"Between the words of a song": supernatural and mythical elements in the Scottish fiction of Naomi Mitchison

Burgess, Moira (2006) "Between the words of a song": supernatural and mythical elements in the Scottish fiction of Naomi Mitchison. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b2461636


The supernatural is a recurrent element in the fiction of Naomi Mitchison. This thesis examines four novels and a selection of short stories from a period in her career, approximately 1935-1960, when she was based mostly in Scotland, had rediscovered her Scottish identity, and was using Scottish themes and settings in her work. It considers Mitchison’s attitude to ‘the irrational’ and her perception of a connection between this and her gift of creativity. Mitchison’s interest in the supernatural was combined with an interest in science and an extreme practicality and pragmatism in everyday life, one of many contradictions which can be found in her life and writing. The thesis goes on to examine the influence on her thinking and writing of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance and Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.

Chapter 1 examines the recurrence of apparently supernatural experiences in her life, noting parallel experiences recorded by other writers, and suggesting a possible explanation for her childhood terrors. Chapter 2 traces the influence of these experiences on her writing, and also considers influences from her extensive reading, such as the ballads and the works of George MacDonald. The mythical element in Mitchison’s work is linked to that in the work of other novelists of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. Her poem ‘The House of the Hare’ is examined and the connections that Mitchison found between creativity, sexuality and fertility are described and discussed. Chapters 3-6 consider her novels, We Have Been Warned (1935), The Bull Calves (1947), The Big House (1950) and Lobsters on the Agenda (1952), with reference to the supernatural and mythical elements in each, noting that Mitchison apparently subscribed to Margaret Murray’s view of witchcraft as a surviving pagan religion. Chapter 7 surveys the recurrence of supernatural themes in Mitchison’s short stories. Chapter 8 considers the recurrent concepts of the fairy hill and the swan maiden, suggesting that these concepts were seen by Mitchison as relevant to her own life.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages > PB1501 Scottish Gaelic Language
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Scottish Literature
Supervisor's Name: Riach, Prof. Alan
Date of Award: 2006
Depositing User: Ms Mary Anne Meyering
Unique ID: glathesis:2006-5413
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2014 13:43
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2014 13:44
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/5413

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