Denton Welch was born in Shanghai in 1915, the youngest of four boys, to a wealthy British-American family. After leaving his English boarding school (Repton), Welch decided to follow his dream of becoming a painter, and studied art at Goldsmiths in London. The physical injuries sustained in a cycling accident in 1935, however, saw him increasingly turn towards a hitherto secondary interest: writing. When Welch’s debut, Maiden Voyage, was published in 1942, it was an instant literary sensation (‘I have been told that it reeks of homosexuality,’ wrote Winston Churchill’s secretary; ‘I think I must get it’). This was followed by In Youth Is Pleasure in 1945 and, after his premature death from spinal tuberculosis in 1948, the publication of his unfinished masterpiece, A Voice Through A Cloud.
‘If any writer has been neglected it is Denton’, wrote William Burroughs in 1985 – but Welch is also a writer who has attracted a firm coterie of admirers, ranging from W.H. Auden to Alan Bennett, Edith Sitwell to John Waters. Of his short life, Edmund White has noted, ‘He had the power to generate interest out of even the most meagre materials. He had this gift from the beginning but suffering and illness refined it to a white-hot flame.’