Scottish literature

From Academic Kids

Scottish literature is literature written in Scotland or by Scottish writers. It includes literature written in English, Scots and Scottish Gaelic.


Earliest Scottish literature

Before the incursions into England of the Saxons, Scotland shared a common Celtic language with the rest of what is now Britain, and there is considerable overlap, at least geographically, between the earliest Scottish and the earliest Welsh literature which was not then confined to the territory we know as Wales today, but rather to northern England and southern Scotland.

The Irish language served as a literary language in Scotland until the development of an independent literary tradition in Scottish Gaelic.

Among the earliest Lowland Scots literature is John Barbour's Brus (14th century), Whyntoun's Kronykil and Blind Harry's Wallace (15th century). From the 13th century much literature was produced by writers based around the royal court in Edinburgh and the University of St. Andrews. Alexander Montgomerie, the 16th century poet, for example, was in the service of King James VI.

As the Norman nobles of Scotland assimilated to indigenous culture they commissioned Scots versions of popular continental romances, for example: Launcelot o the Laik and The Buik o Alexander.

In the early 16th century, Gavin Douglas produced a Scots translation of the Aeneid. Chaucerian, classical and French literary language continued to influence Scots literature up until the Reformation. Writers such as Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and David Lyndsay led a golden age of Scottish literature in the 15th and early 16th centuries. George Bannatyne collected many poems of the Middle Scots period.

The early 17th century saw the emergence of the Scottish ballad. Francis James Child's compilation, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898) contains many examples, such as The Elphin Knight (first printed around 1610) and Lord Randal.

In Scotland, after the 17th century, anglicisation increased, though Lowland Scots was still spoken by the vast majority of the population. At the time, many of the oral ballads from the borders and the North East were written down. Writers of the period include Robert Sempill (c.1595-1665), Lady Wardlaw and Lady Grizel Baillie.

The Scottish novel developed in the 18th century, with such writers as Tobias Smollett.

Romantic nationalism

Allan Ramsay (1686-1758) laid the foundations of a reawakening of interest in older Scottish literature, as well as leading the trend for pastoral poetry. The Habbie stanza was developed as a poetic form.

Among the best known Scottish writers are two who are strongly associated with the Romantic Era, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. The works of Burns, in particular, play a significant role in the Scottish national identity. Scott's work is not exclusively concerned with Scotland, but his popularity in England and further abroad did much to form the modern stereotype of Scottish culture.

Scott collected Scottish ballads and published The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border before launching into a novel-writing career in 1814 with Waverley, often called the first historical novel. Other novels by Scott which contributed to the image of him as a patriot include Rob Roy. He also wrote a History of Scotland.

In 1760, James Macpherson claimed to have found poetry written by Ossian. He published translations which acquired international popularity, being proclaimed as a Celtic equivalent of the Classical epics. Many writers were influenced by the works, including the young Walter Scott, before it eventually became clear that the poems were forgeries, although forgeries of some artistic merit. The most famous of these poems was Fingal written in 1762.

The modern age

By the latter half of the 19th century romantic nationalism did not reflect an increasingly urban and industrial country. A different 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.

On the other hand, the Celtic revival at the end of the 19th century brought elements of fantasy and folklore back into fashion. Both J. M. Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson are examples of this mix of modernity and nostalgia.

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 Douglas Young, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch and Robert McLellan. 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, an example also followed by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Neil M. Gunn.

Edwin Morgan is the current Makar (Scottish national poet) and also produces translations of world literature.

The tradition of fantastical fiction is continued by Alasdair Gray, whose Lanark has become a cult classic since its publication in 1981.

The works of Irvine Welsh, most famously Trainspotting, are written in a distinctly Scots English, and reflect the underbelly of contemporary Scottish culture.

See also


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