Scottish Modernism and its Contexts 1918-1959: Literature, by Margery Palmer McCulloch

By Margery Palmer McCulloch

This leading edge ebook proposes the growth of the present suggestion of an interwar Scottish Renaissance circulate to incorporate its foreign value as a Scottish literary modernism interacting with the highbrow and inventive principles of ecu modernism in addition to responding to the demanding situations of the Scottish cultural and political context. themes variety from the revitalisation of the Scots vernacular as an avant-garde literary language within the Nineteen Twenties and the interplay of literature and politics within the Thirties to the fictitious re-imagining of the Highlands, the reaction of girls writers to a altering smooth international and the manifestations of a overdue modernism within the Forties and Fifties. Writers featured comprise Hugh MacDiarmid, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Neil M. Gunn, Edwin and Willa Muir, Catherine Carswell, Sydney Goodsir Smith and Sorley MacLean.

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The speaker in Wordsworth’s poem was able to use the rainbow symbol as an assured link between present, past and future: So was it when my life began, So is it now I am a man So be it when I shall grow old . . (Wordsworth, Poetical Works, p. 62) In contrast, but in common with the unsettled mood of ‘The Eemis Stane’, there is no such certainty in MacDiarmid’s poem. Any hint of resolution in the last lines is qualified by ‘mebbe’ and the rhythmic movement is hesitant, pausing on the ‘ken’ at the end of the penultimate line as if the speaker is still musing, reassessing, before moving to the final rhyming ‘then’, a retrospective term which does not bring the poem to a definite close but leaves the reader’s imagination still in the uncertain past with the puzzle of that ‘wild look’.

One of the notable qualities of the poem is its protagonist’s need to search for understanding; and although he will not be satisfied with easy or conventional answers, and is thrown into deep despair at his own impotence in the face of an inexplicable universe and – in the mundane world – of a Scotland that has lost all sense of itself as a distinctive entity, there is nevertheless a positive quality in his seemingly negative searching which belies a fixed position of ‘disbelief in ultimate answers’.

The narrative of the movement, as presented here, is therefore a continuous one, led by aesthetic developments and the contexts from which they derived, rather than by any intentional chronological periodisation. 1 As we have seen in the previous chapter, MacDiarmid’s self-conversion to Scots was hard won and initially fiercely resisted. Edwin Muir may have incited the modern writer to ‘wrestle with his age’,2 but for MacDiarmid the struggle was less with modernity itself than with the outworn traditions of his country which seemed to him to be holding Scotland back from entering the modern world.

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