A Polar Projection: The Northern Dimension in Modern Scottish Literature

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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Drawing on a transnational turn in recent Scottish literary criticism, this dissertation examines a transnational northern dimension in modern Scottish literature. Following a ‘No’ vote in an historic referendum on independence in 2014, the question of what Scotland and ‘Scottishness’ is in a post-referendum twenty-first century world is once again being debated and reimagined. Literature, as always in Scotland, will play a major role in this process. While the nation and national identity remain important subjects of critical focus and investigation, the writers examined within this dissertation offer ways of reorienting and reconsidering the conceptual, cultural, and creative boundaries of Scotland and Scottish literature, moving northwards into an awareness of as well as engagement with a Nordic and broader circumpolar world. For these writers, the North is both a physical as well as conceptual space, and it is articulated in a number of ways: as an aspirational identity; a metaphysical space, theological as well as philosophical; as the cultural, historical and geographical world of the Norse sagas; and a larger cartographic and physical space of being in the natural world, or more geographically, ecologically, and topographically defined, being in the North. By looking North, the writers I consider in this dissertation have complicated essential notions of Scotland and transcended proscriptive conceptions of Scottishness through a reorientation of their imaginative and creative perspectives. At a time when the North is becoming an important transnational subject of critical study, these writers provide an opportunity for Scottish studies to expand its critical scope into a broader global context. From James Macpherson’s transnational northern epic Ossian (1765) to the northern ecophilosophical writing of Hugh MacDiarmid, Kenneth White, Kathleen Jamie and John Burnside, and from the creative engagement with the Icelandic sagas in the Norse novels of George Mackay Brown and Margaret Elphinstone to the transnational northern imaginative and discursive space in the contemporary Shetlandic poetry of Robert Alan Jamieson and Christine De Luca, there has been and continues to be a strong transnational northern dimension in modern Scottish literature. I will conclude by suggesting new critical directions in Scottish northern studies.
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Thesis advisor: Davis, Leith
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