In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch review – bright glimpses of a lost existence

This 1945 novel, republished as a Penguin Classic, is rooted in its author’s short, intense life

In few writers are the life and the work so commingled as with Denton Welch – who died in 1948 at the age of 33 – or so simultaneously interesting and restricted. His life began as one of relative privilege and expansiveness: born in Shanghai to a family of merchants, he travelled widely in childhood but couldn’t read until he first attended school at the age of nine. Later, he attended Repton school, where in a Shakespeare reading he played Juliet to Roald Dahl’s Romeo.

But his defining experience, which shrank his life to the size of a grave, was a catastrophic cycling accident at the age of 20, which fractured his spine and left him bedridden for long periods. In 1942 he launched his writing career (as well as doing illustration work for Vogue), and in the following six years wrote three novels, almost 60 short stories and articles, and 200,000 words of a journal, all based on his own experiences. He was promoting his life to art even as the complications of his accident condemned him to death.

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