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Rapt in Plaid

Rapt in Plaid: Canadian Literature and Scottish Tradition

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 354
  • Book Info
    Rapt in Plaid
    Book Description:

    Illustrate a long-lasting connection between Scottish and Canadian literary traditions and illuminates the way Scottish ideas and values still wield surprising power in Canadian politics, education, theology, economics and social mores.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7899-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Part One Auld Lang Syne

    • [Part One Introduction]
      (pp. 3-11)

      Freshman English class at McGill University. Moyse Hall holds five hundred; four hundred and ten of us are rustling and gossiping. Professor Cyrus Macmillan is about to begin his lecture to the freshmen of 1939. He is talking this morning about the ballads′ ′singing strength.′ (He pronounces it ′singgingg′: perhaps a Prince Edward Island habit of dropping the final ′g′ has been over-corrected?) Suddenly he′s chanting, ′Why does yer brand sae drap wi′ bluid, Edward, Edward?′ And suddenly the freshman rustling stops.

      Professor Macmillan is famous – perhaps not so famous as Professor Stephen Leacock, but probably just as clever...

    • Chapter One Burns, Acorn, and the Rivers of Song
      (pp. 12-42)

      This is the gossip: Robert Burns grew up in a poor time, in a thin-soiled farmland. As a boy he knew the comfort of a good home. Saturday nights in the farmers′ cottages, the Presbyterian Lowland families ′took the book′ and read the Bible passages.

      After the older folks had gone to bed, though, the young fellows might slip out to the village, where the older lads were gathering to swagger a bit, to flirt with the girls, to watch and listen when the older cotters in the tavern raised a toast and a glass, and another glass, and another,...

    • Chapter Two Scott, Crawford, and the Highlands of Romance
      (pp. 43-65)

      When Walter Scott was a youth, he met and revered Robert Burns. There is a charming picture of Scott as a boy in silk breeches gazing up in awe at burly Burns, briefly the darling of Edinburgh drawing rooms. Burns was a freakish visitor to Edinburgh; Walter Scott had been born there in 1771, privileged son of a lawyer (indeed, a writer to the Signet) and of the daughter of a university professor of medicine. But Scott, like Burns, was to spend childhood years in the countryside. Lamed as a baby by a form of polio, he was sent to...

    • Chapter Three Scott, Findley, and the Borders of War
      (pp. 66-84)

      Walter Scott, at forty, faced the possible bankruptcy of the printing company in which his fortune was invested. Ever sanguine rather than prudent, he flung himself at this critical moment into a new and expensive venture and bought an undeveloped piece of property in the Tweed valley, between the ancient ruins of Melrose Abbey and the bright stream of Tweed. Defying economics, he began to build a handsome manor house there and to fill it with expensive antiquarian oddments, mementoes of the history of the Border site he had chosen for his home.

      Scott was a borderer. In his mature...

    • A Cup oʹ Kindness
      (pp. 85-90)

      It is easy to understand the response to Scottish tradition in early Canadian writers – McLachlan imitating Burns, Richardson echoing Scott. There were personal reasons: McLachlan was emigrant, not immigrant, and Burns wrote in his native tongue; Richardson was poor and ambitious, and he aimed for the sales that a novel inculcating the stylish frisson of Scott′s Highland romance would enjoy. Furthermore, the idea of imitation was respectable. Readers remembered the influence of Chaucer on Spenser, of Marlowe on Shakespeare, and accepted as a truism that creative people are stirred by earlier creations and are moved to imitate them. In...

  6. Part Two Signs of the Times

    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 93-101)

      Twelfth of July 1957. I′m on a train again, hurtling westward this time. My husband and I are travelling with the Ontario Crop Improvement Association, a group of elderly farmers so prosperous they can afford to leave their home farms in the height of summer and go on tour to see changes in agriculture on the prairies, in the foothills, and on the west coast of Canada.

      My husband, as an editor of a farm paper, is going along, to write a series of articles on the revolution in post-war agriculture. Pre-war Canada – a string of rural communities, basically...

    • Chapter Four Galt, Ross, and the Lowlands of Irony
      (pp. 102-119)

      Although born in Burns country, west-coast Ayrshire, in 1779, John Gait had no farm-field boyhood. No pony rides through romantic hills either – son of a seafaring man and a hardworking, sharp-tongued woman in Irvine, Gait was apprenticed as a boy to a business in Greenock, a busy town where Glasgow shipping moved toward the Firth of Clyde. At school in Irvine he learned to write clearly, compute and calculate accurately; in Greenock he ran messages to warehouses and dockyards, and in those same apprentice years he gobbled his way through the Greenock Subscription Library.

      He was at a crossroad...

    • Chapter Five Carlyle, Mitchell, Laurence, and the Storms of Rhetoric
      (pp. 120-138)

      Thomas Carlyle, like John Gait, began his professional life as a writer of articles: encyclopedia entries, based on research and couched in careful, clear, colourless prose, as impersonal as a journalist could make it. Gait continued in a low key. Carlyle, when his times, the state of his country, and the devastation of his own ambitions came to ride him, dropped the cool prose of documentary. He put back his head and howled. A verbal lava erupted from his volcanic ambition and despair. He roared out an everlasting ′No!′ against science and utilitarianism. He slumped into a desperately dreary centre...

    • Everlasting Yea?
      (pp. 139-148)

      On both sides of the Atlantic, the 1970s brought intense activity and excitement, both political and literary. In song, story, essay, and polemic, Scottish writers moved into clear-sighted mapping in the Gait mode, and then beyond realism into a transcendent vision in the mode of Thomas Carlyle. Having articulated a Scottish ′here,′ writers swung out in incantations, packed with local power words, home-grown metaphors, regional allusions. William Mcllvanney′sDocherty(1975), for instance, unleashed torrential localisms, astounding traditional critics. George Mackay Brown′sGreenvoe(1972) reeled in history, mystery, and farce with extravagant rhetoric. Other writers, including Alan Sharp and Elspeth Davie,...

  7. Part Three Road to the Isles

    • [Part Three Introduction]
      (pp. 151-159)

      Winter term, 1977. I am working at the Edinburgh Centre of Canadian Studies in George Square. Over my head as I work I hear the thumps and groans of Dennis Lee, beating out rhythms as he creates a new set of poems. He is here in Edinburgh for a year as Canadian exchange poet, much in demand for public readings.

      Dennis Lee and I share occasional pub lunches and compare notes about the George Square ghosts: Sir Walter Scott, who was raised in the house next door to the Canadian Centre; Thomas Carlyle and Jane, who spent part of their...

    • Chapter Six Stevenson, Lee, and the Garden of Childhood
      (pp. 160-174)

      Robert Louis Stevenson created his sunnyA Child′s Garden of Versewhen he was thirty-three years old and suffering from lung disease.¹ Shut into a small room, one arm strapped to his chest to prevent gesticulation, the room darkened so that he could not see the gorgeous flowers of the Côte d′Azur, he found a way out of adult trammels. He crossed the borders of imagination, back to a child′s garden, back to childhood phrasing, innocence, and perceptions.

      Stevenson kept his boyish zest for life gallantly alive in his books, even when illness pressed most harshly. A sickly child, a...

    • Chapter Seven Barrie, Montgomery, and the Mists of Sentiment
      (pp. 175-191)

      Gossip has always swirled around J.M. Barrie′s life story. Biographies range from idolatrous to scurrilous psychoanalysis.¹ Never since Burns has there been such a fog of rumour, halftruth, and misrepresentation. Barrie himself fostered parts of the legend, emphasizing and exploiting the pathos of his story. Complex problems – a mother fixation, inhibited sexuality, inability to consummate his marriage, late obsession with small boys, and teasing relationships with married women – all pressured him to create misty evasions, fictions that sublimated his distress and made whimsical stuff out of the ugly aspects of poverty, puritanism, and impairment.

      Barrie'sPeter Panturns...

    • Chapter Eight Buchan, MacLennan, and the Winds of Violence
      (pp. 192-211)

      Unlike J.M. Barrie, who was emotionally crippled by a neurotic mother and torn by a travesty of a marriage, John Buchan, by all early accounts (and many admiring accounts of his life were published in the years right after his death in 1940), enjoyed a successful companionable marriage and a marvellous public career. Yet it was Barrie who flew away in his books to a Never Land of romance, adoring mothers, and charming lovers. Contrariwise, Buchan′s books present desperate struggles against murderous foes. John Buchan, victim of a serious accident in childhood and sufferer as an adult from the debilitating...

    • Braggartʹs in My Step
      (pp. 212-218)

      When conventional critics speak of books likeThe Little MinisterorAnne of Green Gablesin the same way as statistical geographers might consider ′insignificant′ places like Saltspring Island or Eigg, readers can outface their scorn. They know from experience that power inheres in the literature of the fringe, as in places geographically marginal. The books read most intensely, reread most frequently, are frivolous romances, whodunnits, science fiction, dark studies of schizophrenia, vampire tales, swashbuckling ′through the heather′ stories, children′s books, South Seas adventures, and dandified costume histories of pageantry and disguise. Such books are the fringing isles of life,...

  8. Part Four Open the Door!

    • [Part Four Introduction]
      (pp. 221-228)

      This 1991 conference at the University of Edinburgh probably marks my last visit to Scotland. My crossings reach back a long way, to a first tour when I was a schoolgirl, through many research trips and appearances at conferences, on Scott, on Gait, on Canadian ′unity and disunity.′ Now we are here to discuss Scottish-Canadian connections.¹ We are housed in student residences, near the handsome home John Buchan inhabited when he headed the Edinburgh publishing company of Thomas Nelson and Sons.

      We begin each day with breakfast in the student cafeteria at the University of Edinburgh. The porridge is thick...

    • Chapter Nine Sinclair, Saunders, and the Outskirts of Story
      (pp. 229-248)

      Sinclair is not a name with the resonance of Burns or Scott or Carlyle. There are no Sinclair societies, no Sinclair newsletters, no annual toasts to ′the Immortal Memory′ of Sinclair. But Sinclair′s novels rivalled Scott′s in their enormous and continuing sales; Sinclair′s work was as dear as Burns′s poems to thousands of nineteenth-century children; Sinclair was for a time a figure as well known for eccentricity and for comments on contentious issues as Carlyle.

      Literary historians bypassed the Sinclair phenomenon when they retold the story of literature in Scotland. They postulated that a long hiatus yawned between 1832, when...

    • Chapter Ten Duncan, Munro, and the Vistas of Memory
      (pp. 249-265)

      Scottish fiction turned a corner away from compliance and sentiment soon after the end of the Second World War. Muriel Spark (b. 1918) published her first novel in 1957; her bestknown work,The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie(1961) has a tart tone far from O. Douglas′s gentle subversions. Spark exposed the life of a woman liberated in career choice and in sexuality, though not free from pressures social, professional, or psychological. One of the elements that characterizes and changes Miss Brodie′s Edinburgh world is gossip, of the malicious sort: the gossip of her colleagues in the staff room and...

    • Brought to Mind
      (pp. 266-272)

      I am retired now and in an empty nest. I rejoin a world of human friends, mostly women who have spent a lifetime reading books as I have, though most of them have not had the privilege of teaching and writing about the books they enjoy. We have been seen as a generation living between two waves of feminism: born too late to be suffragettes, too early to experience ′women′s lib′ demonstrations. We agree that we are feminists of a bookish kind. We chat on the phone; we go for walks around London, Ontario; we go for lunch together; we...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 273-298)
  10. Books Cited
    (pp. 299-326)
  11. Index
    (pp. 327-344)