The International Companion to Scottish Literature 1400-1650.
If the International Companion had been subject to a prior Risk Assessment, it is unlikely that publication would have proceeded. Series Editors, Ian Brown and Thomas Owen Clancy; editor, Nicola Royan; ASLS; and the twenty-one contributors are to be commended for going ahead, despite the risks attached to a multi-faceted study of the linguistic and literary relationships in the period 1400-1650. Gaelic, Latin, and Scots are the languages in which the 'Scottish Literature' of the title was written, but the integrated approach taken here has not been attempted previously. There are (good) surprises and adjustments to be made because contributors have taken on the challenges of the fresh approach.
For whom have they done so? The aims of the ASLS suggest that the Companion is intended for students at schools, colleges, and universities, as well as those with an interest in Scottish literature. This volume, however, is not for beginners, and not altogether for general-interest readers, although some chapters, such as the first, by Sara Pons-Sanz and Aonghas MacCoinich, 'The Languages of Scotland' (pp. 19-37) are of value to everyone. The reference to Honours-level university students in the acknowledgements is a key: those conducting advanced studies, preferably in Older Scots and Gaelic, ideally also in Latin, are well served here.
Nicola Royan's 'Introduction: Literatures of the Stewart Kingdom' (pp. 1-37) is essential reading. She considers the changing geographic extent of late medieval Scodand; its ruling dynasty (and that dynasty's characteristics and relationships); the recurrent concerns of its writers; and the 'cultural phenomena' (p. 3) of the Renaissance and Reformation. Royan also states what the book aims to do--'to embed the literature in its context, not simply one of great names, but a rich fabric of writers and readers' (p. 6). She explains the book's three sections, 'Language and Transmission', 'Culture and Identity, and 'Genre and Approach', raising as she does so the reader's awareness of matters to be encountered later on, about the importance, for instance, of community identities, or networks of circulation.
Most chapters are jointly authored. Some, where the material in each language has features in common, are written as semi-seamless discussions; others, where differences are significant, consider material separately. Both approaches can work well, and the increased alertness to an overlap is useful. Sally Mapstone's sole-author chapter, 'The Transmission of Older Scots Literature' (pp. 38-59), is concerned with works in Scots, yet some of her observations on publication histories apply to or involve Gaelic manuscripts (the Book of the Dean of Lismore, for instance). Mapstone calls attention to the fragile basis of what we know about Older Scots literature, demonstrating why small-seeming matters--the origins and significance of colophons, the varied locations of literary works, the relative popularity of writers to the manuscript compilers (and who they were)--are all to be heeded carefully.
Part 2 opens with 'Expressions of Faith: Religious Writing' (pp. 60-78), by Sim Innes and Steven Reid. Within a period leading up to and including the Reformation, the authors had a most difficult task; this chapter might have been better as two. The extent and richness of their material (from the Murthly Hours to Knox's History) is disguised by a tendency to describe, not analyse. Sure use of terminology is necessary, too, in a volume meant to be a guide. For the second edition, the description of dream vision as a 'theme' (p. 78) might be revised as 'narrative mode'?
William Gillies and Kate McClune present chapter four, 'The Purposes of Literature' (pp. 79-99), in two parts. Gullies distills his vast knowledge to provide the three main purposes of early Gaelic literature (p. 80): bardic eulogy (mostly poetry); history (mainly prose); and imaginative fiction (prose and poetry). He discusses them in turn, incidentally preparing the ground for several later contributions. McClune sees the dominant purpose of Older Scots literature (one that addresses the impact of the child-kings of the period), as 'self-governance in the face of many challenges and threats' (p. 89). She explores that conclusion in the Kingis Quair and the works of Henryson and Douglas.
In chapter five, 'Historiography in Highlands and Lowlands' (pp. 100-23), Ulrike Hogg and Martin MacGregor describe the relationship between the retreat of Gaelic, the advance of Scots, and the historiography of the Scots. They note how, until the later thirteenth century, Latin texts (king lists, origin legend) were derived from the Gaelic. Systematic studies, first of Fordun and later historians writing in both Latin and Scots, then of the Gaelic position, follow. (References to Holinshed's and Shakespeare's use of the Boece / Bellenden accounts (pp. 110, 121) might have noted the work of Mapstone, 1998; and Philo, 2015). Gaelic historiography is shown to differ--in its orality, the early losses, the few chronicles, genealogical texts, and localised accounts that now alone survive before the later seventeenth century clan histories. Those sparse materials are carefully contextualised.
Part 3 contains six valuable chapters, 'Lyric, by Micheal B. 6 Mainnin and Nicola Royan (pp. 124-56); 'Chivalric Literature' by Rhiannon Purdie and Katie Stevenson (pp. 157-72.); 'Elegy and Commemorative Writing', by Joanna Martin and Kate L. Mathis (pp.173-99); 'Satire' by Tricia A. McElroy and Nicole Meier (pp. 200-16); 'Performance', by John J. McGavin and Demhnall Uilleam Stiubhart (pp. 217-36), and 'Translation' by Kaarina Hollo and Thomas Rutledge (pp. 237-65).
Two show to best advantage what this Companion has to offer. In 'Elegy and Commemorative Writing, the authors examine works in all three of Scotland's medieval languages. While many in Latin and Scots are well known, those in Gaelic are not. To see these works, by Giolla Coluim Mac an Ollaimh, Eoin MacMhuirch, and many others, listed and discussed perceptively changes the way we must think about elegy (and more) in this period.
'Translation' is another of the Companion's treasures. Here, the reader is given a sense of the 'multiple "Gaelics" in use in Scotland'; of two different orthographies, one inherited and Irish, one Scots-based; two different Gaelic scripts; and the several types of translation, those from other languages into Gaelic and those from one form of Gaelic into another. Later, there is more, in the unusual attention given to the importance of Gilbert Hay's translations. In passing, are details that adjust our perspectives, for instance, of the twelfth-century Gaelic prose or prosimetrum versions of the Alexander saga attributed to Dares (Togail Trot); Lucan's Pharsalia (In Cath Catharda); and Statius's Thebaid (Togail na Tebe), and the fact that they have been copied into later, and surviving, Scottish manuscripts. (One can see a possible reason why Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy owned manuscripts of The Buik of KingAlexander the Conquerour, Lydgate's Siege of Thebes, and Guido de Columna's Historia destructionis Troiae.)
The Companion's index and endnotes enable the reader to pursue special interests. The latter would be easier to navigate with a running head of the kind, 'Notes to "Lyric', pp. 127-30.'
Janet Hadley Williams
The Australian National University
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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|Author:||Williams, Janet Hadley|
|Publication:||Scottish Literary Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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