Here’s the entire quote:
When you long with all your heart for someone to love you, a madness grows there that shakes all sense from the trees and the water and the earth. And nothing lives for you, except the long deep bitter want. And this is what everyone feels from birth to death.
Denton Welch (1915 – 1948) was a wonderful gay English writer and painter, much-admired for his vivid prose and deliciously detailed descriptions.
Welch was born in Shanghai to a wealthy English rubber merchant, and his American wife. Welch spent his childhood in China, which he uses in his fictionalized memoir of his early years, Maiden Voyage (1943). It became a small but lasting success. It was followed by the novel In Youth Is Pleasure (1944); a collection of smart short stories, Brave And Cruel (1949); and an unfinished autobiographical novel A Voice Through A Cloud published posthumously in 1950.
Welch did not set out to be a writer. He studied art with the idea of becoming a painter. When he was 20-years-old, Welch was hit by a car while riding his bicycle and suffered a severe spinal injury. He suffered severe pain from spinal tuberculosis which led to his early death at 33-years-old.
His work, intense and introverted, includes insightful portraits of his friends, and minutely observed pictures of the English countryside during World War II. A close attention to aesthetics, human behavior, clothing, art, architecture, jewelry, and antiques, is a recurring theme in his writing and paintings.
William S. Burroughs claims Welch as the writer who most influenced his own work and dedicated his The Place Of Dead Roads (1983). W. H. Auden and Vita Sackville-West were fans. Edith Sitwell was a friend and patron.
In 1943, Welch wrote to his lover and friend Eric Oliver:
I want people to read about us 500 years from now.
A mutual friend introduced Welch to Oliver. Welch identified as queer and had long been open about his attraction to strapping farm boys. Oliver later recalled:
I knew at once Denton was something out of the ordinary.
But Oliver identified as bisexual, and, while he was drawn to Welch as a person, he once said: ”I don’t think I was physically attracted towards him”.
The relationship was complicated and defined by Welch’s physical condition. The bicycling accident had left Welch with sexual dysfunction at just 20-years-old. The accident shortened Welch’s life without killing him. He carried rage, resentment and regret, especially over what he was missing sexually. Tortured over this loss, Welch made both himself and Oliver miserable. The letters alternate between soaring proclamations of love lasting 500 years and periods of ponderous pessimism. He bitterly attacked Oliver and others and used vicious self-deprecation. Still the letters are telling and stirring:
I have written three poems for you, may I, later, if I publish them, put your name or initials at the top? (1943)
Did you go about Friday without a shirt? You will soon add to the brown which you have kept from last year. I also want to go out and sit in the fields with no clothes on, as I did last year. I do hope you will be near here in the summer, so that we can go down to the river together. (March, 1944)
During World War II, Oliver was a conscientious objector. Their letters range over the years 1943 to 1947. There were notes on holidays and birthdays. They had pet names for each other, such as ”Queen Bee” and ”Piece of Fruit”.
When a German bomb destroyed Oliver’s digs, he moved in with Welch, an arrangement that lasted until Welch checked out for good. The relationship was probably Welch’s only intimate one, difficult though it was.
Their letters are collected in Good Night, Beloved Comrade: The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver (2017) edited by Daniel J. Murtaugh.
Strange that you should mention cycling on and leaving me behind. I thought at the time that you didn’t notice what you’d done, & at first, I felt a bit annoyed with you (and myself because I couldn’t keep up and had to pant along behind). I don’t know whether I looked sulky, but I quickly saw it was nothing to do with me whether you went on ahead or kept with me. (April, 1944)
Burroughs said he directed students to Welch’s work when they complained that they had nothing to write about. Welch possessed uncanny powers of observation. His descriptions of ordinary things were exceptional, and over-the-top. He describes a tray of pastries offered with afternoon tea:
… the phallic chocolate and coffee eclairs oozing fat worms of cream, the squares of sponge cake dressed with wicked green beauty spots of pistachio nuts.
Welch’s books were often embellished with his own art for the covers, designs and illustrations of great originality, combining his talents of art and writing. New and used copies of Denton’s works are available from Amazon.com.
All his life Welch was open about his gayness, which was unusual, and even brave, during the era when he lived. Welch’s writings make clear what gay literature, and modern literature generally, lost when the accident that made him a fine writer finally claimed his life (spinal tuberculosis).
Welch died in Oliver’s arms, the manuscript of A Voice Through A Cloud lay by his bed. Oliver lived off of Welch’s royalties for the rest of his life, and he expired in 1995, gone at 92-years-old.
Welch by Gerald McKenzie, via YouTube