There’s a famous picture, American Gothic, by Grant Wood, which leaves many people smiling (unlike the couple in the picture), but it also leaves them thinking.
Is the grim man holding his pitchfork as a support? Or as a symbol of honest productive work? Or as a weapon to fend off the world.
Is his equally grim daughter standing with him sharing his defiance? Or is he protecting her? Or holding her back, preventing her escape? Is she actually his daughter? Or his wife? His servant? His captive?
I wrote last week about the photographs of Tom Mathias, taken in the early 20th century. One of them, not included in that post, has a special significance for me. It shows a party outing in 1910. At the back of the carriage is a young man, Morgan Mathias. There are plenty of other people in the photograph whose characters shine through their bulk and their bushy beards.
Especially for me there’s the young lady standing on the extreme left. Emma. Morgan’s hand is resting on her shoulder because they were engaged. The engagement never came to fulfilment because he was killed soon after in the Great War, and Emma remained unmarried, a spinster running a shop in the village. It was the property that I moved into in 1983, so I suspect her presence lingered.
My new novel, The Covenant, is coming very soon (20th August), set in the cottage of Cwmderwen that the reader first meets in its abandoned derelict state in A Time For Silence. In The Covenant, it is not derelict, but a family home: the home of my heroine, Leah Owen and her patriarch father, Thomas. So, I took liberties. I vandalised Tom Mathias’s photo of Emma to produce my own antiqued image of Cwmderwen. I call it Welsh Gothic.
The same questions can be asked. Is she his daughter, his servant or his captive?