Literature is promoted in the UK as a means of exploring heritage
The word “literature” has many different connotations. For some, it depicts shoolboys in Victorian workhouses or Regency women trying to land a rich husband. For others, it is an avenue for exploring human nature and the culture of a given author. The UK, and Scotland in particular has a rich cultural heritage, often seen in the literary works produced by the local writers. There are many societies which endeavour to inform people about culture in the UK. One such organisation in Scotland is the Saltire Society. Professor Ian Campbell, of the Edinburgh branch, provides an overview of what is involved.
The society aims not only to promote literature in Scotland but all aspects of Scottish heritage, including engineering, architectural work, fine art, and history. Ian Campbell is the Convener of the Literary Awards Panel. He explained the criteria to be fulfilled in order to be eligible for an award. “We start with 105 books and then have to get it down to a couple of dozen and finally end up with six.”, he said. “It’s a long process.” Out of these six only one is chosen in one of three categories of awards: New writers, the main Book Prize, and Research. Homage is paid to a wide range of authors with strong Scottish connections, to women writers and to those who write in Gallic. By republishing books, holding conferences, and awarding school prizes, the Saltire Society hopes to “energise interest in Scotland”. James Robertson and Liz Lochhead are among the young up-and-coming Scottish authors. Writers such as James Hogg and Robert Louis Stevenson are renowned for their classic works. Literature in Scotland is not just about preserving the classic authors, but also about promoting the new artists. Edinburgh is a city so steeped in history and culture that it is the ideal platform for the Saltire Society to reach out to others from.
Not everyone has an inherent interest in history and cultutre, so there must be other elements of literature which appeal to the younger generation. The reception of a book can often depend on how well it reflects on society. The most entertaining moments in literature are usually found in studies of human nature. Horror stories, fairytales, romantic adventures usually have elements that the reader can relate to. The UK is renowned for leading the way in the world of literature in this sense. Although the idea of dealing with a different style of English may be off-putting when reading Shakespeare or Chaucer, their insights into human nature are among the greatest in the world. Stripped away from the “thees” and “thous”, both authors have written some fantastic works that would rival any modern day soap opera. Murder, intrigue, love traingles, miscommunication and betrayal are prevalent themes in many of Shakespeare’s plays.The same goes for Chaucer, particularly The Canterbury Tales, some of which contain humour to satisfy the baudiest of taste.
Edinburgh’s own Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the UK’s most famous horror writers. His best known work in this regard is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although it takes place in London, Stevenson drew his inspiration for the tale from the legends and true stories of his own city. The haunted and grizzly history of Edinburgh is celebrated with the haunted ghost tours on the Royal Mile drawing tourists from all over the world. A more modern depiction of Scotland comes from Irvin Welsh with his cult novel Trainspotting. Ewan McGregor shot to fame with the film of the same name and it’s depiction of the drug culture in the UK drew much interest from all avenues.
Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have provided the world with the two most famous detectives in the English language; Monsieur Hercules Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Both detectives have been depicted in films and tv dramas. Writing a clever mystery novel is an art. It takes a lot of skill to keep the reader in the dark up until the end and yet make sure all the pieces fit together. Mystery novels are among the most informative of human nature, particularly when murder is involved. The motives behind a person’s actions tell a lot about their character.
Another author with great insight into human nature is Jane Austen. Ignoring the societal restrictions of the time she was writing in, her characters are among the funniest and most endearing in the literary world. Elizabeth Bennet is a name known the world over for her wit and vivacity and Mr. Darcy seems to be every woman’s perfect man. Austen’s characters are translatable to the modern world as well as her own Regency period. As with many other classic authors, Austen’s novels have been adapted for the big screen. Her influence is seen in the works of modern-day authors in the UK. The most notable of these is Helen Fielding, of Bridget Jones’s Diary fame.
The list is endless. With many authors already in the literary hall of fame and still more on the rise the preservation of culture is promising. The work of groups such as the Saltire Society helps to promote a greater understanding of culture and heritage in the UK. The organisation of festivals and conferences exposes the public to literature and gives them an incentive to explore their heritage for themselves.