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  • Dr Margery Palmer McCulloch1935–2019
  • Carla Sassi and Sarah Dunnigan

Dr Margery Palmer McCulloch was educated at the former Hamilton Academy in South Lanarkshire and the Universities of London and Glasgow. She received her PhD from the University of Glasgow in 1982 for a thesis on Scottish and international themes in the work of Edwin Muir and Neil M. Gunn. She began teaching part-time in the Department of Scottish Literature at Glasgow in 1989, and had a full-time lectureship from 1995 to 2000, working at Glasgow until her retirement, when she became Senior Honorary Research Fellow. She established herself as a leading scholar of the Scottish modern period with the publication of her first two monographs, The Novels of Neil M. Gunn: A Critical Study (Scottish Academic Press, 1987) and Edwin Muir: Poet, Critic and Novelist (Edinburgh University Press, 1993). Her subsequent numerous publications engaged mainly with Scottish writers of the first half of the twentieth century; beside Gunn and Muir, she published extensively on Hugh MacDiarmid and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and she was among the first scholars to reevaluate the work of leading women writers such as Willa Muir and Catherine Carswell, thus questioning the often male-dominated Scottish literary canon. She should also be remembered as one of the first scholars who fully understood and highlighted the important role played by small literary periodicals in the shaping and circulation of Scottish modernist literature.

Her life-long interest in Scottish modern literature culminated in two pioneering publications, Modernism and Nationalism: Literature and Society in Scotland, 1918–1939 (ASLS, 2004) and Scottish Modernism and its Contexts 1918–1959: Literature, National Identity and Cultural Exchange (Edinburgh University Press, 2009). The Modernist scholar Nancy K. Gish, Professor of English Emerita and former Director of Women's Studies at the University of Southern Maine, reviewed both volumes praising the latter as 'most valuable for Modernists' insofar as it offers 'an astute analysis of the ways Scottish Modernists developed distinct, if parallel, techniques with culturally specific materials and sources', thus staging 'a major challenge to traditional analyses of Modernism and a significant intervention in the "The New [End Page 147] Modernism" of the past decade'.1 McCulloch's enduring legacy can be identified in her ability to move beyond the limited and limiting 'Scottish Renaissance' paradigm. By embracing a wider and more inclusive critical perspective, valorising the specificities of Scotland's modernists, yet assessing them as a constitutive part of a global movement, she challenged decades of MacDiarmid-centric, sometimes narrowly nationalist literary criticism. Her re-evaluation of Edwin Muir – an outstanding European intellectual ostracised by MacDiarmid – as a central figure in Scotland's modern literary history, is a good example of her independent and innovative take on her field of investigation.

McCulloch was an active and committed supporter and promoter of Scottish Studies. She covered a number of roles in her country's leading cultural associations. She was a Council member of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS), convened the association's Publications Board from 2000 to 2006, and was co-editor of Scottish Literary Review (previously Scottish Studies Review). McCulloch was also Honorary Secretary of the Saltire Society, a post that was superseded in the mid-1990s, after which she served for several years as Convener of the Society's Glasgow Branch. She was a contributor to publications such as the Herald, the Scotsman and the Times Literary Supplement as well as talking on BBC radio.

Margery McCulloch's work was an important source of inspiration for my own research on Scottish Modernism. The last time I saw her was over two years ago, when she sat next to me on one of the red sofas of the University of Glasgow Library and we started chatting. Neither of us had much time that day; deeply absorbed in her current project, she announced she would contact me later on to exchange a few thoughts on it, smiled, and disappeared among the shelves as quickly as she had appeared. My impression of that fleeting encounter, the last of many more substantial ones in the course of twenty years or so, will sum up in my mind for the years to...


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