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  • Aileen Christianson 1944–2020
  • Glenda Norquay

Aileen Christianson (1944–2020) was a scholar, educator, critic and campaigner who made a highly significant, although not always fully recognised, contribution to Scottish literature and culture.

At the time of her death Aileen was Senior Editor on the world-leading scholarly project from the University of Edinburgh in conjunction with Duke University Press: The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, in print and digital form. A graduate of Aberdeen University, she had worked on editing the Letters since 1967, developing a particular interest in Jane Welsh Carlyle. As an assiduous and meticulous editor, Aileen gave up her summer months year after year to meet the submission of volume copy deadline each August. A popular member of the Carlyle Society, she was active in organising and presenting at large Carlyle conferences where she was respected as a scholar of international expertise. Through her dedication to ‘Jane’, a half-century of editorial insights and the support of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship 2006–07, she developed work on Welsh Carlyle (Jane Welsh Carlyle, Biography and Biographers (Edinburgh, 2008)), and contributed to Victorian letters and life-writing studies in essays for A History of Scottish Women’s Writing (1997), Lives of Victorian Literary Figures 3 (2005) and The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Women’s Writing (2012).

Aileen played an important part in advancing recognition of Scottish women’s writing, both through her teaching and in two influential edited collections, Scottish Women’s Fiction, 1920s to 1960s (2000), with Carol Anderson, and Contemporary Scottish Women Writers (2000), with Alison Lumsden. Her essay on ‘Gender and Nation: Debatable Lands and Passable Boundaries’, Across the Margins (2002), is still a much-cited intervention on nationalism and feminism. Her monograph Moving in Circles: Willa Muir’s Writing (2007), was underpinned by a characteristic combination of archival research, critical [End Page 159] acumen, and enthusiasm which also informed her edition of Muir’s Belonging: A Memoir (2008).

Her staunch commitment to causes she believed in was evident in her advocacy for Scottish Literature at the University of Edinburgh; her work for Rape Crisis; and her broader activism. The Saltire Society Fletcher of Saltoun Award she received in 2019 rightly recognised her contribution to Scottish literary studies, but also to Public Life in Scotland. She was central to the setting up of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Group, a women’s collective, in 1978, and the establishment of the Rape Crisis Centre. In addition to the direct support they gave to survivors of sexual violence, the Edinburgh collective was particularly important in lobbying for legal change.

Aileen was a leading figure in organising resistance to the apartheid Springboks rugby tour in 1969, part of a small committee which co-ordinated peaceful protests (a petition, a university day-long teach-in, a prayer event) prior to the international rugby match at Murrayfield on 6 December and at the ground. With Ian Brown she set up the December the Sixth Defence Committee, to help those (mostly) young people arrested at this event. They raised funds to support legal representation for those arrested through the formidable George More. In every case, the prosecution case fell apart under cross-examination and every demonstrator defended was acquitted.

At the University of Edinburgh Aileen played her part in the history of Scottish literature’s development as a subject area which began when Jack MacQueen established a first-year Scottish Literature programme in the 1970s, leaving the English Literature Department for the School of Scottish Studies. In English Literature Cairns Craig and Ronnie Jack campaigned for a Scottish Literature 2 programme in the 1980s and Honours programmes in Scottish Literature and in Scottish and English Literature in the 1990s. Aileen had a series of temporary contracts as researcher with the Carlyle Letters and supernumerary tutor in Scottish literature but Professor Jack succeeded in moving her to a permanent contract in 1993. She became an inspiring lecturer on Scottish literature. Although always denying she was a theorist, she was an enthusiastic attender at theory lectures and promoter of theory in tutorials while supporting students who found theory ‘difficult’. She made it her mission to ensure there was coverage of Scottish women...


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