Eternity's unhidden shore: time in the writings of Edwin Muir (1887-1959)

Cuthbert, Alexander John (2012) Eternity's unhidden shore: time in the writings of Edwin Muir (1887-1959). PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The thesis discusses the subject of time as dealt with in the writings of Edwin Muir, exploring the ways in which his poetry, novels, and critical writings articulate a range of perspectives regarding the nature of time and its relation to human experience. Following the adaptation of ideas through Muir’s career, a trajectory is traced from his early writings in which time is seen as a destructive power antithetical to life through to the celebration of mortality in his late writings. Integral to this development was his persistent interrogation of the relationship between time and eternity.
Identifying the important role of Muir’s autobiographical method, this thesis begins by exploring his desire to obtain an objective view of human life by establishing a critical distance in his writings between the subject being presented and the imagination that presents it. To this end, his creative writings often incorporate myths, biblical allegories, heraldic symbolism, and surreal abstractions to present archetypal or timeless events and situations. In doing so, Muir is seen drawing on an array of literary and philosophical influences, many of which relate to his adolescence and formative adulthood in Glasgow. His rural childhood in Orkney and his early contact with Presbyterian and Evangelical Christianity made a lasting impression on his imagination with the resultant preoccupation with Eden and the Fall being dominant features of his poetry. Often dealt with in an abstract way in his poetry, Eden is frequently associated with his childhood on Wyre in his autobiographical writings, with the Fall, in Muir’s theorizing, forming the moment at which time becomes of relevance to humanity.
Critically under-appreciated as ephemera and juvenilia, Muir’s earliest prose and poetry in The New Age magazine between 1913 and 1923 convey a strong sense of his desire to engage with the popular debates of the day regarding contemporary literary and social matters. For this reason, a significant amount of space has been given in this thesis to allow these writings to be re-evaluated; not just as portents of his later work, but also as important contributions to the vibrant journal and magazine culture of the period.
Offering substantive detail to sketch the relevant biographical context, the essays, critical monographs and volumes of poetry are discussed chronologically and with reference to each other to allow the development of Muir’s ideas to be seen as an organic evolution rather than as a series of philosophical epiphanies. However, the significance of Muir’s reconciliation to Christianity in 1939 is highlighted as the single most important creative breakthrough of his mature adulthood.

The extensive range of Muir’s critiques of Scottish and European culture, and his essays on the relationship between literature and society more generally, underline his position as a modernist writer immersed in the affairs of his time. Through detailing Muir’s creative and philosophical struggles with himself and modernity (which he felt he had fallen into through a time-accident) he is seen repeatedly reaffirming his commitment to exploring the nature of time and its meaning for human society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Edwin Muir, modernism, Scottish literature, time, English literature, philosophy, 20th century literature
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Scottish Literature
Supervisor's Name: Riach, Prof. Alan
Date of Award: 2012
Depositing User: Mr Alexander J Cuthbert
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-3191
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2012
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:04

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