In 1919, T. S. Eliot (or perhaps a sub-editor) posed the provocative query, ‘Was There a Scottish Literature?’ and critical angst on this subject has ensued over the ninety years since. The view of the editors of this series – and a prime motivation for its production – is that however valid the question within one concept of literary tradition, it does not make sufficient room for the nature of literatures produced by multilingual and multivalent cultures. The question was always more complex than Eliot seemed to allow. Further, by their nature, certain Scottish literary works have also been subsumed into the corpora of other literary traditions – for instance, medieval Irish, Latin, or modern English. Such intercultural richness and hybridity, we argue, is not a weakness in a literature’s history, but a token of international openness and cosmopolitan potential.
Study and research, not to mention creative writing, since 1919 and perhaps especially of the last twenty years, make Eliot’s still historically interesting query redundant as a serious contemporary enquiry. To be fair, the political and educational structures are still in place that at times separated Scottish literature in Gaelic from that in English or Scots – and led sometimes to amnesia regarding that in other languages like Latin. But that Scottish literature was, and is, is clearly recognised. It glories in the resources of historic canons in at least four languages that each stand as internationally important, worthy of careful study and richly enjoyable, and it is now absorbing work in, or influenced by, languages from Scotland’s newer vibrant language cultures.
Much new scholarship supports the authoritative, accessible, succinct and up-to-date studies comprising the various volumes of the Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Literature. These recognise that worldwide interest in Scottish literature, both in universities and among the reading public, calls for fresh insight into key authors, periods and topics within the corpus. Each of these three categories of Companion is represented in the 2009 publications. This first tranche of our new series marks the vigour and rigour of the study of Scottish literature and its enjoyment. It sets aside old questions, and gets on with the acts of studying and enjoying.
Ian Brown Thomas Owen Clancy