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Thomas [née Macnamara], Caitlin (1913–1994), writer, was born on 8 December 1913 at 12 Hammersmith Terrace, west London, the last of the four children of Francis Macnamara (1884–1946), romantic Irishman, and his first wife, Mary (Yvonne) Majolier (1886–1973), half-French daughter of Edouard Majolier, corn broker, and his Irish wife, Susan Cooper. was an elder sister. The Macnamaras were a protestant landowning family in co. Clare, Ireland. Francis, with ambitions to be a poet and bohemian, abandoned wife and children when Caitlin was an infant, embracing cultural and political ventures (they included a ‘Republic of Macnamaraland’) that failed to mature. Her childhood was spent largely at Blashford, Hampshire, bordering the New Forest. At the age of sixteen she ran away to London with a daughter of Augustus John, intent on being a dancer, and had a brief career as a chorus girl. A conviction that she possessed artistic talents, and was marked out for the success that her father was never able to achieve, was unshaken by her failure to do more than paint a little and write poems for friends to admire.

As a young woman Caitlin lived in England and in Ireland, where her father turned the family house at Ennistimon, derelict since the troubles, into an unsuccessful hotel. She found it easy to attract men. Augustus John painted her and seduced her, and they were still lovers when she met the poet in London in 1936, soon after her return from Paris, where she had been living with another painter. Caitlin and Dylan married on 11 July 1937, and she soon encountered the rigours of artistic penury. There were three children: Llewelyn Edouard (b. 1939), Aeronwy Bryn Hart (Aeron; 1943–2009) , and Colm Garan Dylan (b. 1949). Her husband often abbreviated her name, which she pronounced with a short ‘a’, to Cat.

A volatile woman, Caitlin both enjoyed her status as the poet's wife and resented the domestic drudgery that went with it. Both she and her husband drank heavily and were intermittently unfaithful. Marriage became another reason for not writing, although during the Second World War she filled notebooks with an incipient autobiography which she planned to call ‘Story of a woman’. Nothing came of this, or of the poems she continued to write in the last years of the marriage, at the Boat House in Laugharne, west Wales, where she responded to her husband's absences in London and America by seducing local men. In ‘Self Portrait’, a surviving poem evidently of this period, she describes herself as an idealist reduced to the commonplace (Ferris, Caitlin, 242–3), and signs herself Catnag Thomas.

It took Dylan Thomas's death in 1953 to provoke Caitlin into writing a book that provided a public reputation to set against the private perception, among acquaintances, of a woman enraged with life, and deeply resentful of her role as an adjunct to a famous, feckless husband. Published in 1957 as Leftover Life to Kill, its account of her marriage to Thomas, together with glimpses of her sexual activities on Elba, where she stayed after his death, was vivid and outrageous.

Publishers encouraged Caitlin to write more, and she did her best to oblige, offering a darker view of her marriage in ‘Am I the perfect fool?’, where anger with Dylan Thomas was mingled with affection. It was not seen as marketable; nor was ‘Year of disgrace’, the diary of her stay on another island, Procida. The manuscripts accumulated, but her only other published work was Not quite Posthumous Letter to my Daughter (1963), a series of malevolent observations about men and money addressed to Aeronwy. A thread of feminist feeling can be detected in her writings, not least in private correspondence, where she could be savagely humorous; but it was swallowed up by her appetite for rancour.

Settled in Rome from 1957, where she took up with a small-time film actor, Giuseppe Fazio, Caitlin divided her energies between her writing—verse as well as autobiography—and furious attacks on the Dylan Thomas copyright trustees, a pursuit that cost her a small fortune in fruitless attempts to overturn their policy of prudent management. She was an alcoholic for years but overcame this; an unfinished work, ‘Jug’, was written at an addiction clinic. A book-length typescript blamed alcohol for her downfall. Rewritten more than once, it did the rounds of publishers for decades; Double Drink Story was finally published in 1997.

In 1963, aged forty-nine, Caitlin had a son by Fazio, Francesco; he was one of the few unalloyed pleasures of her second life in Italy as an eccentric Englishwoman, which lasted, with occasional trips to Britain, for thirty-seven years. Her belief in her gifts remained, though she once admitted to being ‘the biggest misfit of the age’ (Ferris, Caitlin, 231). She died in Catania, Sicily, where she and Fazio had lived since 1983, on 1 August 1994, and was buried at Laugharne on 10 August alongside her husband, as she had requested.

Paul Ferris

Sources  

personal knowledge (2004) · private information (2004) [family] · P. Ferris, Dylan Thomas, rev. edn (1999) · P. Ferris, Caitlin: the life of Caitlin Thomas (1993) · C. Thomas, Leftover life to kill (1957) · C. Thomas, Not quite posthumous letter to my daughter (1963) · N. Devas, Two flamboyant fathers, pbk edn (1985) · C. Thomas, Double drink story: a life with Dylan Thomas (1997) · b. cert. · b. cert. [Mary Majolier] · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1994)

Archives  

priv. coll., MSS and letters |  Ransom HRC, corresp. with H. McAlpine


Likenesses  

A. John, oils, c.1930, NMG Wales · A. John, oils, c.1937, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea · A. Devas, oils, c.1942, Tate collection · group portrait, photograph, 1953, Hult. Arch. · T. West and L. Butt, group portrait, photograph, 1966, Hult. Arch. · F. R. Bunt, group portrait, photograph, 1968, Hult. Arch. · A. John, four drawings, NMG Wales · A. John, two portraits, oils, NMG Wales

Wealth at death  

under £125,000: probate, 15 Dec 1994, CGPLA Eng. & Wales