The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature

The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature

The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature

The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature


The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature examines the ways in which the cultural and political role of Scottish writing has changed since the country's successful referendum on national self-rule in 1997. In doing so, it makes a convincing case for a distinctive post-devolution Scottish criticism.Introducing over forty original essays under four main headings - 'Contexts', 'Genres', 'Authors' and 'Topics' - the volume covers the entire spectrum of current interests and topical concerns in the field of Scottish studies and heralds a new era in Scottish writing, literary criticism and cultural theory. It records and critically outlines prominent literary trends and developments, the specific political circumstances and aesthetic agendas that propel them, as well as literature's capacity for envisioning new and alternative futures. Issues under discussion include class, sexuality and gender, nationhood and globalisation, the New Europe and cosmopolitan citizenship, postcoloniality, as well as questions of multiculturalism, ethnicity and race. Written by critics from around the world - and by several creative writers - the work of solidly established Scottish authors is discussed alongside that of relative newcomers who have entered the scene over the past ten years or currently emergent writers who are still in the process of getting noticed as part of a new literary avant-garde.Key Features
• Defines a new period in Scottish literary history: 'post-devolution Scottish literature'• Introduces over forty original essays under four main headings - 'Contexts', 'Genres', 'Authors' and 'Topics'• Positions literature within the broadest possible cultural framework, from history, politics and economics to new creative technologies, ecology and the media
• Likely to become the 'standard' work of criticism appealing to students, teachers, researchers and critics as well as to a general readership interested in Scottish literary affairs


Berthold Schoene

Rather than stunting cultural activity in Scotland, the failure of the first referendum on national self-rule resulted in an ‘unprecedented explosion of creativity… often seen as a direct response to the disastrous “double whammy” that had been inflicted upon the Scottish people in 1979’ (Petrie 2004: 2). What Duncan Petrie refers to here is the frustrating defeat of Scottish nationalist ambition, followed only a couple of months later by the new British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s enduringly ominous rise to power, which seemed then to be cementing Scotland’s subnational status for good. Not only did post-1979 Scottish literature – and, by extension, Scottish cultural life as a whole – prove that ‘fruitful literature is made from reaction to unpropitious cultural circumstance’ (Carruthers 1999: 61); their disenfranchisement and representational elision by an anachronistic politics of Anglo-British homogeneity only induced the Scottish people to pull more closely together and develop a more clearly defined and morally superior sense of national identity. As Richard Weight explains in Patriots:

The more the English revelled in the benefits of Conservative rule, the more the Scots and
Welsh saw them as a nation of callous, selfish individuals. In contrast, they saw themselves as
peoples with a unique sense of community and compassion; a belief which the nationalist
parties encouraged… Thatcherism and Conservatism in general came to be synonymous
with English nationalism in north and west Britain. (Weight 2002: 589)

Albeit thematically often bleak and pessimistic, in terms of quality and sheer volume post-1979 literature rapidly developed into a vibrant and characteristically unruly vehicle for Scottish self-representation. As Liam McIlvanney has observed, ‘by the time the Parliament arrived [in 1999], a revival in Scottish fiction had been long underway… Without waiting for the politicians, Scottish novelists had written themselves out of despair’ (McIlvanney 2002: 183). Devolutionary Scottish writing – that is, writing produced and published between the referenda of 1979 and 1997 – was always, of necessity, politically informed, or at least it was received and critiqued that way, and only considered a success if it made – or could be construed as making – some kind of case for Scotland. In this light Christopher Whyte’s query whether after devolution it might be possible to relieve Scottish writing of its burden of nationalist meaning-making and ‘at last allow [it] to be literature first and foremost’ (Whyte 1998a: 284) seems timely. Notably, Whyte’s . . .

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