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  • The International Companion to Scottish Literature 1400–1650 ed. by Nicola Royan
  • Janet Hadley Williams
The International Companion to Scottish Literature 1400–1650. Edited by Nicola Royan. Glasgow: Scottish Literature International, 2018. ISBN 9781908980236. 394 pp. pbk. £19.95 | €22.95 | USA $24.95.

If the International Companion had been subject to a prior Risk Assessment, it is unlikely that publication would have proceeded. Series Editors, Ian Brown and Thomas Owen Clancy; editor, Nicola Royan; ASLS; and the twenty-one contributors are to be commended for going ahead, despite the risks attached to a multi-faceted study of the linguistic and literary relationships in the period 1400–1650. Gaelic, Latin, and Scots are the languages in which the 'Scottish Literature' of the title was written, but the integrated approach taken here has not been attempted previously. There are (good) surprises and adjustments to be made because contributors have taken on the challenges of the fresh approach.

For whom have they done so? The aims of the ASLS suggest that the Companion is intended for students at schools, colleges, and universities, as well as those with an interest in Scottish literature. This volume, however, is not for beginners, and not altogether for general-interest readers, although some chapters, such as the first, by Sara Pons-Sanz and Aonghas MacCoinich, 'The Languages of Scotland' (pp. 19–37) are of value to everyone. The reference to Honours-level university students in the acknowledgements is a key: those conducting advanced studies, preferably in Older Scots and Gaelic, ideally also in Latin, are well served here.

Nicola Royan's 'Introduction: Literatures of the Stewart Kingdom' (pp. 1–37) is essential reading. She considers the changing geographic extent of late medieval Scotland; its ruling dynasty (and that dynasty's characteristics and relationships); the recurrent concerns of its writers; and the 'cultural phenomena' (p. 3) of the Renaissance and Reformation. Royan also states what the book aims to do – 'to embed the literature in its context, not simply one of great names, but a rich fabric of writers and readers' (p. 6). She explains the book's three sections, 'Language and Transmission', 'Culture and Identity', and 'Genre and Approach', raising as she does so the reader's awareness of matters to be encountered later on, about the importance, for instance, of community identities, or networks of circulation.

Most chapters are jointly authored. Some, where the material in each language has features in common, are written as semi-seamless discussions; others, where differences are significant, consider material separately. Both approaches can work well, and the increased alertness to an overlap is useful. Sally Mapstone's [End Page 197] sole-author chapter, 'The Transmission of Older Scots Literature' (pp. 38–59), is concerned with works in Scots, yet some of her observations on publication histories apply to or involve Gaelic manuscripts (the Book of the Dean of Lismore, for instance). Mapstone calls attention to the fragile basis of what we know about Older Scots literature, demonstrating why small-seeming matters – the origins and significance of colophons, the varied locations of literary works, the relative popularity of writers to the manuscript compilers (and who they were) – are all to be heeded carefully.

Part 2 opens with 'Expressions of Faith: Religious Writing' (pp. 60–78), by Sìm Innes and Steven Reid. Within a period leading up to and including the Reformation, the authors had a most difficult task; this chapter might have been better as two. The extent and richness of their material (from the Murthly Hours to Knox's History) is disguised by a tendency to describe, not analyse. Sure use of terminology is necessary, too, in a volume meant to be a guide. For the second edition, the description of dream vision as a 'theme' (p. 78) might be revised as 'narrative mode'?

William Gillies and Kate McClune present chapter four, 'The Purposes of Literature' (pp. 79–99), in two parts. Gillies distills his vast knowledge to provide the three main purposes of early Gaelic literature (p. 80): bardic eulogy (mostly poetry); history (mainly prose); and imaginative fiction (prose and poetry). He discusses them in turn, incidentally preparing the ground for several later contributions. McClune sees...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2050-6678
Print ISSN
1756-5634
Pages
pp. 197-199
Launched on MUSE
2019-11-30
Open Access
No
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