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Books by: H. V. Morton, George Blake, Edwin Muir, Kathleen Jamie, and others.
When I asked for suggestions for books for travelers to ten specific destinations, I put Scotland on the list. Alasdair Pettinger, who edits the valuable Studies in Travel Writing web site, had some definite ideas about Scottish travel literature, and literature about Scotland for travelers.
“I find the most engaging travel books were written in the 1920s and 30s: H. V. Morton, In Search of Scotland (1929) and In Scotland Again (1933); George Blake, The Heart of Scotland (1934); and Edwin Muir, Scottish Journey (1935).” He goes on to explain, “They proceed from an imaginative documentary impulse that is missing from recent travelogues which tend to be more introspective and inclined to dwell on cultural identity.”
I learned that H. V. Morton was one of the most popular (or THE most popular, according to the speaker) travel writers of the twentieth century in the British Isles. He traveled around the world and wrote 50 books, many of them titled “In Search of….” He gave practical information along with descriptions of the country or city he was visiting, and appealed to the middle class reader. Perhaps it is not fair, but I picture him as kind of an early Rick Steves, encouraging people to travel, in an age when Scotland was practically unknown to the average Englishman.
Muir, on the other hand, was known as a novelist and poet. According to reviewers of his only travel book, he writes beautifully but politically about his subject. I could find very little about Blake, and my local library does not have his books, so it will be some time before I can read him. Perhaps Mr. Pettinger or another reader can enlighten me.
Despite his predilection for the earlier writers, Pettinger lists some more recent books by Scotsmen either returning to their country, or rediscovering Scotland.
Invisible Country (1984) by James Campbell
A Search for Scotland (1989) by R. F. MacKenzie
Four Scottish Journeys (1991) by Andrew Eames
Native Stranger (1995) by Alistair Scott
In Waiting (1998) by Michael W. Rusell
He also mentions an Englishman, Charles Jennings, whose Faintheart: An Englishman Ventures North of the Border (2002) is a Bill Bryson-type book. “(the book)hides some perceptive observations behind its self-deprecating humour. And I would rate it more highly than the Scottish sections of round-Britain accounts by Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux,” says our Scotland contributor.
Pettinger saves his highest praise for a contemporary Scottish writer, Kathleen Jamie. “But no one captures the intensity of the lived moment indoors or outdoors better than Kathleen Jamie in Findings, 2005” A new edition of the book, whose subtitle is “Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World” came out in 2007.
I have found some quotes from this book, “Once, on a flawless sandy beach in Donegal, I found five silver fishes, freshly abandoned by a wave, glittering and bright as knives presented in a canteen,” that make me most eager to read it. She is a poet, even when writing prose, and her sharp observations remind me of Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea.
See more about Scotland in Music of Scotland and Mystery books in Scotland. If you like Scotland, you may also want to look at the posts on Ireland. I have written about McCarthy’s Bar, the Beara Peninsula, and the Blasket Islands. And don’t miss R. Todd Felton’s book on Literary Ireland.
Well, there you have it, from a between-the-wars perspective, through home-coming books, and humor, to the observations of a poet. Do you agree with Alasdair’s leaning to the writers from early 20th century? Can you add to my very sketchy research about them? Let’s talk.
Photograph courtesy of John Haslem of Scotland, “foxypar4” via flicker.