Workshop 1: Scottish and European Literary Exchanges and Identity Formation

Our first theme­—Scottish and European Literary Exchanges and Identity Formation—discussed in a workshop held at the University of Strathclyde in March 2018 included a keynote lecture given by Professor Kirstie Blair (Strathclyde) on Scottish poems and European nationalism. Professor Blair examined a selection of poems published in the popular Scottish press to show how Scotland’s literary and political culture was presented as being invested in nationalist causes on mainland Europe. Poetic reactions to Garibaldi’s struggle for a united Italy and Kossuth’s call for the independence of Hungary approached poetry as a form of mediation that fed into the narrative that Scotland was more attuned to fights against oppressors (than England), a position shaped by a ‘reliving’ of the Scottish past as well as contemporaneous tensions, such as widespread anti-Catholicism among the champions of Garibaldi. Blair concluded that the commonly held view that there was no Scottish independence movement in the nineteenth century is thus reductive. The keynote was followed by two introductory talks that presented ideas and examples concerning interconnections with different areas of European political geography. Dr. Henriette Partzsch (Glasgow) based her reflections on ‘Scotland, Spain and the Sherry Industry, or the Spanish Walter Scott’, on the guiding questions of this first SNNEC workshop, inspired by Hannu Salmi (2013):

  • How did the connectedness of disconnected people of the past articulate itself in the world of literature, for instance concerning the different relationships among Scottish writers, publishers and artists with their European counterparts, and vice versa?
  • How did Scottish writers and artists represent the various geographical, social, political and psychological boundaries, and urban and rural spaces of Europe?
  • How did different writers and artists imagine the idea of Scotland in their work?

Dr. Partzsch highlighted the need to envisage cultural connectedness as a multipolar process, a point illustrated by the complex forces that shaped the circulation of works by Fernán Caballero, labelled ‘the Spanish Walter Scott’, on the global nineteenth-century book market. The author’s personal connections to the sherry trade between Spain and the UK, on the other hand, was a reminder of how social practices, linked to material culture and capitalist modernisation, entwine with the circulation of texts and ideas, thus creating structures that facilitated personal connectedness, including personal encounters through reading and writing. The second introductory talk, given by Professor Anne Schwan (Edinburgh Napier), on Scotland, Germany and the First World War, used two wars as focal points for approaching relations between Scotland and Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the First World War of 1914-1918. Beginning with a brief survey of the depiction of Germany and Germans in the Edinburgh Review and Blackwood’s Magazine, the presentation showed how the Franco-Prussian War led to introspective reflections on Britain’s role in Europe, as well as growing fears of German invasion—from anxieties around military invasion to broader social concerns in relation to German migrant workers. The paper concluded with a discussion of the classification of Germans as ‘enemy aliens’ and their internment during the First World War. In addition, Schwan discussed her own, related research, into the camp newspaper Stobsiade produced at Stobs, suggesting that a nuanced assessment of the use of irony, humour and sentiment in the newspaper’s complete run offers a multifaceted picture of the identities that the German internees inhabited and imagined for themselves and their peers. A deeper understanding of the layers of communication in such texts allows us to challenge existing critical narratives about internees’ identities and complicate the notion that camp newspapers primarily functioned as vehicles for patriotic and militaristic ideals.

Following the morning talks, the afternoon session was used to gain a deeper understanding of the individual research interests of the workshop participants and how they connected to the aims and objectives of SNNEC. Julie Holder (Glasgow) talked about how she came to her PhD topic, which analyses the relationships between collecting, representing and writing about the Scottish past (1832-92) at the SoAS (Society for Antiquaries of Scotland). The SoAS had a close connection to Scandinavia, and Scotland was the first UK country in Europe to adopt the three-age system for classifying prehistoric collections that came from Denmark. But there were also links to France and other European countries through specific Fellows and more formal exchanges of the transactions of these antiquarian societies. The development of archaeology as a science was the frame that connected scholars from around Europe, even when they were involved in more nationalist projects to preserve the antiquities of their specific countries. There was still a tension between national and international aims, but comparison could also separate and assign objects to different cultures or groups that had migrated to the UK.

Dr. Philip Tonner (Glasgow) spoke on ‘untimely’ exchanges between Scotland, Germany and France. The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland was established in 1780, a year before Kant’s first Critique appeared, a text famously owing much to Hume. Less well known is Hume’s (called an Engländer by Nietzsche) negative effect on Nietzsche who, in reaction, became ‘untimely’. Nietzsche is the keystone in the ark of the ‘very, very long’ nineteenth century. Tonner traced a trajectory originating in Scotland’s Duns Scotus, and his thought of being and haecceity that leads to Heidegger, Deleuze and back to the nomadic Scot, Kenneth White. Tonner outlined the parameters of these still unfolding ‘untimely’ exchanges between philosopher-artists as nomadic intellectuals. Heidegger wrote his thesis on Duns Scotus, which affected Heidegger’s views on the theory of being.

Dr. Matthew Creasy (Glasgow) talked about his recent work on British periodical responses to Decadence, discussing references to Paul Verlaine in the Glasgow Herald, the Dundee Advertiser and The Scotsman against the background of reference to Verlaine in London-based periodicals, and elsewhere. He highlighted the importance of translation in the dissemination of texts, and the technical challenges of translation, as well as the criticism of the Decadent movement: ‘Decadence’, and who was a Decadent writer, was interpreted in different ways in different contexts depending on the relationship between the various literary movements in Europe and the debates on the impact of Decadence on society at large. It is typically considered to be associated with ideas of transgression and tends to be elitist (a ‘dandy’ phenomenon), and associated with extravagances of literary and artistic style, but it is also associated with drug-taking, queerness, cross-dressing, perversion and sensual indulgence. Creasy used a digital humanities methodological approach to count references to keywords, e.g. ‘Verlaine’. He looked at regional mentions of references and was interested in the Scottish engagement with the Decadence movement. There followed a discussion of the limitations of databases and how these can indicate broad trends that then need to be dug into to extract more meaningful interpretation of the data.

Dr. Karen Lowing (Stirling) discussed the level of uncertainty she encountered amongst teachers with regard the place of Scots language in the Scottish classroom. The first Scots dictionary was published in 1808, but since the elocution movement tried to get rid of what it considered ‘provincial dialects’ in 1872 Scots has largely remained a marginalised language, often either considered as ‘slang’ or ‘bad English’ in schools or as existing within the romantic ‘tartanry’ of Scotland’s heritage industry. Speakers of Scots are often unaware of their bilingual status as both Scots and English interlocutors.  More generally, a lack of linguistic awareness of Scots in Scotland has helped to create a schizoglossia in the minds of Scots speakers (Haugen, 1962; Lowing, 2014, 2017a+b). Lowing argued that within Scotland’s shifting political climate and developing educational context, it is pertinent that the place of Scots in the Scottish classroom, both its language and literature, is fully considered.

Dr. Paul Barnaby (Edinburgh) discussed the radical rewriting of Sir Walter Scott in the translations of Auguste-Jean-Baptiste Defauconpret (1767-1843), which not only introduced Scott to the French Romantic, but constituted the intermediary text for the first Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Polish translations. These later translations were based on the French translation. Barnaby briefly described how Defauconpret reconfigured Scott for a Legitimist, Catholic, post-Napoleonic readership. He showed how this political rewriting went hand in hand with an aesthetic project as Defauconpret refashioned Scott’s protagonists to resemble the domestic heroes of the French sentimental novel. In so doing, Defauconpret inadvertently created an influential formal hybrid, which not only caused the French historical novel to diverge radically from Scott’s model, but played a significant role in the evolution of the French (and European) realist novel. This significant political re-writing of Scott completely changed the political and religious complexities of the characters and groups in the novel. Defauconpret shifted the backdrop from the public to the private sphere, and detached the characters from social class. In the discussion it was mentioned that Scott’s writings inspired the Italian Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) to write the opera Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) and the Hungarian Jósika Miklós (1794-1865) included direct quotations from Scott in his Abadi (1854), the first historical novel in the Magyar language (Evans, 2016). According to the domestic realist fiction by Italian women writers Neera and La Marchesa Colombi, Scott’s novels were required reading together with other ‘classici’ such as the Aenid, the Illiad and A Thousand and One Nights, for Italian school boys.

Dr. Zsuzsanna Varga (Glasgow) reflected on the importance of periodicals to transnational relations: how they can reflect connections between different peoples and places. She signaled the database on translations from the medieval to the modern period hosted by the National Library of Scotland and suggested that periodical perceptions of translations could be a source for new research projects. See the Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation BOSLIT.

Throughout a day of rich and diverse discussions several recurrent strands emerged, the more systematic exploration of which could further illuminate the multiple ways in which Scotland was entwined in European culture and politics. They also resonated strongly with topical themes of the twenty-first century. The most relevant were

  • A shared involvement in political events (as exemplified by the enthusiasm among working-class Scottish poets for Garibaldi as icon and role model)
  • Shared cultural references with the European mainland (and beyond) in an increasingly capitalist world
  • The entanglement in shared tensions, such as transnational solidarity versus national allegiances or religious conflict
  • The circulation of ideas, influenced for instance by language learning, translation, spaces of sociability and the book market
  • The presence of diverse populations due to migration/diaspora/exile

At a methodological level, the discussion also highlighted the need to critically question sources and to include hitherto understudied material, as well as the need to develop methodologies that will allow us to explore the complex dynamics of multipolar connectedness.


Edouard Manet, Woman Reading, 1879/80


Nineteenth-Century Books