Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Scottish Literature

By Ian Brown; Alan Riach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
Entering the Twenty-first Century

Ian Brown

The cliché this chapter seeks to avoid, and well may not, is that the 1999 reconvening of the Scottish Parliament changed the context in which Scottish literature operates entirely, or even, pace Yeats, utterly. Yet, the late twentieth and the twenty-first centuries have created and embody a difference. It could hardly be otherwise if the thesis outlined by the editors at the start of this volume’s Introduction holds true:

Literature is an essential way in which people in communities convey to them-
selves and others their concerns and imaginings.

The twentieth century saw a revisiting of the nature of Scottishness and Scottish literature, of what is mainstream and what liminal, what ‘popular’ and what ‘art’. It also saw the recognition that the imperialist centralising vision of so-called ‘EngLit’ within which some Scottish writers might be accommodated – though not for Leavis, say, Scott – will not do. New understandings draw on wider considerations. They draw on changed perceptions of what Scotland is, what it is to be Scottish and what the languages and literatures of Scotland are.

In many ways the two major multi-author histories of Scottish literature that straddle the beginning of the millennium, one from Aberdeen University Press, the other from Edinburgh University Press,1 express and embody those changing perceptions. Both see Scotlands, and so Scottish literatures, that draw on not only the famous definition of Scotland as threetongued, a formulation to whose potential exclusiveness Michael Gardiner alerts us. Scotland(s) are recognised that have found expression in, besides Gaelic, Scots and English, at least Cumbric languages, Latin, French, Norse and Urdu. And developments and shifts of emphasis and priority between the two Histories exemplify further significant change that continues into the new century. The Aberdeen History has, out of eighty-four chapters, five dealing directly with literature in Gaelic; the Edinburgh out of 104 has nineteen, and more dealing with inter-language issues. Further the Edinburgh

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