Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Through Expatriate Eyes: Muriel Spark, Alexander Trocchi, and the Empowerment of Scottish Literature during the 1960s

Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Through Expatriate Eyes: Muriel Spark, Alexander Trocchi, and the Empowerment of Scottish Literature during the 1960s

Article excerpt

Scottish Literature benefited from and contributed to the revolutionary and experimental spirit of the 1960s. Many Scottish writers during this period challenged the nationalistic approach to literary representations of Scottish culture, experience, and identity. This paper argues that the cosmopolitan writings of Alexander Trocchi and Muriel Spark empowered Scottish Literature by transcending the real and imagined borders of Scotland and challenging the limitations imposed by the Scottish Literary Renaissance of the inter-war years.

Keywords: Muriel Spark, Alexander Trocchi, cosmopolitanism, 1960s, The Prime of Miss Jean Broche, Cain's Book, Scottishness, anti-Renaissance, Scottish Literature, outsider, Scottish Renaissance.

During the 1960s, disagreements amongst some Scottish writers centred on the question of how to represent 'Scottishness' in literary form. In particular, and as Eleanor Bell points out, '[one] of the main tensions between Scottish writers at this time... largely focused on defence of, and reaction to, tradition: a tension between MacDiarmid's Renaissance project and a growing impatience with this amongst younger writers'.1 Bell's analysis mainly considers developments in Scottish poetry, but the literary debates of the 1960s also indicate shifts and conflicts taking place with regard to Scottish fiction: the 'need to openly critique forms of national insularity characterises much of the early 1960s Scottish literary context'.2 Unlike some members of the Scottish Literary Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s - such as Lewis Grassic Gibbon, James Barke, George Blake, and Hugh MacDiarmid - many writers of what Maurice Lindsay termed the 'anti-Renaissance' of the 1960s disputed the nationalistic approach to the representation of Scottish culture, experience and identity.3 The problematic representations of 'Scottishness' in the fiction of Muriel Spark, Alexander Trocchi, Robin Jenkins, William Mcllvanney and Archie Hind - to name a few authors who were active during the 1960s - contributed to a cultural paradigm shift by challenging the purist, hyper-nationalistic and insular values of the previously dominant discourse of Renaissance writers. Two writers in particular - Alexander Trocchi and Muriel Spark - exemplify the questioning spirit of the decade and challenge rigid notions of Scottish identity throughout their novels and non-fictional works. More than many other Scottish novelists of the 1960s, the itinerant Trocchi and Spark transcend the real and imagined borders of Scotland in their writing. Alexander Trocchi struck a controversial chord during an already turbulent time in Scottish literary development, alienated himself from many members of the Scottish literary establishment, and was one of the most influential Scottish writers of the 'anti-Renaissance' era. Muriel Spark's impact on the trajectory of Scotland's cultural forms is perhaps more subtle, but certainly no less significant. Like Trocchi, she was an outsider figure during and after the 1960s; her cosmopolitan worldview meant that the 'Scottishness' of her work and identity were frequently questioned, even challenged, and yet she has played a decisive role in the development of Scottish Literature. I will demonstrate that Spark and Trocchi - with their independent, critical approaches to Scottish writing - empowered Scottish Literature by challenging the limitations imposed by the Scottish Literary Renaissance of the inter-war years.

At first glance, the writing careers of Trocchi and Spark seem worlds apart: for instance, whereas Trocchi frequently had trouble getting things done (especially as his drug addiction became increasingly unmanageable), Spark was a publishing powerhouse throughout her life. During the 1960s alone, she not only wrote plays, poetry, and short fiction, but novels as well: The Ballad ofPeckham Rye (1960), The Bachelors (1960), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), The Girls of Slender Means (1963), The Mandelbaum Gate (1965), and The Public Image (1968). …

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