Book Launch

SELCIE is delighted to announce that a new publication –  The Land of Story-Books: Scottish Children’s Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century, edited by Sarah Dunnigan and Shu-Fang Lai (Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2019) –  will be launched on Friday 14th June at 5pm at Edinburgh University, kindly hosted in association with the Department of English Literature’s SWINC [Scottish Writing in the Nineteenth Century], alongside the launch of Edinburgh University Press’s Commemorating Peterloo. Please join us for this joint celebration.

Location: 50 George Square, second floor, in the space outside room 2.43.

Please contact Sarah for more information: s.m.dunnigan@ed.ac.uk

For details on the 1819 symposium which precedes the event, see  http://www.swinc.englit.ed.ac.uk/events/scotland-in-1819/  

 

This collection of twenty essays is the first extensive study of the range and diversity of Scottish children’s literature in Gaelic, Scots, and English, encompassing chapbooks, poetry, popular fiction, fairy tales and more by both well-loved and unknown writers. It also includes a chapter by some of our very own SELCIE team on some treasures from the Museum of Childhood’s archive. Beautifully illustrated, it brings to life the materiality of children’s reading lives and culture in the period.

 

 

Katie Morag goes to Edinburgh University

The little red-haired girl who lives on the Hebridean island of Struay, always attired in her welly boots and Fair Isle jersey, is an icon of contemporary Scottish children’s literature. This, of course, is Katie Morag, the much loved creation of Mairi Hedderwick.

SELCIE was therefore delighted at the news that Edinburgh University had awarded the writer and illustrator an Honorary Degree at a graduation ceremony held at the University of Edinburgh on Monday 27th November. Every one of Hedderwick’s stories opens up a vivid world world for its young reader; in Katie’s companionship, the distinctive culture and heritage of Scottish island life is also brought to life. And Hedderwick’s illustrations also capture a child’s perspective of landscapes, weather, and environment. This striking combination of the visual and verbal was adapted for television in 2013, and a new generation of children discovered Katie Morag in a new medium.

Interestingly, though, the stories didn’t come directly from Hedderwick’s own childhood. The nearest she came to island life was the view through the window of her Gourock home across the Firth of Clyde to Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula: ‘I knew I wanted to go there, across the water and over the hills and far away’, she has remarked. As a student she studied mural painting and ceramics at the Edinburgh Art School (now ECA), graduating in the early 60s. It was an experience that would give her ‘sudden freedom […] It was totally classless […] You had room to develop your personality’.

During this time, she first visited Coll, the small Hebridean island lying to the west of Mull and the real-life inspiration for Katie’s island. Working as a ‘mother’s help’ to the laird’s family, she lived without electricity or drinking water but it was still ‘joyous’, she recalls. She subsequently returned and stayed for ten years where she raised a young family and began her career as an illustrator of children’s books by writers such as Rumer Godden and Jane Duncan, and of collections of Gaelic stories and Scottish folktales. Though the family left Coll in the early 70s, its inspiration was deeply seeded, and the first of the Katie Morag series appeared in 1984.[i]

It forms one strand of a rich body of work which encompasses other stories for children (as well as her travel writing which often draws on this rich seam of island experience). Thanks to Hedderwick’s captivating blend of word and image, the material presence of Katie Morag’s world is everywhere — not just in bookshops and television but in cups and calendars. The books belong to the classroom too, and Hedderwick herself is a regular and popular visitor (along with Katie’s teddy bear!) to primary schools and local book festivals; as she herself has said, ‘storytelling [is] a shared activity’.

These stories have become an intimate, homely presence in children’s lives — a vital contribution to a longstanding tradition of Scottish children’s writing, all the way back to Robert Louis Stevenson and A Child’s Garden of Verses, which so memorably captures a child’s view of the world. And, happily, that tradition is still flourishing across the  diversity of contemporary Scottish children’s literature, and the small, independent publishing houses which so often nourish and sustain it.

                                                               This post written by Sarah

[i] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-26483303

Dear Mrs Shillabeer

While working in the book archives of Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, we sometimes find books that hold traces of their authors. This usually takes the form of an authorial inscription, as is the case with the charming Mr Barnacles and His Boat book that appeared in a previous blog post. It is also always very exciting when we find traces of illustrators, as was the case recently when we found this 1960 copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses: 

Child's Garden of Verses Cover

This edition is illustrated by Mary Shillabeer, who was based in Edinburgh. She was known both for her children’s book illustrations and for her beautiful marionette puppets, which you can see here and here, for example. Our own Museum of Childhood here in Edinburgh even holds some of her puppets! She also sketched and painted Edinburgh’s Rehearsal Orchestra for many years; you can see some of those paintings here. The book we found certainly shows how skilled she was:

Shillabeer illustrations

However, the most interesting thing about this book is that it was owned by Mary Shillabeer herself. Tucked into the front cover is a letter from Martin Dent, the publisher. It is addressed to “Mrs Shillabeer” at her address in Edinburgh:

Letter to Mrs Shillabeer

The letter contains the publisher’s opinion about a “question of colour”; he states that he “will happily leave it for you to put it right in whatever way you wish after Christmas”. This is a lovely little glimpse into the life and work of this talented illustrator that we were very happy to find. As the season approaches for us to start wishing each other “a very happy Christmas”, we hope that you find this as interesting as we do!

Shillabeer illustrations

This post written by Danielle

Dùsgadh agus Mosgladh: Catrìona NicGhille-Bhàin Ghrannd, Dùsgadh na Féinne (1908) & Calum Mac Phàrlain, Am Mosgladh Mòr (1914-15)

This post written by Dr Sìm Innes, Oilthigh Ghlaschu

[English translation follows below]

Is iomadh uair ri linn an Athbheothachaidh Cheiltich a chualas gun robh na Gàidheil, neo na h-Albannaich gu lèir, air dùsgadh, no an impis dùsgadh, air neo gun robh an t-àm aca dùsgadh. Thug Lachlann MacBheathain (1853-1931) òraid do Chomunn Gàidhlig Inbhir Nis ann an 1896 air an robh ‘The Mission of the Celt’. Bha MacBheathain, a thogadh ann an Cill Taraglain, na fhear-deasachaidh air a’ phàipear The Fifeshire Advertister. Bha e ri eadar-theangachadh agus sgrìobhadh na Gàidhlig cuideachd.[1] Na òraid, thòisich e le bhith a’ toirt sùil air eachdraidh an Athbheothachaidh is thuirt e:

The Gael suddenly awoke to the alarming fact that his native tongue, which more than anything else was the distinguishing mark of his tribe, was dying out before the tongue of the Southron. The thought touched his sensitive and melancholy nature as nothing else could…. Having now glanced over this heaving tide of new Celtic life which has overflowed the fields of literature, music, customs, and social progress, it remains for us to ask, What of the future? The Gael are awakening to consciousness, and as a man when he becomes conscious, first asks, What am I? Whence am I? What am I here for? So the Gael must ask, What are we? What are our capabilities? What is our destiny? … Well, now, we have looked at these three curents of our times – the rising tide of Celtic revival among ourselves, the flow of Celtic sentiment and ideas in English life and literature, and the stream of Celtic blood into city life – and we should now be in a position to guess what is the mission and destiny of the Celt. It is surely by infusion of ideas and transfusion of blood to leaven modern civilization with its own awakening spirit.[2]

Continue reading

A thousand years of Star-Eyed Deirdre

In this post, Kate Mathis explores the significant achievement of Louey Chisholm’s *Celtic Tales Told To the Children(1910) —    a portrait of Deirdre which preserves some of the intricacy, danger, and violence of a thousand-year-old Gaelic tale…

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Sarah’s recent post on Ella Young (1867-1956) introduced us to her best-known, beautifully-illustrated work, Celtic Wonder Tales, published in 1910 in collaboration with Maud Gonne. The copy belonging to the Museum of Childhood, owned formerly by our elusive reader, Dora Rose, contains two of the loosely-linked group of tales known to scholars of medieval Gaelic literature as ‘The Three Sorrows of Storytelling’, whose origins extend at least as far back as the fifteenth century. Ella included ‘The Children of Lir’ as well as ‘The Eric-Fine of Lugh’ (a simplified version of Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann, ‘The violent death of Tuireann’s children’, in which three brothers attempt, unsuccessfully, to placate the king of the Tuatha De Danann), but she omitted the other, which is of even greater antiquity and by far the most famous of the three.

Often referred to, erroneously, as ‘the story of Deirdre’, it is more than a thousand years old, composed in Ireland during the eighth or ninth centuries, written down in the twelfth (as Longes mac n-Uislenn, ‘The exile of Uisliu’s sons’), and a regular source of inspiration to historians of the Gaels like Seathrún Céitinn (ca. 1569-ca. 1644) as well as to their poets and seanchaidhean (tradition-bearers). The prominence of Deirdre, by no means the tale’s original focus, was developed most notably during the Celtic Revival (ca. 1880-ca. 1920), when the various tragedies of her short-lived life were explored, by both Scottish and Irish writers, in nearly thirty plays, novellas, and epic poems. One of these authors, ‘Fiona Macleod’ (alter-ego of Paisley-born critic and travel-writer William Sharp), exclaimed approvingly that “the name of Deirdre has been as a lamp to a thousand poets”. Continue reading

Mona Margaret Noel Paton (1860-1928), ‘a gifted teller of tales’

A visit to the Museum of Childhood’s archive one afternoon uncovered a forgotten Scottish Victorian children’s writer. Here, Sarah introduces the fairytale, folkloric worlds of Mona Paton…

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In 1871, Charles Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll, paid a visit to the island of Arran to see the Edinburgh painter, Joseph Noel Paton, bearing a letter of introduction from George MacDonald. Paton had a reputation as a distinguished artist of religious and mythic subjects but it was as a painter of beautiful and bizarre fairyscapes that he had piqued Carroll’s interest. Though John Tenniel’s images for the Alice books are now much loved, it was Paton whom Carroll had initially wanted as an illustrator for Wonderland’s first publication two years prior.

Mona’s father, the painter Joseph Noel Paton; the family lived at 33 George Square, Edinburgh

One of Paton’s most famous fairy paintings, The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania (1847)

Despite it being a ‘rainy and misty’ September day, Carroll records that he had a delightful time with Paton, his wife, Maggie, and their large family who were holidaying, as they frequently did, on Scotland’s west coast. This marked the beginning of a long-standing acquaintance with one of Paton’s daughters, Mona Margaret Noel (1860-1928), who was then eleven years old.[i] In a later memoir, Joseph Noel Paton’s granddaughter gives this lovely description of Mona as having:

 more than her share of artistic temperament (the ‘DAT’ as those of the family who suffered from it most, called it). High-spirited, determined (sometimes pigheaded), a gifted teller of tales, a not unaccomplished pianist, a sweet singer, a clever mimic, Mona also had ‘the sight’. She grabbed life with both hands and  thereby suffered much. Her appearance was striking. She adored her father and, with hair waving crisply back from her forehead, appears in a number of his paintings, sometimes as angel, sometimes as devil’.[ii]

Mona, for instance, is known as ‘the curly headed imp’ who appears as a group of wild yet cherubic fairy children (three of her siblings) in one of Paton’s most popular paintings, ‘The Fairy Raid’.[iii]

Eighteen years later Mona would have a volume of fairy tales published by a small Edinburgh printer  —  retellings of Beauty and the Beast and Jack the Giantkiller.  The former is essentially drawn from the literary fairy tale culture of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, particularly associated with women writers, though stories of forbidden, ‘monstrous’, or cross-species desire go deep in terms of cultural and historical lineage (the tale of Cupid and Psyche, for example). The latter, on the other hand, springs out of indigenous folkloric and popular tale traditions of the British Isles.

This is a beautiful book —  sharp, funny, tender, and bizarre —  but scarcely well-known,   forgotten amongst a plethora of Victorian fairytale literature. But amidst the depth of a dusty box in the Museum of Childhood’s archive it surfaced one day. With a pale ivory background, text and image in what might best be termed a ‘rusty’ or garnet-coloured ink, and marginal embellishments at the top and foot of each page in neo-Celtic design, Paton’s book was designed to have an ‘antique’ feel even then. Read in an afternoon, it convinced us that Mona Margaret Noel Paton deserves her own place in the history of Scottish children’s literature.

Here, then, is a little taste of how she reimagines such two ‘very old’ fairy tales…. Continue reading