From Goosecreek to Gandercleugh: Studies in Scottish-American Literary and Cultural History

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From Goosecreek to Gandercleugh: Studies in Scottish-American Literary and Cultural History. By Andrew Hook. East Lothian: Tuckwell. 1999. vii + 248 pp. 14.99 [pounds sterling].

In 1959 the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams wrote to the Caithness novelist Neil Gunn. Williams declared that, since they were both `completely given to the local idiom', they were joined in a common cause against the `establishment' literature of England. There is no record that Gunn ever responded. The canny son of a crofter, he may have felt that a common enemy is no reason for a friendship. At first sight, Andrew Hook does not share Gunn's apparent caution. From Goosecreek to Gandercleugh brings together twelve essays, some previously published, attesting to a longterm `belief that the specifically Scottish element in America's cultural history is more various and enduring than has been generally recognised' (p. 6).

Yet the book goes some way towards diminishing the certainty of this statement. The Scottish qualities that Hook outlines are so various that they negate commonality. The central section of the book is devoted to valuable discussions of Samuel Miller's A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century, of American visitors to Scotland in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and of Scott (of course), Hogg, Melville, Carlyle, Macaulay, and Henry George. This is a heterogeneous group of men. They often seem to rub shoulders only because they crossed the Atlantic, or had an enthusiastic audience in the other country, or (in the cases of Hogg and Melville) provide parallels in the use of fiction to subvert the societies to which they reluctantly belonged. Indeed, one of the strengths of the collection rests in Hook's stated awareness that this is no more than just that: a collection of views. It depicts a relationship which is inherently unstable, of two societies alike mainly in their centrifugal force, changing both temporally and spatially at different rates, and in differing relations with a perceived, but possibly nonexistent, English metropolis. …