Sightings: Neglected Books in Scotland

August 27th, 2006

We spent the last couple of weeks in Scotland — a few days in Edinburgh and a week or so in the Highlands. Although not part of the agenda, neglected books cropped up on several occasions.

In a small bookshop near Edinburgh University, I found a few titles new to me:

The Seizure of Power, by Czeslaw Milosz

The Nobel Prize-winning poet’s first novel, about the Soviet-orchestrated establishment of a Communist government in Poland at the end of World War Two.

My Sinful Earth, by William Gerhardie

A copy from the 1947 “Uniform Edition” of Gerhardie’s works. One could hardly consider Gerhardie neglected in 1947 if he had a uniform edition of his works being published. However, among neglected authors Gerhardie is one of the hardiest perennials, coming back into critical bloom (and print) every decade or so. In an essay collected in Power of Delight, John Bayley writes that:

[Evelyn Waugh's] favorite William Gerhardie novel was to be Jazz and Jasper. This almost forgotten work appeared in 1927, two years earlier than Vile Bodies. Its author wanted to call it Doom, a title not adopted until the 1974 edition. In 1947 it made a brief appearance as My Sinful Earth, and the 1928 American edition was called Eve’s Apples [in fact, it was Eva's Apples — Ed.], the American publisher having decided, no doubt wisely, that the word “jazz” had been “worn threadbare” in crossing the Atlantic.

The Tragedy of the Korosko, by Arthur Conan Doyle

A short novel about the capture and rescue of a group of Western tourists by Muslim extremists. A remarkably contemporary book, reissued in 2003 as a Hesperus Classic.

The Life of Samuel Belet, C.F. Ramuz

An autobiographical novel. Ramuz is considered by many the greatest Swiss writer of the 20th century. His best-known book in English is When the Mountain Fell, which was a Book-of-the-Month club selection in 1947. Time magazine wrote of the novel, “U.S. readers will get here what few other recent books have given them — a genuine literary experience.”

Then, in the bookcase of the small house we rented in the Highlands, I came across a few more. Amongst the best-selling thrillers and romances one usually sees in such holiday rentals, I found some unexpected titles:

Assassins, by Nicholas Mosley

An early novel by this great English experimental writer, about the abduction of a diplomat’s daughter in the midst of a crucial summit meeting.

The Conspiracy and Other Stories, by Jaan Kross

A collection of mostly autobiographical short stories by an Estonian writer recommended by Doris Lessing and others.

So Many Loves, by Leo Walmsley

The autobiography of a novelist best known for his books about life on the north Yorkshire coast. From the excerpts I read, it seemed a lively and entertaining tale, ranging from his apprenticeship on a fishing boat to travels through Africa.

The Ballad and the Source, by Rosamond Lehmann

In this 1944 novel, Lehmann tells the story of Sibyl Jardine — her unhappy marriage, her flight from it, her life as a single mother, and the descent of her daughter into mental illness.

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