976>
<RICHARD HUGHES: 'A High Wind in Jamaica' author dies at 76>
RICHARD HUGHES, one of the most distinguished writers of his generation, died in hospital in Bangor, North Wales, on Wednesday at the age of 76. He had been ill for a few weeks.
Although his writing life lasted for more than 50 years Hughes wrote only four novels, yet of three of them the word masterpiece could be used without any exaggeration.
The first, "A High Wind in Jamaica", published in 1929, turned him from a little known poet and writer of radio plays into a world figure. Few novels have had the impact of this highly original story of children in the 1860's being kidnapped by pirates in the Caribbean.
Its success was on two levels: first, the brilliance of the natural description of life and storms at sea, and, secondly, the delicate and original presentation of the relationship between the captors and captives, showing how the merciless directness of the mind of a child can be far more ruthless than any adult thought process.
Emily, a child when she is captured but a grown woman when a short time later she is rescued, is an unforgettable creation.
It was ten years before Hughes published another novel. It was again concerned with the sea, but was much smaller and narrower in scope than the first, yet "In Hazzard" is to many readers Hughes' finest work.
The entire course of the book is spent in describing the reactions of the crew of a small tramp steamer caught in a hurricane which has blown up where no hurricanes ought to be. Men and ship are tested to the full. Here again Hughes's wonderful descriptive powers make this a finer book about the sea than even Conrad's "Typhoon."
Twenty three years were to pass before the next novel appeared, "Fox in the Attic" (1961) which Hughes announces as the first part of what was likely to be a four-volume work with the general title "The Human Predicament."
Here again the mood and the method were quite different. The story centred on a young Welshman too young to fight in the Great War who in the early 1920s is obsessed by his memory of the conflict and goes to Germany to see what effect was had there. Fact mixes with fiction - Hitler is one of those who makes an entirely convincing appearance - as the plot unfolds.
"Fox in the Attic" shows Hughes as a more reflective withdrawn writer, though once again his descriptive skill and power to draw characters made it a notable work.
The second volume of this sequence "The Wooden Shepherdess" appeared in 1973 and was generally regarded as a less successful enterprise. Again fact and fiction were mixed as the hero's quest to America and the author's narrative skill became somewhat bogged down in the mass of information that he found it necessary to impart.
Hughes was working on the third section of this novel right up to his final illness, but a writer so painfully fastidious (he often regarded two sentences as a good day's work) could not have got very far.
Richard Arthur Warren Hughes was born in Weybridge, Surrey, and was educated at Charterhouse and Oriel College, Oxford, where he proudly claimed that he had got a Double Fourth.
His original interest was in the theatre and he was only 22 when his first one-act play "The Sister's Tragedy" was performed in London.
"Dickon" Hughes (as he was called) was late in life a benign though rather shy figure with a long beard. Much of his early life had been spent in wandering round the world, but he settled down in a lovely home on the Dwyryd estuary near Portmeirion, North Wales, with his wife who was born Frances Bazeley, and spent most of his time there. They had five children and 11 grandchildren.
The verdict on writers is often that they have written too much. Hughes might have been accused of writing too little, but he could have pleaded that every word counted. It did.