The Treatment of Gender in Twentieth-Century Scottish Women's Historical Fiction

McLeod, Amanda J (2001) The Treatment of Gender in Twentieth-Century Scottish Women's Historical Fiction. MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 13833905.pdf] PDF
Download (9MB)


This study focuses on the treatment of gender in historical fiction written by three twentieth-century Scottish women - Naomi Mitchison, Sian Hayton and Margaret Elphinstone. Each writer has used history as a base from which to examine the construction of gender. By fore grounding the female and by shifting the focus of history onto the private, domestic sphere, these women move toward the restoration of the female voice, both within the historical context of their fiction, and within their contemporary societies. Chapter 1 analyses the wider literary context of Scottish women's historical fiction, touching on early exponents of the genre, and on the more recent writers who have focused on popular historical romance. Male writers in the field are discussed in relation to their own uses of history, and their comparatively scant attention to issues of gender. Chapter 2 moves into discussion of Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999). Mitchison's early work in the historical genre, between publication of The Conquered in 1923 and the appearance of The Corn King and the Spring Queen in 1931, represents a radical approach to the examination of gender within fiction in the early part of the twentieth-century. Set predominantly in the ancient world, Mitchison's novels and stories exploit the distance offered by ancient history to examine a range of gender-related issues, such as the economic independence of the female within society, sexual expression, and same-sex relationships. In Chapter 3, which discusses Mitchison's epic Scottish novel, The Bull Calves (1947), many of these issues are treated again, yet the change in Mitchison's own social and political situation and her strengthening identification with Scotland, inform a less radical approach to the female role than is evident in the first phase of her writing. Further, a move toward the more recent historical setting of 1747 in The Bull Calves is partially responsible for curtailing the more overt feminism of her early work. Chapter 4 discusses three novels by the contemporary writer Sian Hayton (1933-). Cells of Knowledge (1989), Hidden Daughters (1992) and The Last Flight (1993), comprise a Dark-Age trilogy in which female identity is explored. Hayton's texts set up a system of oppositions between Christian and pagan and male and female, which Hayton then attempts to deconstruct, and in many ways, her strong supernatural heroines provide a positive female image in relation to the monks they encounter. I argue, however, that she is not entirely successful in this, and that the trilogy's feminism is undermined, to a degree, by a deep-rooted patriarchal framework. Chapter 5 concludes this study with an examination of Margaret Elphinstone's Islanders (1994). Elphinstone (1948-) moves away from the supernatural elements found in Hayton's trilogy, toward a more realist portrayal of the way in which women in Old Norse society may have lived. My discussion focuses on the strategies of resistance Elphinstone provides for her female characters in response to the restrictions of their patriarchal community, and asks whether the ultimate failure of her heroine to find fulfilment is influenced by contemporary gender structures. This study argues that the portrayal of the female within Scottish women's historical fiction is reflective of continuing inequality in the contemporary socio-political environment.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Ian Corbett
Keywords: British & Irish literature, Gender studies
Date of Award: 2001
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2001-76188
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2019 09:15
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2019 09:15

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year