The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

CLAUSDIRK POLLNER


34. Scots Words and their Glosses in the Kailyard
Novels

The Kailyard novels1 still fascinate their readers and they still cause some controversy; but they seem to have made it permanently into literary histories of Scotland: precisely because their authors are seen as backward-looking sentimentalists by the majority of critics. Hugh MacDiarmid saw the mere existence of the Kailyard writers as one of the reasons why there ought to be a new vernacular movement: ‘[…] the old Kailyaird guff which has no correspondence to Scottish realities and against which the new movement is a long-overdue protest.’2 In MacDiarmid’s eyes these writers were ‘preservationists’ rather than ‘innovators’ and in this respect they stood for everything he was against.

In a letter to Duncan Glen written in 1970 MacDiarmid had this to say about some of Glen’s contributors to Akros, the literary magazine:

While I agree with you about the number of young poets now writing in Scots
you have gathered round you, I wish they were setting their sights higher and
using a lot more Scots vocabulary. Their work for the most part is simply the
kind of Scots still in conversational use – and that is not the kind of Scots in
which high poetry can be written, and what can be done in it, and is being
done by these poets, is qualitatively little, if at all, above Kailyaird level, viz.
emotion without intellect, and fancy without imagination.3

This may all be very true; but to say: ‘I wish they were using a lot more Scots vocabulary’ and then to compare these poets with the Kailyard authors is unfair to the latter – their pages are positively bristling with Scots vocabulary, a fact, indeed, which makes them such interesting reading matter even today. But then MacDiarmid disliked the way they appear to merely preserve Scots items rather

1 For the purpose of this paper, the following novels were consulted: J.M. Barrie, Auld Licht Idylls (1888; repr. London, 1913) [abbr. ALI]

—, Margaret Ogilvy (1896; repr. London, 1913) [abbr. MO]

—, A Window in Thrums (1889; repr. London, 1913) [abbr. WT [All repr. in the Kirriemuir Edition.]

S.R. Crockett, The Lilac Sunbonnet (1894; repr. London, 1897) [abbr. LS]

—, The Stickit Minister (London, 1893) [abbr. SM]

I. Maclaren [=John Watson], Beside the Bonnie Bonnie Bush (1894; repr. Leipzig, 1895) [abbr. BBB]

—, The Days of Auld Lang Syne (1895; repr. Leipzig, 1895) [abbr. DALS].

2 L.G. Gibbon and H. MacDiarmid, Scottish Scene, or the Intelligent Man’s Guide to Albyn (London, 1934 [?], p. 52.

3 A. Bold, ed., The Letters of Hugh MacDiarmid (London, 1984), p. 687.

-381-

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