Willa Muir - Imagined Corners (1931)
- Rodge Glass
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Willa Muir may be one of the lesser known names on this list, but that's due more to her date of birth (and perhaps her husband's name) than her undoubted talent. One of Scotland's foremost feminists, a brilliant, experimental psychology student and founder member of the Women's Students Suffrage Society long before such a thing was acceptable, Muir spent her life fighting for women's causes. Yet she was curiously conservative when it came to speaking out in favour of her own writing, which was largely ignored at the time of release.
Perhaps inevitable comparisons with her husband, the great Scottish poet Edwin Muir, led her to question the quality of her own literary contribution. Or perhaps, despite her progressive views, she felt obliged to play the part of loyal poet's wife and translator of others' work above that of independent voice: she only wrote two novels and a handful of academic pieces. But Imagined Corners alone represents a major contribution to Scottish literature, and we should be grateful for its existence. It is the most successful drawing together of all the issues Muir spent her life fighting for.
Set in the village of Calderwick (as is all her fiction) - an inward-looking, prejudiced, chauvinist village somewhere in Scotland - every line shows Muir's frustration with her nation, but also a total preoccupation with it. In her calm, subtle, eloquent style, through two typically quiet but tough female characters, she tells us the story of Elise Mutze and Elisabeth Shand. Elise is free of the expectations of male-dominated society while Elisabeth realises herself only after becoming free of Hector, a man she thought she loved but was merely expected to. 'In loving Hector,' Muir writes, referring to women's willingness to conform to male society's expectations of them, 'she had loved something transcending both of them.' Perhaps this was true in the author's life also.
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