Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Some Scottish Catholic Literature

There is some really interesting work going on in Scotland at the moment. Juliet Linden Bicket, for example, submitted her PhD thesis this year on A 'God-ordained web of creation': the faithful fictions of George Mackay Brown.

Here's the abstract:

"This thesis represents the first extensive examination of the ‘faithful fictions’ of the Orkney writer George Mackay Brown (1921-1996). Until now, critical appreciations of the Catholic imagination informing Brown’s opus have been vague and Brown has been seen as a throwback; his Catholicism only part of a reactionary impulse that denies modernity a place in his oeuvre. Through a thematic critical analysis of four major strands of Brown’s corpus that display his Catholic imagination, it is contended that Brown has been misunderstood by the Scottish literary-critical tradition, and that his creative work on religious subjects is diverse, experimental and devotional. The thesis provides a biography of Brown’s faith. It looks at his conversion accounts, and it discusses the interaction between these and other accounts of (spiritual) autobiography. The thesis looks in a detailed way at three mediators of grace in Brown’s faithful fictions: the Virgin Mary, St Magnus, and Christ, whose nativity Brown frequently depicts. By discussing their different roles, depictions and the various literary forms that tell their stories, this study will discover the ways in which Brown encapsulates his Catholic faith in his creative work.

"The thesis questions whether Catholicism harms his literary output, as some critics have suggested, and shows the ways in which Brown’s writing interacts with other Catholic literature – old and new, at home and abroad. Manuscripts, including several unpublished poems, plays and stories, will be referenced throughout, as will rare and unseen correspondence. The thesis takes in the entire scope of Brown’s body of work and is not limited to a single mode or genre in his corpus. Ultimately, this study contends that Brown is an excellent case-study of the neglected Catholic writer in twentieth-century Scotland, and that there is much work to be done in appraising the Catholic imaginations of many post-Reformation Scottish Catholic writers."

So let's have a look at some of these neglected Catholic writers. I've blogged here and here about Muriel Spark and there's a huge amount to say about George Mackay Brown himself, including what Juliet Linden Bicket writes here

We could also mention Bruce Marshall, Compton Mackenzie and others, but I want to draw attention to someone who is virtually unknown south of the border: Fionn Mac Colla, some of whose work can be found here. There is much in his work to challenge any English speaker but it's clearly a challenge worth facing.

As Juliet Linden Bicket rightly points out, "there is much work to be done in appraising the Catholic imaginations of many post-Reformation Scottish Catholic writers." Let's hope that her work is just the beginning of this reappraisal.


  1. Exploring your blog and discovered this post. After reading it I went and looked up some more about Fionn Mac Colla--he seemed particularly interesting to me as I'm fascinated by Highland culture and I'm studying Gaelic. Now I just have to get ahold of one of his books.

    Thanks for this post!

    1. Thanks, Mary. I'd be intrigued to hear how you get on.

    2. Sure. I managed to find a sample of "And the Cock Crew" online, but none of MacColla's work is at any of my local libraries. I may just have to buy it...