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12 - The Short Story in Scotland: From Oral Tale to Dialectal Style

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2016

Timothy C. Baker
Affiliation:
University of Aberdeen
Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

While Walter Allen labels Walter Scott's ‘The Two Drovers’, from Chronicles of the Canongate (1827), the ‘first modern English short story’, Scott's texts emerged in an Edinburgh print culture in which the short story was rapidly achieving prominence as a literary form. The founding of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in 1817 was crucial not only for the development of the terror tale, but also for regional fiction, often explicitly connected to oral traditions. The short fiction published in Blackwood's frequently combined correspondence, journalism, historical enquiry and narrative; Scott's description of his Tales of My Landlord series as a collection of ‘Tales, illustrative of ancient Scottish manners, and of the Traditions of their Respective Districts’ could also serve for much of the fiction published in the magazine. Blackwood's was one of the first periodicals to pay writers of fiction at the same rate as its essayists and reviewers, and by 1820 fiction made up roughly one-fifth of its annual contents. William Blackwood published tales by writers such as Thomas De Quincy, John Wilson and William Maginn, as well as Scott himself. Most influentially for the development of the short story in Scotland, Blackwood also published tales and serialized novels by James Hogg and John Galt. Many of these writers used Blackwood's and its competitor journals as places to experiment with genre, often drawing explicitly on nonfiction published alongside their tales, as well as taking advantage of the magazine's reputation for self-reflexive commentary on authorial identity and narrative form.

Hogg's four collections of tales focused on the Scottish Borders and Galt's series of ‘Tales of the West’ set in Ayrshire and Glasgow, many of which were in part serialized in Blackwood's, use a miscellany form to present a series of first-person fictional memoirs with a specific regional identity. Their texts explore the interconnections of fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry and prose in the case of Hogg, and highlight the relation between reportage and storytelling. Hogg frequently exploits his dual position as a representative of unlettered, rural identity in his guise as ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’ in the magazine's series of satirical sketches Noctes Ambrosianae and as a member of Edinburgh's literary establishment: Hogg is presented as an authentic countryman who has infiltrated the urban intellectual sphere.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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References

Carruthers, Gerard and McIlvanney, Liam, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Scottish Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Crawford, Robert, Scotland's Books (London: Penguin, 2007).
Gifford, Douglas and McMillan, Dorothy, eds., A History of Scottish Women's Writing (Edinburgh University Press, 1997).
Morrison, Robert and Roberts, Daniel S., eds., Romanticism and Blackwood's Magazine: ‘An Unprecedented Phenomenon’ (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

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