1 Dennis Welland, Foreword to 'The posthumous life of Wilfred Owen', unpublished incomplete typescript (DSW/1/3/3/3/1).
2 Dennis Welland, 'The Posthumous life of Wilfred Owen', p. 41 (DSW/1/3/3/3/1).
Dennis Sydney Reginald Welland was born on 21 December 1919 in Hackney, East London. He attended Westcliff High School in Essex, going on to study for a BA (Hons) in English Literature at University College, Nottingham, which at that time was affiliated to the University of London.
When Welland was an undergraduate, modern literature did not generally form part of the university syllabus. The University of London was unusual in offering optional lectures on 'English Literature 1880 to the Present', but for external candidates like Welland there was no access to the London lectures with relevance to the examinations, and affiliated colleges did not have strong modern holdings in their libraries. For practical reasons, therefore, he chose to specialise in Old Norse, and enjoyed the challenge this offered.
His studies were overshadowed by the outbreak of war in 1939, during his second year as an undergraduate. Although he had pacifist sympathies, Welland felt that he could not commit himself wholly to pacifism from respect for the self-sacrifice of his father and others who were injured or killed during the First World War. Undergraduates within a year of taking their finals were given temporary exemption to complete their degrees, which Welland did in summer 1940, gaining a first class degree. Within weeks of sitting his exams he had joined the Royal Artillery, and was to remain in the Army for six years. During this time he was posted to various camps across the UK, and progressed through the ranks, being promoted to Lieutenant in October 1942, and Captain in January 1943. He wrote almost every day to his fiancée, Joan Patterson, whom he married on 27 June 1942 during a brief period of leave; Joan was a fellow student from University College, Nottingham, who had studied French before becoming a teacher at a Nottingham school in 1940. Their only child, Michael, was born in Nottingham in September 1946, a month after Welland left the army.
Welland's interest in the work of Wilfred Owen was first awakened as an undergraduate. In 1939 he received a university poetry prize for a sequence of sonnets he had written; the winning verses were published in the student magazine alongside a review of them by Nottingham's Professor of English, the well-known literary scholar, historian and poet Vivian de Sola Pinto (1895-1969). In his review Pinto claimed to have detected in Welland's verse 'some cadences of which Wilfred Owen would not have been ashamed'. This prompted Welland to find out something more about Owen, and he was struck by the contrast between Owen's attitude to war and that of poets like Brooke and Binyon whose work he had been brought up on. In 1941, browsing in Blackwell's whilst on an army course in Oxford, he came across a copy of the Phoenix Library 1933 reprint of Edmund Blunden's 1931 selection, The poems of Wilfred Owen. The volume accompanied him through the rest of his army career, and he made the decision to undertake a fuller study of Owen and his poetry once the war was over.
In April 1944, Welland's regiment was moved to Dorset and he made contact with Siegfried Sassoon in the hope of visiting him at his home, Heytesbury House in Wiltshire; Sassoon expressed willingness to meet, suggesting that Welland's visit should coincide with one from Edmund Blunden, but in June Welland was posted to the east of England, and was forced to defer all thoughts of literary research until after the war.
In 1945 Welland was given a staff appointment at a military headquarters near Nottingham and this gave him some opportunity to pursue his literary interests in his spare time. In 1947, after leaving the army, he embarked on his career as a lecturer at University College, Nottingham. He simultaneously applied to take a Masters degree, hoping to focus on the poetry of Wilfred Owen. This was such a controversial choice that it took a personal intervention by Pinto, as head of his department, to secure approval for the topic. Pinto had an important influence on English studies, and was instrumental in establishing the new School of English Literature, Life and Thought in 1948. He became Welland's thesis supervisor and fully supported his research; Pinto himself had an interest in the poetry of the First World War, and had served as second-in-command to Siegfried Sassoon when on active service at the Front. In late 1948, he recommended that Welland's Owen research should be submitted for a Doctorate rather than a Masters degree. At a time when doctoral research - particularly in modern literature - was rare, this request was turned down by London University. Fortunately for Welland, Nottingham achieved full university status in autumn 1948, which meant that by the time he was due to complete his thesis the institution would be conferring degrees independently; he was therefore able to go ahead with his PhD research.
His struggle to achieve this was justified. As well as becoming one of only a small number of literary researchers who took doctorates at this period, Welland became an early and highly-respected pioneer in the field of Wilfred Owen studies. As he himself reflected in 1995, '[s]o secure has Owen's poetic eminence now become, and so familiar his work, that surprise is sometimes expressed at the length of time it took to achieve that position'.1 When Welland set out on his research, he found that very little secondary material on the poet had been published. Cecil Day-Lewis included an essay on Owen in his collection A hope for poetry (1934) and David Daiches's New literary values (1936) included an essay on the poet; in 1950, Osbert Sitwell was also to write a chapter on Owen in his book, Noble essences. At the time of his death, Owen had only published five of his poems, and by the late 1940s only two editions of his poems had appeared. The first was a selection of 23 poems published in 1920, edited with an introduction by Siegfried Sassoon (although as Welland's archive makes clear, the editorial work was in fact largely undertaken by Edith Sitwell); this was reprinted in 1921, with the addition of one further poem. In 1931 a fuller selection was edited by Edmund Blunden, who also included a memoir of Owen; this had been reprinted several times. By the late 1940s, many poems still survived only in numerous draft manuscripts and fragments.
Welland realised that he would have to seek out primary material and speak to people who had known Owen. Pinto, who knew both men, applied to Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon on his behalf in 1946. There was no response from Sassoon, but Blunden entered into correspondence with Welland and was to provide invaluable advice and guidance. The two men first met in spring 1947, and subsequently had regular meetings in London, which Welland combined with his research visits to the British Museum Library (now the British Library) to work on the Owen manuscripts. Blunden was able to suggest numerous possible contacts, and Welland followed up as many of these as he could; he acquired information and reminiscences from acquaintances of Owen's, such as the writer Conal O'Riordan, and from former staff at University College, Reading, where Owen had studied for his London Matriculation in 1912 and subsequently registered for the Diploma in Science. Blunden also passed on to Welland some of the material he used when preparing his 1931 edition, including a vellum notebook in which he had transcribed poems from original manuscript and published sources.
Welland's work on the British Museum manuscripts, which included numerous successive drafts of single poems, led him to realize their value in illuminating Owen's poetic development. He discovered various instances where he felt the manuscript readings were crucially at variance with the texts as published in both 1920 and 1931 editions; he discussed his findings with Blunden, who agreed with his proposed textual emendations. Inspired, Welland wrote an article focusing specifically on the composition of 'Anthem for Doomed Youth', which he submitted to the Review of English Studies.
He also pursued other avenues of research, placing an appeal for information about Owen and his work in the Times Literary Supplement in 1947. In his attempt to track down Owen's sister, Mary, he sent a speculative letter to a Miss Owen living in the Reading area, and received a response from Owen's younger brother, Harold, who lived at Ipsden in Oxfordshire. Harold informed Welland that he was acting on behalf of his sister in all matters pertaining to Wilfred Owen, and thus began a long and troubled relationship. Welland outlined his doctoral research on Owen, which focused on the poet's work, and mentioned his ultimate plan to go on and publish a full-scale work on Owen. Harold offered to meet Welland, but refused to assist him in any way over a publication, outlining his own plans to write a biographical account of his brother (ultimately published as the epic three-volume Journey from obscurity in 1963-5). Their first meeting in August 1947 was inconclusive: Welland stressed that his work took a textual rather than a biographical approach, and asked permission to see any Owen manuscripts in his brother's possession; Harold, however, was unwilling to permit access to these, instead allowing Welland to look briefly at his brother's personal book collection whilst stipulating that he should not make any notes. Matters were left unsettled, with Welland suggesting a review of the situation after a year.
However, following this visit, Welland was informed that his 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' article had been accepted by the Review of English Studies, on condition that he obtained copyright permission for quotes from the unpublished Owen manuscripts. After applying to Chatto and Windus (publishers of Owen's poems), his copyright request was forwarded to Harold Owen, who refused to grant permission for publication on the grounds that he planned to make use of the manuscripts in his own book. Subsequent correspondence made it clear that Harold Owen was not prepared to compromise on the copyright issue, and that he wished to keep all of Owen's unpublished manuscripts in the control of himself and his sister. He subsequently wrote to the Times Literary Supplement stating that Welland's work on Owen had been initiated before the Owen family was consulted, and outlining his own intention to publish a book on his brother's life and work.
After this, Welland (who had in fact contacted Mary Owen as soon as he was able to ascertain her address) decided to continue with his thesis but not to pursue the biographical angle any further. He and Pinto consulted legal experts about the copyright situation, but he realised that he would be unable to publish any critical work based on Owen's manuscripts without Harold's permission. As he wrote almost 50 years later, the British Museum's 'ownership of the mss of an author so recently deceased and a literary executor so implacably, even unreasonably, opposed to scholarly use of them was a situation with far fewer precedents then than it has since acquired'.2 Harold Owen's attitude over the Owen copyright was essentially to stifle both Welland's research and that of other UK-based scholars for the whole of the next decade.
Despite this, Welland continued to make progress with his thesis. During the summer and early autumn of 1947, he visited the Sitwells at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire to view Osbert Sitwell's collection of Owen manuscripts. He also entered into correspondence with J.M. Nosworthy, a former editor of Tamesis, a Reading University College publication. This magazine had published some memoirs of Owen (including one by Blunden) in 1934; more significantly, Nosworthy drew Welland's attention to a sonnet entitled 'The Windsor Prayer Meeting, 1647', which had appeared in an early copy of the magazine. Nosworthy felt that there were arguments in favour of this having been written by Owen; he informed Welland that Edmund Blunden had suggested in a letter to him that the subject as well as the detail of the poem could point to Owen's authorship; if this was the case it would represent Owen's first appearance in print. No hard evidence for this could be found, although Welland returned to re-examine this theory in the 1990s; whilst acknowledging that external evidence for Owen's authorship was inconclusive, he outlined various arguments which might suggest that the poem could have been written by Owen sometime in 1914, when he was working as a tutor in France.
Welland also looked into Owen's innovative use of para- or half-rhyme; he and Blunden agreed that Owen was probably influenced in this by French poetry. Welland developed a theory that the French poet Jules Romains may have been an influence, and articulated his ideas in an article, 'Half-rhyme in Wilfred Owen', which was published in the Review of English Studies in 1950.
In the same year, Welland obtained the address of E. Leslie Gunston (1895-1988), Owen's cousin and boyhood friend. Gunston liberally provided Welland with information, reminiscences and documents, including some photographs of Owen. At around the same time, in May 1950, Siegfried Sassoon unexpectedly agreed to meet Welland; Sassoon encouraged him in his work, lending him Owen letters and copies of The Hydra, the Craiglockhart Hospital magazine. Welland had been planning to submit his thesis in 1950, but in the light of this new research material, he decided to defer submission until the following year. This meant that there was time for Sassoon to read his thesis, which he did in December 1950. He pencilled comments on 36 of the pages, including factual points about dates and events, his thoughts on Owen and their relationship, the composition of Owen's poems, the 1920 edition, the early reception of Owen's work, and his subsequent reputation. Welland proudly submitted his thesis with Sassoon's comments in 1951, and received his PhD in June of that year.
Although just too late for inclusion in his thesis, in September 1951 Welland was made aware of a number of previously unknown Owen manuscripts in the possession of Vera Hewland, a former acquaintance of Owen's mother who had been given the manuscripts as a present by Mrs Owen. On examination, these proved to be drafts of 'Futility', 'Mental Cases' and 'S.I.W.', representing versions of these poems which differed from any of those in the British Museum collection. Fortunately, Welland took copies of them at the time; when he tried to contact Hewland again in 1961, he was informed that she had died in 1960; her sister, to whom her possessions passed, had no knowledge of the manuscripts and they have never subsequently come to light.
The Owen copyright remained a problem throughout the 1950s. Chatto and Windus, having initially expressed interest in publishing Welland's thesis, turned it down in 1951; Ian Parsons of Chatto explained that the book's publication might affect their position as personal advisors to Harold and Mary Owen, especially in the light of the copyright situation and Harold's plans to write a biographical work about his brother. Later in the 1950s, Welland discovered that Texas University were acquiring a microfilm of the British Museum Owen manuscripts, apparently with Harold Owen's approval; this prompted concern that American scholars working in the same field would be able to publish freely on Owen, using quotes from the manuscripts, outside of the restrictions placed on Welland by UK copyright law. In response to this situation Welland wrote two articles about the Owen manuscripts, and the textual discrepancies between them and the published texts; these two pieces were published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1956.
Finally, in 1959, Chatto and Windus indicated that they might be willing to consider Welland's study of Owen, so he decided to approach Harold Owen once more over the question of copyright. Surprisingly, after reading the text Harold agreed to grant permission for quotations and to support the book's publication. Wilfred Owen: a critical study appeared in 1960. It was the first full-length study of Owen's work to be published and was highly influential in resurrecting interest in Owen's poetry. Through the 1950s, Welland had been gaining a reputation as an authority on Owen's work, receiving numerous requests for advice from students and researchers, and the publication of his book firmly established his status as an expert in this area.
By the late 1950s, when interest in Owen's work was growing, a new edition of the poems was overdue, especially in the light of the textual discrepancies identified by Welland during his research. In 1960, the poet Cecil Day-Lewis wrote to Welland, reporting that he had been asked by Harold Owen to produce a new definitive edition of Owen's work, and asking whether Welland would consider collaborating with him in the task, feeling that he needed the input of a more scholarly person; Welland accepted the invitation with alacrity. However, Day-Lewis subsequently contacted him again reporting that Harold Owen and Ian Parsons (probably acting in accordance with Harold's wishes) were keen that Day-Lewis should have the final say in deciding on the text that would be printed and the final ordering of the book, meaning that his name would appear on the title page as sole editor. Welland was disappointed that his role was to be represented as a consultative rather than a collaborative one, but Day-Lewis fully recognized and respected his expertise, and called on his advice as an authority on textual matters; he also acknowledged the extent of Welland's contribution in his foreword and notes. It was this 1963 edition that helped to make Owen a household name. Benjamin Britten's 1962 War requiem, which incorporated poems by Owen, also brought the poet's work to a wider audience.
Welland's interest in Owen and war poetry was an enduring one, but even before the publication of his Critical study he had become interested in American literature. In 1952 (with Blunden as one of his referees) he obtained a Rockefeller award which funded a year at the University of Minnesota, where he was attracted by the presence of the pioneer in American studies and Twain scholar, Henry Nash Smith. Welland subsequently shifted his principal academic focus to American studies, and on returning from Minnesota he set up the first courses in American Studies at Nottingham University, operating from within the English Department. This was only the second American Studies programme to be established in the UK, the first having been instituted at Manchester University when Isaac Leon Kandel became the first Professor of American Studies there in 1948.
Kandel had secured approval for an Honours School of American Studies to be set up at Manchester, although this plan was put on hold with Kandel's departure in 1950. However, another early American Studies pioneer, Marcus Cunliffe, worked throughout the 1950s to establish the subject at Manchester, and in 1959 he was appointed to a Chair of American History and Institutions with effect from 1960; this meant that the Department of American Studies could be reinstituted. In 1961 Cunliffe received funding to create a three-year Readership in American Literature; Dennis Welland was appointed and moved from Nottingham to take up the position in 1962. He was to stay at Manchester until his retirement: when his three-year period as Reader expired in 1965, he was appointed as the University's first (and only) Professor of American Literature, holding the post until he retired in August 1983, when he became Professor Emeritus.
The 1960s was a period when American Studies became recognized as a serious academic discipline, and Manchester took a lead in this new subject area. Welland was by this time an authority in the field. His critical study, Arthur Miller, published in 1961, was a groundbreaking book, being one of the earliest academic studies of the playwright's work. Welland had already been instrumental in founding the British Association of American Studies (BAAS) in the early 1950s; he subsequently became its first treasurer, later assumed the role of secretary, and ultimately went on to chair the Association during 1980-83. Already the editor of the Bulletin of the British Association for American Studies, in 1967 he became the founding editor of the Association's new Journal of American Studies, which was published by Cambridge University Press; by the time he retired from his editorship at the end of 1976, the journal was internationally known and respected. In addition to the BAAS, from the late 1960s he was a member of the Committee of Management of the Institute of US Studies at the University of London. Welland also made numerous American visits: in 1968, for example, he taught on the summer session of the Graduate Program in American Studies at Indiana University, and in 1969 he spent the Michaelmas term as a Visiting Professor at Amherst College, Massachussetts.
During his career at Manchester, Welland published numerous articles and contributed to books on a range of American and other topics, including (but not limited to): numerous aspects of Mark Twain's work; poetic drama during the postwar period; American poetry; the journal of a nineteenth-century Wesleyan missionary; the Pre-Raphaelites; and the work of Ernest Hemingway and Upton Sinclair among others. He became particularly well-known for his work on Twain; his book, Mark Twain in England (1978), based in part on research carried out in the Chatto and Windus archive, is a valuable detailed study of Twain's English connections and his publishing history in the country. Welland's interest in Twain continued after his retirement, and he published The life and times of Mark Twain in 1991.
In the latter part of his time at Manchester, his career took the dual path of academic and administrator. In 1976 he became Dean of the Arts Faculty, and he subsequently became increasingly prominent in the high-level administration of the University. In 1979 he was appointed to a three-year period as Pro-Vice Chancellor, being reappointed for a final year in 1982; during the academic year of 1980-81 he was acting Vice-Chancellor. From 1979 he also became presenter of honorary graduands, a task he particularly enjoyed.
He was also very keen to build bridges between the University and the wider community; always interested in drama, he was a founder trustee of the University's Contact Theatre Company in 1972, and later (during 1984-87) its chair; in this role he encouraged close collaboration with schools and local communities. He was actively involved in a creative capacity with at least one production at the theatre: he devised a dramatic production based around the poetry of Wilfred Owen which was performed by the Contact Theatre Company in 1988 and revived again in 1989 and 1990; this was a highly successful production, aimed in particular at schoolchildren, in which Welland aimed to stimulate interest in Owen as man and poet.
Welland's time to work on Owen was of necessity more limited during his time at Manchester University. Nevertheless he maintained an active interest in Owen and found the time to undertake some research: in 1974, he published an article, 'Sassoon on Owen', in the Times Literary Supplement; he spoke on Owen at the Welsh Academy Conference in 1976; and most significantly, in 1978 he published a revised and enlarged edition of his Wilfred Owen: a critical study, which included an extra chapter exploring developments in the study of Owen and war poetry that had taken place in the eighteen years since the book's first publication.
After his retirement, Welland was able to devote more time to his enduring interest in Owen. In 1990 he heard, through a chance conversation, about the Wilfred Owen Association which had been established the previous year. Although initially disappointed that he had not been consulted at the time of its foundation, he subsequently became actively involved, and in 1993 he became a Joint Vice-President of the Association, joining the Earl of Gowrie, Ted Hughes, Peter Owen, Stephen Spender and Jon Stallworthy.
Peter Owen was the poet's nephew, and he encouraged Welland in his plan to write a book on 'The posthumous life of Wilfred Owen'. In this work, Welland hoped to explore Owen's reputation as it developed between the 1920 edition of his work, and Jon Stallworthy's definitive 1983 edition. He planned to trace the extent to which the survival of Owen's reputation as a poet was dependent on the dedicated efforts of his friends and successors. Beginning his work with the late 1940s and early 1950s, Welland was able to draw on his own rich archive dating from a time when he had been deeply involved in the Owen story. He also obtained two Mellon-funded fellowships to work on the Blunden and Sassoon papers held at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin; he spent September-October of 1994 and 1996 working at the Center - a valuable experience which gave him new insight into the history of Owen's texts and into events with which Welland himself had been connected during the early period of his research. He completed the section of the book which dealt with the period 1946-48, and began work on another section which was to cover 1948-51. Correspondence in the archive suggests that he planned to spend winter 1996-7 writing up the whole of the central section of the volume, covering 1946-63. This plan was disrupted by ill health, and 'The posthumous life of Wilfred Owen' was ultimately left incomplete at the time of Welland's death in 2002. This is a great loss for Owen researchers. The extant section of the manuscript, which is preserved in Welland's archive, provides a compelling account of the 1946-50 period, including: an analysis of the arguments for the 'Windsor Prayer Meeting' sonnet being of Owen's authorship; an important discussion of Vivian de Sola Pinto and his work; and a lucid and engaging account of Welland's own early interest in Owen's work, his research, and the individuals and problems he encountered during the early period.
Whilst it is widely acknowledged that he played a highly significant role in the development of American Studies in the UK, Welland's pivotal role in the history of Owen studies should not be underestimated. Even before his long-delayed Critical study appeared, he was considered an authority in the field. His meticulous work on the manuscript texts, his tireless efforts to track down manuscripts in private hands, and his recognition that the texts enshrined in the two published editions reflected a high degree of editorial intervention, all informed the 1963 Collected edition and influenced subsequent readings of the texts. Welland's pioneering work in the 1940s and '50s laid the groundwork on which later researchers built, and contributed significantly to raising the status of Owen as a poet. The completion of 'The posthumous life of Wilfred Owen' would have stood as the culmination of Welland's work on Owen, begun fifty years earlier with his MA research.
Dennis Welland's wife Joan died in 1987. In 1994, he met Barbara Leigh (born 1915), who remained his partner until her death, two weeks before his own. He died on 1 September 2002.
For biographical information about Wilfred Owen and other major figures represented in Welland's archive, such as Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon, researchers are advised to consult the Dictionary of National Biography.