Sunset Song


Sunset Song

infobox Book |
name = Sunset Song
title_orig =
translator =


image_caption =
author = Lewis Grassic Gibbon
cover_artist =
country = Scotland
language = English
series = A Scots Quair trilogy
genre = Novel
publisher = Jarrolds Publishing
release_date = 1932
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by = Cloud Howe

"Sunset Song" is a 1932 novel by the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon. It is widely regarded as one of the most important Scottish novels of the 20th century, if not the most important. It is the first part of a trilogy "A Scots Quair".

Plot introduction

The central character is a young woman, Chris Guthrie, growing up in a farming family in the fictional Estate of Kinraddie in "The Mearns" (Kincardineshire) in the north east of Scotland at the start of the 20th century. Life is hard, and her family is dysfunctional.

Plot summary

Her mother, broken by repeated childbirths, commits suicide and poisons two young twins she has. Two younger children go to live with their aunt and uncle in Aberdeen, leaving Chris, her older brother Will and her father to run the farm on their own. Will and his father have a stormy relationship and Will emigrates to Argentina with his young bride, Molly Douglas. Chris is left to do all the work around the house. Soon after this, her father suffers a stroke, leaving him bedridden. For a time he tries to persuade her to commit incest with him, but as he is badly hurt he is not able to force her. He dies shortly afterwards. At his funeral, Chris realises what happened to her father and breaks down in tears as she never knew the hardship he has endured for them.

Chris, who has had some education, considers leaving for a job as a teacher in the towns, but realises she loves the land and cannot leave it, and instead marries a young farmer called Ewan Tavendale and carries on farming. For a time they are happily married, and they have a son, who they also call Ewan. However when the First World War breaks out Ewan senior and many other young men join up. When he comes home on leave he treats Chris badly, evidently brutalised by his experiences in the army. Later she hears that he was killed in the war. Shortly after this she finds out the true story from Chae Strachan who is home on leave: Ewan was shot as a deserter, but he died thinking of her. She begins a relationship with the new minister and she watches as he dedicated the War Memorial at the Standing Stones above her home. The Sun sets to the "Flowers of the Forest", bringing an end to their way of life, forever.

Major themes

The novel touches on several issues, including the nature of Scottish national identity, and the "peasant crisis" i.e. the coming of modernisation to traditional farming communities. The theme of the onset of modernisation and the end of old ways is explored using many symbols, for example, violent deaths of horses (supposed to represent old, traditional farming methods) and the appearance of motorised cars representing new technologies which brush the people of the land from the road. The author also has some political opinions reflected in the characters of Chae Strachan, the Socialist, and Long Rob, the pacifist, and he shows how they react to the coming of the war. The dilemma Chris faces over whether to continue her education or commit to a life in the land is also featured. The title of the novel is a direct reference to the theme of the sunset of the old ways and traditions. By some readings Chris is "Chris Caledonia", an allegorical figure for Scotland itself.

Literary significance & criticism

When it was first published, some readers were shocked by its realistic treatment of sex and childbirth, and its sometimes negative portrayals of family life. Some wondered if it had been written by a woman using a male pseudonym. Even now, some women have been known to refuse to believe that the description of childbirth at one point was written by a man.

The novel is written in an essentially artificial form of Scots intended to capture the colloquial speech of the Mearns peasants without being inaccessible to English speakers. Many readers find it strange at first, but get into it after a few pages.

It is told in the form of flashbacks. dubious|date=September 2008 This is done through her reflections at the Standing Stones where Chris is found at the start of each section of the song.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

It was turned into a famous BBC television series, with Vivien Heilbron as Chris. The series made the important change of turning Chris into the narrator.

There are also a number of adaptations for the stage, the best known is by Alastair Cording.

External links

*1971 BBC Scotland miniseries version of imdb title|id=0072570
* [http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/sunsetsong/ Guide to a stage version of the novel]
* [http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/features/display.var.2438257.0.A_Song_that_wont_remain_the_same.php review of Cording's stage version]


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