Scott Lyall

Nan Shepherd, Scotland and the Nature of Rural Modernism

Critically neglected towards the end of her life, the posthumous status of Nan Shepherd continues to grow. An iconic profile of a young Shepherd adorns the Royal Bank of Scotland £5 note, while a paving stone outside Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum displays a memorable quotation from The Quarry Wood: ‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’. Shepherd wrote three novels and a volume of poetry, but her contemporary reputation is based almost wholly on the recent reception of The Living Mountain, written in the 1940s, but unpublished until 1977.

This paper will argue that Shepherd’s work can be situated as a brand of rural modernism, and that this is generally true of Scottish modernism as a whole. Shepherd will be identified as a ‘minor’ modernist with an attention to the particularity of the local. The rurality of Scottish modernism has undermined Scottish modernism’s position in the modernist canon and the concept of rural modernism remains largely undefined. Shepherd’s work, which has emerged recently as a forerunner of transnational eco-literature, provides an opportunity to bridge these critical gaps.

Scott Lyall, Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland