Scottish literature  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

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.

The earliest extant literature written in what is now Scotland, was composed in Brythonic speech in the 6th century and has survived as part of Welsh literature. In the following centuries there was literature in Latin, under the influence of the Catholic Church, and in Old English, brought by Anglian settlers. As the state of Alba developed into the kingdom of Scotland from the 8th century, there was a flourishing literary elite who regularly produced texts in both Gaelic and Latin, sharing a common literary culture with Ireland and elsewhere. After the Davidian Revolution of the 13th century a flourishing French language culture predominated, while Norse literature was produced from areas of Scandinavian settlement. The first surviving major text in Early Scots literature is the 14th century poet John Barbour's epic Brus, which was followed by a series of vernacular versions of medieval romances. These were joined in the 15th century by Scots prose works.

In the early modern era royal patronage supported poetry, prose and drama. James V's court saw works such as Sir David Lindsay of the Mount's The Thrie Estaitis. In the late 16th century James VI became patron and member of a circle of Scottish court poets and musicians known as the Castalian Band. When he acceded to the English throne in 1603 many followed him to the new court, but without a centre of royal patronage the tradition of Scots poetry subsided. It was revived after union with England in 1707 by figures including Allan Ramsay and James Macpherson. The latter's Ossian Cycle made him the first Scottish poet to gain an international reputation. He helped inspire Robert Burns, considered by many to be the national poet, and Walter Scott, whose Waverley Novels did much to define Scottish identity in the 19th century. Towards the end of the Victorian era a number of Scottish-born authors achieved international reputations, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, J. M. Barrie and George MacDonald.

In the 20th century there was a surge of activity in Scottish literature, known as the Scottish Renaissance. The leading figure, Hugh MacDiarmid, attempted to revive the Scots language as a medium for serious literature. Members of the movement were followed by a new generation of post-war poets including Edwin Morgan, who would be appointed the first Scots Makar by the inaugural Scottish government in 2004. From the 1980s Scottish literature enjoyed another major revival, particularly associated with a group of Glasgow writers including Irvine Welsh. Scottish poets who emerged in the same period included Carol Anne Duffy, who was named as the first Scot to be UK Poet Laureate in May 2009.

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.

One notable phenomenon has been Tartan Noir, although the authenticity of the genre has been disputed.

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. Other commercial writers, 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, Alan Warner, and Glasgow-based novelist Suhayl Saadi, whose short story "Extra Time" is in Glaswegian Scots, have made significant literary 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.

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 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.

One Scottish author whose work has become popular again is the cleric George MacDonald.

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 A.J. Cronin, Eric Linklater, Naomi Mitchison, James Bridie, Robert Garioch, Robert McLellan, Nan Shepherd, William Soutar, Douglas Young, and Sidney Goodsir Smith. 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.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Scottish literature" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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