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The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Women's Writing ed. by Glenda Norquay (review)
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In her Introduction to The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Women's Writing Glenda Norquay proffers some lapidary images from Mary Brunton, Marion Angus, Kathleen Jamie and Janice Galloway: stones both memorialise and resist and thus work towards 'articulating the dynamic between women, nation and creativity'. The ten pages of explanation and justification which follow are more prosaic: the effects of Devolution and fashions in criticism and gender theory are remarked and the rather cryptic notion of a focus 'on writing rather than individuals or texts' is advanced.

Establishing rationales for essay collections is a thankless task and so it's best simply to look at the results. In 'Spirituality', covering c.1560-c.1700, Sarah Dunnigan's wide-ranging exploration of the erotic, the lyrical (in Lilias Skene), and the feisty (in Covenanter Helen Alexander's replies to her interrogators) gives a strong sense of the status of women as both blessed and dangerous. Chapters on Gaelic Poetry and Song (Anne Frater and Michel Byrne) and 'Orality and the Ballad Tradition' (Suzanne Gilbert) are rather distant from the texture of the poetry. Frater and Byrne are engaging on the changing position of women poets in and out of their communities but are more interested in sentiments than their mode of expression. Gilbert addresses the issues of origin and transmission that the ballads customarily raise but a lack of specificity means that the chapter works best for those who have already heard lots of ballads.

Pam Perkins, expert in 'Enlightenment Culture', winkles out some less well-known intellectual women — Elizabeth Rose of Kilravrock who received Burns and Eliza Mary Campbell, Lady Gordon Cumming, botanist and geologist praised by Miller and Agassiz. The better known figures fare less well. Lady Anne Lindsay's fame goes well beyond her ballad, 'Auld Robin Gray'. Alison Cockburn's letters don't need to be excused on the ground that they are 'not polished literary works'. Mary Somerville whose translation of Laplace's Meéchanique Ceéleste as the Mechanism of the Heavens was adopted as a text-book at Cambridge University is rather faintly praised as 'the best-known science writer among the Scottish women of this generation'. Ainsley McIntosh's decision to exemplify 'Domestic Fiction' by Brunton's Discipline and Ferrier's Destiny allows discussion of Highlands and Lowlands as well English and Scottish manners and languages, but passes over Ferrier's far more engaging Marriage, and Brunton's Self-Control, the daft excesses of which so delighted Jane Austen.

Florence Boos's account of nineteenth-century working-class writer Janet Hamilton pays proper tribute to the quality of her prose, so bracingly contemptuous alike of would-be local revolutionaries and the for-profit polluters of the 'once clear waters of the Luggie'. Aileen Christianson has already illuminated in her work on Jane Carlyle the complicated status of brilliant women who must live in the shadow of men. Her chapter also considers the private writing of Elizabeth Grant and Mary Somerville but it is in the examination of Carlyle's work that the meaning of privacy is most subtly explored.

Helen Sutherland discusses Margaret Oliphant's relations with Blackwood's Magazine, but her focus is narrow. Where is Christian Johnstone who edited Tait's magazine from 1834-46? Where too is George Eliot, with whom Oliphant compared herself, and who was effective editor of the Westminster Review in the early 1850s? Oliphant appears again in Kirsty Macdonald's wide-ranging 'Writing the Supernatural' which begins with 'The Library Window' and proceeds through Angus and Mitchison to A L Kennedy's So I am Glad, which Macdonald neatly ties to Hogg without losing the modern quality of Jennifer's malaise.

Margery McCulloch's 'Interwar Literature' is planted on ground that she has already cultivated in her books on Scottish Modernism. A broad hinterland of writing and event informs her discussion of Carswell, Muir, Mitchison and Dot Allan. This is one of the more outward-looking chapters, as is Carol Anderson's 'Writing Spaces', its geocritical underpinning sensitively deployed, its range of texts — Violet Jacob's The Lum Hat, Carswell's The Camomile and Nan Shepherd's A Pass in the Grampians — surprising without being eccentric...



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