This year I’ve been involved in celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice with a display at NLS – but I’ve also been casting some light on her Scottish contemporaries – women novelists who in some cases were more famous than Austen during her lifetime, but who are now much less well known.
There are quite a few Scottish women authors from that period who have been overshadowed by Austen and by their great contemporary Sir Walter Scott, but I’ve concentrated on a few in particular:
- Susan Ferrier, whose novel Marriage is often seen as the closest contemporary relation to Austen’s own
- Elizabeth Hamilton, whose The Cottagers of Glenburnie was praised by Scott himself in Waverley – and was seen at the time as bringing about revolutionary social change
- Mary Brunton, author of novels which Austen herself enjoyed reading, though they did not escape her acerbic pen
- Catherine Sinclair, author of Holiday House, a pioneering children’s book, who also wrote best-selling adult fiction
Besides giving some talks about these authors around the country and writing about them for the latest issue (number 24) of our in-house magazine Discover NLS, I’ve also been working with our education team to produce a feature on them for our Learning Zone, which we hope will open these authors’ lives and works up to those who want to explore them further inside and outside the classroom. It contains lots of information about who they were and what they wrote, links to copies of their novels that can be found online, and suggestions for discussion points and creative writing and other activities inspired by their books.
These are some of my favourite authors – they all have laugh-out-loud funny moments, and there are some fascinating portrayals of the Scotland they lived in alongside the strong heroines, dashing heroes, and gallery of eccentrics who populate their novels. I hope that people enjoy discovering them.