Authors: Lewis Grassic Gibbon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Scottish novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Stained Radiance: A Fictionist’s Prelude, 1930 (as James Leslie Mitchell)

The Thirteenth Disciple: Being Portrait and Saga of Malcom Maudslay in His Adventure Through the Dark Corridor, 1931 (as Mitchell)

Three Go Back, 1932 (as Mitchell)

The Lost Trumpet, 1932 (as Mitchell)

Sunset Song, 1932

Spartacus, 1933 (as Mitchell)

Cloud Howe, 1933

Grey Granite, 1934 (published together with Sunset Song and Cloud Howe as A Scots Quair, 1946)

Gay Hunter, 1934 (as Mitchell)

The Speak of the Mearns, 1982

Nonfiction:

Hanno: Or, The Future of Exploration, 1928 (as Mitchell)

The Conquest of the Maya, 1934 (as Mitchell)

Nine Against the Unknown: A Record of Geographical Exploration, 1934 (as Mitchell)

Niger: The Life of Mungo Park, 1934

Miscellaneous:

Scottish Scene: Or, The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Albyn, 1934 (with Hugh MacDiarmid)

A Scots Hairst: Essays and Short Stories, 1967

Smeddum: Stories and Essays, 1980

The Speak of the Mearns: With Selected Short Stories and Essays, 1994

Biography

Lewis Grassic Gibbon was the pen name of James Leslie Mitchell, born the youngest of three sons in a farming family in northeast Scotland. (Gibbon published under both the pen name and his own name but is best known by the former.) Although “the land” is central to his writings, from his geographical studies to his Scottish fiction, he personally despised the hard labor of the farming life and the stern demands of his father. His mother, Lilias Grassic Gibbon, always encouraged his reading interests, which were also supported by the local schoolmaster and parish minister, who loaned him books; it was from his mother that he took his pen name.{$I[AN]9810001913}{$I[A]Gibbon, Lewis Grassic}{$S[A]Mitchell, James Leslie;Gibbon, Lewis Grassic}{$I[geo]SCOTLAND;Gibbon, Lewis Grassic}{$I[tim]1901;Gibbon, Lewis Grassic}

Gibbon attended the Arbuthnott School and, for a short time, Mackie Academy in Stonehaven. After quarreling with the schoolmaster and quitting the academy, Gibbon worked as a journalist in Aberdeen and Glasgow; however, his radical politics and conflicts with his employers eventually sent him back to the farm in some shame. In 1919 he escaped to the army, where he remained until March of 1923; in August of that year, again distressed with life, he joined the Royal Air Force for six years of additional military service. Although military life did not particularly suit Gibbon’s temperament, it enabled him to travel extensively and provided him with a wealth of experience that served as the basis for much of his writing. In 1925 he married Rebecca (Ray) Middleton, and they had one daughter, Rhea Sylvia. They moved to Welwyn Garden City in 1931, where Gibbon, already an established writer, worked steadily and with incredible speed for the last four years of his short life. He died in 1935 following surgery for a perforated ulcer.

In Gibbon’s brief but prolific career as a self-described “professional writer-cratur” he pursued a wide variety of subjects and genres and achieved substantial artistic success in nearly everything he attempted. His diverse literary output includes The Lost Trumpet, an archaeological quest for a lost “golden age”; the prehistoric fantasy of Three Go Back; Spartacus, a work of historical fiction based on a slave uprising in the first century b.c.e.; a life of the Scottish explorer Mungo Park and other histories of geographical explorations; political essays; and Scottish fiction that provides a realistic portrayal of life in Gibbon’s twentieth century northeast Scotland. Although there is great diversity in Gibbon’s works, there are a few major themes that appear consistently in both his fiction and nonfiction. Gibbon’s political socialism and his diffusionist philosophy figure in much of his writing, as does his strong sense of Scottish political and cultural nationalism. Yet his writings tend to be characterized by ambivalent rather than definite feelings on these issues, arising clearly out of his personal experience from the early conflicts of farming and reading to the nationalist politics of post-World War I Scotland.

Gibbon’s themes and artistry come together most effectively in his crowning achievement, Sunset Song, the first novel in the trilogy A Scots Quair. Sunset Song follows its heroine, Chris Guthrie, from her early years on the Mearns of Gibbon’s childhood through the devastation of World War I, which, more destructive than the monsters of the folk past, has ravaged the land and its people. Chris’s feelings reflect Gibbon’s own ambivalence about rural Scottish life.

Also in Sunset Song Gibbon acknowledges the literary tradition out of which he worked, as the novel mirrors the minister’s description of Kinraddie as the “Scots countryside itself, fathered between a kailyard and a bonny brier bush in the lee of a house with green shutters.” Sunset Song portrays neither the unrealistic sentimentality of the Scots Kailyard fiction nor the brutal, numb society of George Douglas Brown’s The House with the Green Shutters (1901). Rather, it is a true-to-life portrayal of characters with whom people can sympathize in their day-to-day struggles of living with one another and coping with the intrusions of external circumstances.

In the achievement of A Scots Quair, especially Sunset Song, Gibbon invites comparison with James Joyce (a suggestion first made by Gibbon himself) and William Faulkner for the success of the experimental narrative form, particularly the effective presentation of multiple points of view through the unique voice of the folk narrator. In the 1980’s and 1990’s Gibbon’s work received increasing critical attention in journals as more of his works came back into print and gained wide distribution.

BibliographyCampbell, Ian. Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985. Provides a good overview of Gibbon’s work.Gifford, Douglas. Neil M. Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1983. Important critical study.Malcolm, William K. A Blasphemer and Reformer: A Study of James Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon). Aberdeen, Scotland: Aberdeen University Press, 1984. The political and philosophical bases of Gibbon’s writings are discussed in detail.Munro, Ian. Leslie Mitchell: Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1966. The standard biography.Young, Douglas. Beyond the Sunset: A Study of James Leslie Mitchell. Aberdeen, Scotland: Impulse, 1973. Important critical study.
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