Stokoe, Christopher John Lawson
Closing the circle: Neil Gunn's creation of a 'meta-novel' of the Highlands.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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Whilst researching his bibliography of Neil M Gunn, the writer found
photocopies of papers said to have been in Gunn's desk at the time of his death,
amongst which were copies of both sides of a handwritten sheet' torn from a looseleaf
notebook. This document, produced in response to perceived criticism by Eric
Linklater, offers a unique insight into Gunn's view of his literary achievement at
the end of his novel-writing career. In it Gunn sets out the theoretical concept of
all his twenty novels being components of a single, composite, 'Novel of the
Highlands', an abstract concept referred to in this thesis as a'meta-novel'.
The thesis examines the literary viability of this meta-novel; it follows a
tripartite form: chapter one, which records inter alia Highland problems, forming
the introduction, chapters two to four inclusive forming the central developmental
section before culminating in chapter five, the conclusion. The developmental
section offers a critique of the problems outlined in the introduction via a series of
'epicyclic journeys' which approach the problems from the perspectives of
childhood, history and culture, each contributing to the achievement of a positive
conclusion. By considering the interplay between each chapter heading and the
content of the individual novels allocated to it, the implied plot structure of the
overall work can be established.
Gunn habitually re-used and adapted his material over time. The evolution of
this material in the individual novels is discussed. The meta-novel represents
another, and final, re-use of material and, through the exercise outlined above, it is
hence possible to speculate on which elements of the individual novels Gunn
deemed to be important in retrospect, as it is these that develop the meta-novel's
plot. Thus, crucially, the examination prompted by the existence of this primary
document enables a re-evaluation of Gunn's individual novels, which this thesis
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