Post 2 (suggested soundtrack – Malcolm Middleton, ‘Death Love Depression Love Death’)
As I write this (5/02/09), I am trapped on Orkney. The snow has been falling since yesterday, all planes off the island are cancelled and some of the roads are shut. I’m therefore in the perfect frame of mind for discussing J.M. Barrie’s wonderful and disturbing novella Farewell Miss Julie Logan (1931). It may come as some surprise to those of you not familiar with Barrie’s whole canon that the author most famous for Kailyard tales of couthy rural Scotland and Peter Pan penned one of the most unnerving and vigorous examples of Gothic fiction to come from Scotland. I’m skipping more than 100 years of literary history to start with Barrie’s tale as I think (hope) that the big names in Scottish Gothic of the nineteenth century will already be familiar (Scott, Hogg, Oliphant, Stevenson).
It’s appropriate that I find myself snow-bound today, as Barrie’s novella focuses on a remote Highland glen, and specifically at a time in mid-winter when it becomes ‘locked’ with snow. For a short period no one can get in or out. This is when ‘the strangers’ are said to visit. Our narrator is the Reverend Adam Yestreen, and the story takes the form of the diary he has promised to keep to record the ‘locked’ period in the glen for the benefit of the summer-only visitors he refers to vaguely as ‘the English’. His diary becomes a self-revelatory dramatic monologue. The events that ensue involve ambiguous ghosts, vampires and – worst of all for the minister – Catholic Jacobites.
In keeping with Ian Duncan’s very precise definition of Scottish Gothic, the haunting ancestral identity is both geographically and historically specific: from the North, and from the time before Protestantism dominates (pre-nineteenth century). Rev. Yestreen is partly a Lowlander and comes to the glen from the south. This makes him ostensibly, like the English, capable of rationality and impatient with superstition. However, he is also half-Highland, and begins to have his doubts about the origins of the attractive and sensual visitor Miss Julie Logan. To discover who or what she is, read for yourself.
This text may convincingly be labelled ‘Scottish Gothic’ in that the Gothic elements are uniquely Scottish – the Highland/Lowland divide, the relationship with its southern neighbour as represented in the tale by ‘the English’, the acute sectarian prejudices and so on. Yestreen is Scotland, replete with all its unities and divisions. Yet he is persistently, possibly even eternally, haunted by Scotland past, the Scotland of Highland history, Jacobitism, superstition and Catholicism. The past is in his name, ‘Yestreen’ – yesterday evening, implying an inescapable concern with what has gone before. Julie Logan, whether actual or psychological, represents this past and is significantly given her name by a type of rock that sits on the mountainside around the glen: ‘There are Logan stones, I am told, throughout the world, and they are rocking stones. It is said they may be seen rocking in the wind, and yet hold on for centuries.’ (26) This threat to coherency of identity is perpetual.
However, in many ways this is not a text of the 1930s (cf. Andrew Sneddon’s comments attached to the last post regarding the rejection of the Gothic at this time in favour of utopian recreations of the past), but rather Barrie’s farewell love letter to nineteenth century fiction in the vein of Stevenson and Hogg. To assess the continued validity of the term Scottish Gothic, it’s necessary to look to recent and contemporary texts, to see how Scottish writers deal with the mode as it stretches, diversifies and evolves…
J.M. Barrie. Farewell Miss Julie Logan.Edited and with an afterword by Alistair McCleery. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press. 1989.
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