Today's stunning revelation for those still struggling!
I have been involved in a range of interesting facebook threads on the issue of kailyard today, and I find that Facebook tends to turn debate into a kind of Chinese whispers, so I’d like to try and pull all the points together and make of it what I can. Sorry, it goes on a bit, but I think there are a lot of important points. I will only mention a few.
Firstly I am not an apologist for Kailyard – unfortunately I still find the term too loose to be able to know whether I think there is any validity in it at all so it’s hard to argue for or against it. Words like ‘sentimental’ and ‘parochial’ all have to be teased out in and of themselves in this regard, as does the appreciation of ‘Scots humour’ or ‘irony.’ I am sure there are many (lost) examples of poor writing in a style which might be termed sentimental but this doesn’t really add anything to the debate.
What I do dispute is that Barrie and Crockett ARE Kailyard authors (by any sensible definition yet offered) I think the tide is turning with Barrie and people are starting to understand he is much more than either Kailyard or Peter Pan. I find it incredible that people don’t see the ‘scots humour’ in Barrie. He lays it on thickly enough. The fact that he employs sentiment as a narrative style to criticise it is surely an active example of trying to live up to Burns invective ‘to see oursel’s as others see us’ isn’t it? Anyway, I will happily debate on what terms Barrie’s fiction is NOT Kailyard with anyone. (I’ve not read enough Annie Swan to comment for or against – yes, it’s hard to get hold of – but I read a short story of hers about Red Clydesiders that struck me as anything but Kailyard!) Of course if Kailyard is just a term of abuse to be meted out to anyone suspected of being part of some William Robertson Nicoll ‘project’ I think this is just crass too. At least, there’s plenty of good argument to be had on this point (but it’s not my central point for now!)
So if not Kailyard, what then? With Barrie and Crockett I think the best example I can give is Jane Austen. When I first read Jane Austen I hated it and I couldn’t appreciate it. I thought she was sanctimonious and twee. I didn’t recognise the world she wrote of from my lived experience at all. When I learned about the context of the world in which she lived and wrote, and understood that she was employing irony much of the time, I came to appreciate her writing. I still don’t like it because I don’t like the ‘manners of the English late 18th early 19th century middle/upper classes’ as a subject to read. But that is my LIKE it does not say anything about the ‘quality’ or other of Austen as a writer. I’ll accept she’s a ‘great’ writer.
As with Austen, so with Crockett. Crockett just is not Kailyard. If he is judged solely on his first published work – a collection of ironic sketches - against the 66 other published works over a 20 year career and called Kailyard because of this, I think that’s disgraceful. Crockett’s work has been long out of print (and thus difficult to access) but this is no longer the case. At least 40 of his works are in print (I know because I have published 40 between 2014 and now) and of the others, most are set in Europe or England which presumably disbars them from ‘Kailyard’ clyping? But even if we look at the 40 (predominantly Galloway based) republished works, I am struggling to find them Kailyard. They certainly employ a ‘dry Scots humour’ – which Crockett himself defined in contemporary articles. They are at least partly rural based and they do indeed feature teachers and ministers as some of the characters. They comment on rural life and community in a way that is often far from sentimental. Sentiment seems to be in the eye of the beholder though – and I am more than comfortable to take any Crockett text and debate it’s ‘Kailyard potential’ either on its own merits or set against purportedly non-Kailyard Scottish works such as Neil Gunn or Grassic Gibbon. I do, however, get fed up of having to defend Crockett against charges of Kailyard. It’s like having to defend Scotland as not being part of an island. And I think there’s a lot better use of all our time than trying to square a circle. But until Crockett (and Barrie) are given the credit they deserve for the kind of writing they WERE doing, not just shoehorned into a catch all abuse phrase to keep them out of sight, I don’t think we progress very far in an understanding of the recent history of Scottish literature.
That’s my beef, and a genuine crie de Coeur – can we either start interrogating Kailyard seriously, or stop calling Crockett names!
If you genuinely want to find out more about Crockett's writing you can do worse than visit the Galloway Raiders site www.gallowayraiders.co.uk
And indeed if anyone wants to get into some textual analysis with me on this subject, I'm more than happy to provide a PDF of 'The Heather Lintie' from 'The Stickit Minister' to start the ball rolling. Or indeed talk about any other of the 67 published works. (soon to be 68 because Ayton Publishing are bringing out the first NEW Crockett book for 90 years in just over a week's time. 'Peter the Renegade' is set in Spain during the Peninsular War - did they grow kail there then?
just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chew over the Kail!