Scottish literature

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Scottish literature is literature written in Scotland or by Scottish writers. It includes literature written in English, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Brythonic, French, Latin and any other language in which a piece of literature was ever written within the boundaries of modern Scotland.


[edit] Earliest Scottish literature

[edit] Earliest literature from within modern Scotland

The people of northern Britain spoke forms of Celtic languages. Much of the earliest Welsh literature was actually composed in or near the country we now call Scotland, as Brythonic speech (the ancestor of Welsh) was not then confined to Wales and Cornwall. While all modern scholarship indicates that the Picts spoke a Brythonic language (based on surviving placenames, personal names and historical evidence), none of their literature seems to have survived into the modern era.

Some of the earliest literature known to have been composed in Scotland includes:

  • Brythonic (Old Welsh):
    • The Gododdin (attributed to Aneirin), c. 6th century
    • The Battle of Gwen Ystrad (attributed to Taliesin), late 6th century
  • Gaelic:
    • Elegy for St Columba by Dallan Forgaill, c. 597
    • In Praise of St Columba by Beccan mac Luigdech of Rum, c. 677
  • Latin:
    • Prayer for Protection (attributed to St Mugint), c. mid-6th century
    • Altus Prosator ("The High Creator", attributed to St Columba), c. 597
  • Old English

[edit] Medieval Scottish literature

The ethnic language of the Scots was Gaelic. Gael was actually what the word Scot meant in English before c. 1500. Between c. 1200 and c. 1700 the learned Gaelic elite of both Scotland and Ireland shared a literary form of Gaelic. It is possible that more Middle Irish literature was written in medieval Scotland than is often thought, but has not survived because the Gaelic literary establishment of eastern Scotland died out before the 14th century. Some Gaelic texts written in Scotland has survived in Irish sources. Gaelic literature written in Scotland before the 14th century includes the Lebor Bretnach, the product of a flourishing Gaelic literary establishment at the monastery of Abernethy.

The first known text to be composed in the form of northern Middle English spoken in the Lowlands (now called Early Scots) didn't appear until the fourteenth century. It is clear from John Barbour, and a plethora of other evidence, that the Fenian Cycle flourished in Scotland. There are allusions to Gaelic legendary characters in later Anglo-Scottish literature (oral and written).

[edit] Romance literature

In the 13th century, French flourished as a literary language, and produced the Roman de Fergus, the earliest piece of non-Celtic vernacular literature to come from Scotland. Moreover, many other stories in the Arthurian Cycle, written in French and preserved only outside Scotland, are thought by some scholars (D.D.R. Owen for instance) to have been written in Scotland.

In addition to French, Latin too was a literary language. Famous examples would be the Inchcolm Antiphoner and the Carmen de morte Sumerledi, a poem which exults triumphantly the victory of the citizens of Glasgow over Somailre mac Gilla Brigte. And of course, the most important medieval work written in Scotland, the Vita Columbae, was also written in Latin.

[edit] Late medieval Anglo-Scottish literature

Among the earliest Middle English or Early Scots literature is John Barbour's Brus (14th century), Wyntoun's Kronykil and Blind Harry's Wallace (15th century). From the 15th century much Middle Scots literature was produced by writers based around the royal court in Edinburgh and the University of St Andrews. Alexander Montgomerie, the 16th century poet, for example, was in the service of King James VI. James I of Scotland himself wrote The Kingis Quair. At the request of James V of Scotland, John Bellenden translated Hector Boece's Historia Gentis Scotorum as Chroniklis of Scotland (published 1536). He also translated the first five books of Livy. These remain the earliest existing specimena of Scottish literary prose

Versions of popular continental romances were also produced, for example: Launcelot o the Laik and The Buik o Alexander.

In the early 16th century, Gavin Douglas produced a Scots translation of the Aeneid. Chaucerian, classical and French literary language continued to influence Scots literature up until the Reformation. Writers such as Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and David Lyndsay led a golden age of Scottish literature in the 15th and early 16th centuries. George Bannatyne collected many poems of the Middle Scots period.

The Scottish ballad tradition can be traced back to the early 17th century. Francis James Child's compilation, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898) contains many examples, such as The Elphin Knight (first printed around 1610) and Lord Randal.

In Scotland, after the 17th century, anglicisation increased, though Lowland Scots was still spoken by the vast majority of the population of the Lowlands. At the time, many of the oral ballads from the borders and the North East were written down. Writers of the period include Robert Sempill (c.1595-1665), Lady Wardlaw and Lady Grizel Baillie.

The Scottish novel developed in the 18th century, with such writers as Tobias Smollett.

[edit] The seventeenth to early nineteenth Century

Allan Ramsay (1686-1758) laid the foundations of a reawakening of interest in older Scottish literature, as well as leading the trend for pastoral poetry. The Habbie stanza was developed as a poetic form.

In 1760, James Macpherson claimed to have found poetry written by Ossian. He published translations which acquired international popularity, being proclaimed as a Celtic equivalent of the Classical epics. Fingal written in 1762 was speedily translated into many European languages, and its deep appreciation of natural beauty and the melancholy tenderness of its treatment of the ancient legend did more than any single work to bring about the Romantic movement in European, and especially in German, literature, influencing Herder and Goethe in his earlier period. It inspired many Scottish writers, including the young Walter Scott, but it eventually became clear that the poems were not direct translations from the Gaelic but flowery adaptations made to suit the aesthetic expectations of his audience (as has been demonstrated in Derick S. Thomson, The Gaelic Sources of Macpherson's "Ossian", 1952).

Among the best known Scottish writers are two who are strongly associated with the Romantic Era, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. Scott's work is not exclusively concerned with Scotland, but his popularity in England and further abroad did much to form the modern stereotype of Scottish culture. Burns is considered Scotland's national bard; his works have only recently been edited to reflect the full breadth of their subject matter, as during the Victorian era he was censored.

Scott collected Scottish ballads and published The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border before launching into a novel-writing career in 1814 with Waverley, often called the first historical novel. Other novels by Scott which contributed to the image of him as a patriot include Rob Roy. He also wrote a History of Scotland. He was the highest earning and most popular author up to that time.

James Hogg, a writer encouraged by Walter Scott, made creative use of the Scottish religious background in producing his distinctive The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which can be seen as introducing the "doppelgänger" theme which would be taken up later in the century in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Hogg may have borrowed his literary motif from the concept of the "co-choisiche" in Gaelic folk tradition.

[edit] The nineteenth and early twentieth century

In the latter half of the nineteenth century the population of Scotland had become increasingly urban and industrialised. However, the appetite amongst readers, first whetted by Walter Scott, for novels about heroic exploits in a mythical untamed Scottish landscape, encouraged yet more novels that did not reflect the realities of life in that period.

A Scottish intellectual tradition, going back at least to the philosopher David Hume can be seen reflected in the Sherlock Holmes books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: although Holmes is now seen as part of quintessential London, the spirit of deduction in these books is arguably more Scottish than English.

Robert Louis Stevenson's most famous works are still popular and feature in many plays and films. The short novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) depicts the dual personality of a kind and intelligent physician who turns into a psychopathic monster after imbibing a drug intended to separate good from evil in a personality. Kidnapped is a fast-paced historical novel set in the aftermath of the '45 Jacobite Rising, and Treasure Island is the classic pirate adventure.

The introduction of the movement known as the "kailyard tradition" at the end of the 19th century, brought elements of fantasy and folklore back into fashion. J. M. Barrie is one example of this mix of modernity and nostalgia. This tradition has been viewed as a major stumbling block for Scottish literature, focusing, as it did, on an idealised, pastoral picture of Scottish culture, becoming increasingly removed from reality of life in Scotland during that period. This tradition was satirised by the author George Douglas Brown in his novel The House with the Green Shutters. It could be argued that Scottish literature as a whole still suffers from the echoes of this tradition today.

In the early 20th century in Scotland, a renaissance in the use of Lowland Scots occurred, its most vocal figure being Hugh MacDiarmid. Other contemporaries were Douglas Young, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch, Robert McLellan,and William Soutar. However, the revival was largely limited to verse and other literature. Sorley MacLean's work in Scottish Gaelic in the 1930s gave new value to modern literature in that language. Edwin Muir advocated, by contrast, concentration on English as a literary language.

The novelists Neil M. Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon emphasised the real linguistic conflict occurring in Scottish life during this period in their novels in particular, The Silver Darlings and A Scots Quair respectively, where we can see the language of the protagonists grows more anglicised progressively as they move to a more industrial lifestyle.

[edit] 1950s to the present

New writers of the postwar years displayed a new outwardness. Both Alexander Trocchi in the 1950s and Kenneth White in the 1960s left Scotland to live and work in France. Edwin Morgan became known for translations of works from a wide range of European languages.

Edwin Morgan is the current Scots Makar (the officially-appointed national poet, equivalent to a Scottish poet laureate) and also produces translations of world literature. His poetry covers the current and the controversial, ranging over political issues, and academic debates.

The tradition of fantastical fiction is continued by Alasdair Gray, whose Lanark has become a cult classic since its publication in 1981.

The 1980s also brought attention to writers capturing the urban experience and speech patterns - notably James Kelman and Jeff Torrington.

The works of Irvine Welsh, most famously Trainspotting, are written in a distinctly Scottish English, and reflect the underbelly of contemporary Scottish culture. Iain Banks and Ian Rankin have also achieved international recognition for their work, and, like Welsh, have had their work adapted for film or television. Alexander McCall Smith and Alan Warner have made significant contributions in the 21st century.

Scottish Gaelic literature is currently experiencing a revival in print, with the publishing of An Leabhar Mòr and the Ùr Sgeul series, which encouraged new authors of poetry and fiction.

The Scottish literature canon has in recent years opened up to the idea of including women authors, encouraging a revisiting of Scottish women's work from past and present.

In recent years the publishing house Canongate Books has become increasingly successful, publishing Scottish literature from all eras, and encouraging new literature.

[edit] References


[edit] See also

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