The Major Fiction of Neil Munro: A Revaluation

Renton, Ronald W (1997) The Major Fiction of Neil Munro: A Revaluation. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Neil Munro was one of the foremost literary figures in the Scotland of his generation and yet today he is mainly remembered for his humorous sketches about the puffer captain, Para Handy, and his crew rather than his novels and short stories - a situation which he himself would have found ironic. This thesis seeks to revalue the range and merits of Munro's major fiction. Chapter 1 This chapter examines the criticism of Hugh MacDiarmid, Fionn MacColla and Angus MacDonald that Munro's writing was escapist and did not tackle the issues of his day. It then examines Wittig's more positive and complimentary view of his work and finally seeks to place Munro in Hart and Gifford's theories of Scottish fiction. Chapter 2 Here Munro's life and work is reviewed. Of special importance to his fiction is the effect of his upbringing in Inveraray, Argyll, where he was born in 1863. This was to feed his imagination for the rest of his life. His career as a journalist is described and then the publication of his works of historical fiction "in the Highland manner". Fearing that he might be heading down a literary cul de sac he turned to the contemporary scene with the novels The Daft Days (1907) and Fancy Farm (1910) but reverted to Highland history with The New Road (1914). After this his literary output is small. Part of the reason for this is thought to have been grief at the death of his son in the War, but by this time he was also the editor of a busy newspaper and probably had little time for writing fiction. He died in 1930, just over two years after retirement. Chapter 3 Munro was aware of the weaknesses of Celtic Twilight and Kailyard writing in the Scottish literature of his day and sought to counteract them with his first short story collection. The Lost Pibroch and Other Sheiling Stories (1896). This was a breakthrough in the authentic presentation of the Highlander in non-Gaelic Scottish literature. Chapter 4 Munro's first novel "in the Highland manner", John Splendid, was published in 1898. This gives an accurate picture of the Montrose wars in Argyll, probes the weakness of the Highland character and also examines the need for progress and "civilisation" in the Highland way of life. Chapter 5 In this chapter three novels connected loosely with the aftermath of the '45 Jacobite Rising are examined. Doom Castle (1901) is a clever parody of the Gothic novel, but at the same time the ruinous castle, seat of the loyal Jacobite Lamont, becomes a symbol of the decay of the Jacobite cause itself The Shoes of Fortune (1901), at one level a fantastic tale about a pair of red shoes, at a deeper level is also an analysis of death throes of the Jacobite cause. Children of Tempest (1903), on the other hand, deals with the quest for the Loch Arkaig treasure, French gold intended to support the Jacobite cause. It has the qualities of a parable, with evil figures in the tradition of Hogg and the darker side of Stevenson set against good people supported by the Christian traditions of the Southern Hebrides. Chapter 6 This chapter deals with Munro's modem novels. Although Gilian the Dreamer (1899) was written at roughly the same time as John Splendid it has been grouped with Munro's contemporary novels because it concerns the generation before his own. It deals with the problem of a creative artist trying to operate in a culture where the tradition has been broken, in this case by the Highland Clearances. The contemporary novel. The Daft Days (1907), continues this type of discussion by examining the position of the gifted female creative artist in a society whose educational and religious mores inhibit the expression of her talent, whilst Fancy Farm (1910), a novel of ideas, explores theories about "natural man" in connection with landlordism and female independence. Chapter 7 Here Munro's most accomplished novel The New Road (1914) is examined. It is a novel of mythic regeneration in the tradition of Scott's Waverley. The hero sets out on a romantic journey to the North and is steadily disillusioned by the behaviour of the Highland chiefs he meets, culminating in the barbarity of Lovat. This confirms his support for the House of Hanover, MacCailein Mor and their enlightened "improvements" which include the new road to Inverness which will bring prosperity and peace - but at the sore cost of the old Gaelic way of life, the erosion of which continues to the present. Chapter 8 In this section Munro's two other short story collections are examined. Ayrshire Idylls (1912) show that Munro, mainly considered a Highland writer, is quite at home in Ayrshire. His stories deal, among other things, with the Covenanters and with incidents in the life of Bums. Most interesting, however, are the glimpses we are given of Munro's own literary theory. Jaunty Jock and Other Stories (1918) is the most wide-ranging of Munro's collections. The stories are set throughout Scotland and abroad. Most interesting are "Return to Nature", a comic analogue of The New Road. "The Brooch", a supernatural tale in the Hogg tradition, and "Young Pennymore", a beautifully constructed tragedy.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Douglas Gifford
Keywords: British & Irish literature
Date of Award: 1997
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1997-75902
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 17:38
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 17:38

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