Dinnieduff: The Promised Land

cruickshankplaqueCorstorphine, a major force in Scottish culture? Well yes at one time it was, long before Tesco, shopping centres, and Wimpey/Barratt style housing developments that many of us live in. That was one of the premises of BBC Scotland’s Scotland The Promised Land (PL) which painted Montrose and Corstorphine as the twin poles of the Scottish Renaissance. Helen Cruickshank (see link for details) was of course connected with both of them.

PL was far above BBC Scotland’s usual dire standard. It was a good, but slightly misleading, basic introduction to an important aspect of Scotland’s cultural history. But of course, PL had numerous omissions – the Gaelic element of the renaissance (except arguably Fionn MacColla/Tom MacDonald) was missing – while certain neglected aspects such as the non-literary aspects of the Scottish Renaissance got a look in. If you didn’t know much about the Scottish Renaissance, you’d probably learn a lot. If you already knew a bit about it, you’d learn only a little.

PL featured a lot of talking heads. There were plenty of academics amongst them, but not enough writers. The actual Scottish Renaissance was centred outwith the universities. Notable figures of the renaissance such as Helen Cruickshank and Hugh MacDiarmid never went to university, and many of the protagonists’ working or lower middle class backgrounds would have meant that they were unlikely to do so either. Granted, some of the talking heads were “two-sers”, i.e. writers and academics such as Alan Riach and Raymond Vettese, but even their position was slightly different.

On the flipside, we got hear a lot from Hugh MacDiarmid’s grandson, and also the owners of Dinnieduff (Helen Cruickshank’s former home in Corstorphine) who seem good people and genuinely interested in their house’s history.

Further Reading

Helen Cruickshank’s Octobiography is fascinating. It is out of print unfortunately, but various libraries in Edinburgh have copies.

External Links

Scotland the Promised Land website.

Rebecca West

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A lot of things come through Facebook – good, bad, and often ugly – but it was interesting to see this quote from Rebecca West (1892-1983), which many will agree with, and some even recoil from. Rebecca West was a highly interesting woman, and  a sometimes contradictory one.

She is also part of the story of literary Corstorphine.

Who she?

Rebecca West was born Cicely Fairfield in County Kerry. She was a noted journalist, author, literary critic, and also the “other half” of the science fiction writer H.G. Wells. Their son, Anthony West was a noted writer in his own right.

Her output was huge, and she contributed articles to major newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. It is difficult to summarise it all here.

Cicely (Rebecca) had a difficult childhood. Her father, Charles Fairfield was an Irish journalist who went bankrupt. He abandoned his family when Cicely was only eight, leaving Isabella, his Scottish wife, to raise them by herself. Isabella took the family to Edinburgh, where Cicely went to George Watson’s Ladies College on a scholarship. Cicely left school when she was sixteen with little or no formal qualifications.

Despite her father’s abandonment, she and her sisters all went on to lead successful middle class lives. One became an early female doctor and barrister.

Cicely herself would attend the Women’s School of Gardening at Kaimes Road in Corstorphine (on the west side of the zoo). This was a pioneering feminist institution – and other graduates included the Borders poet Madge Elder. Both of them would end up being involved in political activism, and the women’s suffrage movement.

She took her pen-name, Rebecca West from a character in one of Ibsen’s plays, a reminder of her career as an actress.

Novelist

West wrote fourteen novels, several of which were published after her death. Return of the Soldier (1918) is about the effects of WWI, while The Judge (1922) deals with the women’s suffrage movement. Many of her other works are romans à clef – i.e. disguised semi-autobiography such as Harriet Hume which is about an accomplished piano player held back by her husband (much as her mother Isabella had been).

Influence

No single form or genre was sufficient to contain her energy, and she lived as hard as she wrote. Rebecca West went everywhere, read everything, knew everyone. As Bonnie Kime Scott says in her editor’s introduction, “To read her letters in an informed way is to receive an education in the culture of the twentieth century.”

  • Hilary Mantel, in “Conservative Rebel”, a review of Selected Letters of Rebecca West, in The New York Review of Books (29 June 2000)

West accepted a DBE in 1959. By this stage, she had swung well away from the left-wing politics of her earlier life, so this was hardly a surprising decision.

She was responsible for covering many of the major events of the twentieth century – the beginnings of formal apartheid in South Africa in 1960, the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War, the trial of “Lord Haw Haw” and many others.

External Links