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An Autobiography (Lives & letters) Paperback – 7 May 1987

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: The Hogarth Press Ltd; New edition edition (7 May 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701207701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701207700
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 13 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,470,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

Edwin Muir was born in a small island community at the end of the last century. From his sheltered childhood in rural Orkney to the turmoil of industrial Glasgow at the turn of the century, Muir offers a startling vision of Scotland and the creative process during an era of unprecedented change. Witness to the most traumatic years and events of our modern age, Edwin Muir, in his life as in his art, was haunted by the symbolic "fable" which he longed to find beneath the surface "story" of mere events. From his dream notebooks to his travels in Eastern Europe, Muir paints an unforgettable picture of the slow and sometimes painful growth of a poet's sensibility as he comes to terms with his own nature amidst the terror and confusion of the 20th century. A peronal memoir by George Mackay Brown is also included. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Format: Paperback
Muir was born into a tenant farming family on Orkney that lived a traditional pattern of life, little changed for centuries. It was hard yet happy, touched with paradise. When the family emigrated to Glasgow, the harmony they had tentatively enjoyed was broken on the harsh realities of industrial life; and, the shattering blows of illness and death. Muir evokes his early life and this terrible shift in beautiful, evocative prose, resonant of the great poet that he is, touching both the boundaries of paradise and the portals of hell. He tells of his slow recovery of well-being through writing, through psychoanalysis and, most importantly, through the love of his wife, Willa. He writes of their travels together in post- First World War Europe, of Prague and of Italy; of making do on writing, especially translating, and living cheaply. He tells of coming to poetry late, of the dreams that often inspired it; and, of discovering, one day finding himself reciting the Lord's Prayer, that he must be a Christian, though of an 'eccentric' kind. It is an autobiography of both depth and surface charm - as he weaves what he calls the Fable (the archetypal patterning of his life, of any human life) with the story (the particulars of his own life). Read it and you will be in the company of fine writer, a great poet and a noble soul.
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Format: Paperback
Edwin Muir was one of the great Scottish poets of the C20th, and this is his account of his life, split into two broad periods. The first is from his birth to around the age of 30, accounting for his time growing up in Orkney before moving to industrial Glasgow in his teenage years, before finally leaving for London and then Europe sometime into the 1920's. The second half picks up from around WW2 and into the years afterwards.

They are quite remarkably different accounts, different both in style and focus. The first is more concerned with the sharp contrast between his rural upbringing in the epic landscapes of Orkney and the harsh realities of the unhealthy, impersonal, industrial Glasgow. His account of growing up in Orkney is magical and other-worldly, aided considerably by his poet's economy of prose and eye for telling detail and imagery. When he moves to Glasgow this economy stays with him, though it is less magical and mythical things he sees now (arguably though as we are a post industrialist society, is this world any more alien to us than of the agrarian Orkney he describes?).

It is an intensely personal and introspective memoir, to the point where he lives and works as a clerk in various Glasgow offices during the period of WW1, with barely a mention to it. However, such is the ability of Muir's writing to drag you in his account of how he and his family struggled to survive in Glasgow that you barely notice it. Most of his family died within a few years of moving to Glasgow. He was ill for many years himself, cured only by a slum doctor who spent much time with him. The mental scars he bore after his claustrophobic proximity to this tragedy were considerable and lasted for many years after.
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I must admit I don't know Muir's poetry or prose at all but I was curious about him because of his involvement with George MacKay Brown, one of Scotland's greatest modern writers.

At that time, the 1950s, Muir was the director of Newbattle Abbey College near Edinburgh where MacKay Brown was an adult student.

Like MacKay Brown, Muir was from Orkney but was a very different character.

Whereas MacKay Brown remained there for most of his life, Muir left in his teens for Glasgow and then moved to England and several European countries. He moved backward and forward and returned to Scotland several times but died near Cambridge in 1959 five years after this book was published.

The first part describing his childhood in Orkney is quite interesting and his comment that his family tree might contain a saint shows a sense of humor or romantic feeling that is lacking in the rest of the book.

As an autobiography, I found it rather lifeless and unrevealing. There are lots of incidents and recollections of jobs, landladies, flats, houses, illnesses and visits to various places combined with philosophical and religious thoughts on how he rediscovered his Christian roots.

He was also rather ambivalent about Scotland, identifying with it one moment and then talking about "England" and the "English" as though he was one of them. He was against Scottish nationalism and the use of Scots as a literary language.

Presumably this was because he was employed by the British Council and ran its office in places like Prague and Rome after the Second World War.

The style is also very dry for a poet. He and his wife worked as translators - not the ideal trade for a creative writer, as I know from personal experience - and this may have affected his prose, if not his poetry.

I had hoped to learn a lot about the Scottish and UK literary scenes as he knew many writers but there is little if anything of interest.
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Remarkable study of a poet and his development. Well worth reading for its insights into self and others, its honesty and its breadth of imagination.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8fe7f7f8) out of 5 stars 4 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94510bf4) out of 5 stars A Treasure of a Book 20 Jan. 2015
By Frances Haas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of my favorite books. Muir describes what Scotland was like during first half of 20th century. He was born on one of the Shetland islands and lived with his family there as farmers. When the landlord sold the farm, his family moved to Glasgow on the mainland. One by one his family died in the terrible slums of Glasgow. It is a very heartfelt book, yet is hopeful because Muir himself was a complex, insightful person. He writes beautifully and notices things about nature that go very deep. The death of his family lead to his being psyhoanalized (misspelled) by a Jungian in London. He was then able to deal with a profound depression and come out of it. He wanted to honor his family by writing this book, and also record where he thought humanity was failing.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90014dd4) out of 5 stars Muir - Translator. Poet, Dreamer 3 Mar. 2011
By Sr A. M. House - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the best ways to understand the work of Muir is to meet him in this Autobiography. The hardships of his childhood and later life are quickly sketched in; his appreciation of the world as he encountered it in his European travels is sharply delineated, and his generous view of the many thinkers, writers, and teachers he knew gives us a picture not only of them but of Muir himself - a shy but perceptive man, ready to befriend and help.
The book gives us, too, an introduction to Willa Muir, Edwin's wife and collaborator; it is refreshing to read of so happy a marriage!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90034f9c) out of 5 stars A book worth reading. 9 May 2013
By E. Corcoran - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Muir writes a robust and effective prose of the kind that disappeared almost completely after the war. He has a lot to say about dreams and emotions.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8ff09e04) out of 5 stars Dry and Dusty Prose from a Leading Poet 9 Sept. 2012
By John Fitzpatrick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I must admit I don't know Muir's poetry or prose at all but I was curious about him because of his involvement with George MacKay Brown, one of Scotland's greatest modern writers.

At that time, the 1950s, Muir was the director of Newbattle Abbey College near Edinburgh where MacKay Brown was an adult student.

Like MacKay Brown, Muir was from Orkney but was a very different character.

Whereas MacKay Brown remained there for most of his life, Muir left in his teens for Glasgow and then moved to England and several European countries. He moved backward and forward and returned to Scotland several times but died near Cambridge in 1959 five years after this book was published.

The first part describing his childhood in Orkney is quite interesting and his comment that his family tree might contain a saint shows a sense of humor or romantic feeling that is lacking in the rest of the book.

As an autobiography, I found it rather lifeless and unrevealing. There are lots of incidents and recollections of jobs, landladies, flats, houses, illnesses and visits to various places combined with philosophical and religious thoughts on how he rediscovered his Christian roots.

He was also rather ambivalent about Scotland, identifying with it one moment and then talking about "England" and the "English" as though he was one of them. He was against Scottish nationalism and the use of Scots as a literary language.

Presumably this was because he was employed by the British Council and ran its office in places like Prague and Rome after the Second World War.

The style is also very dry for a poet. He and his wife worked as translators - not the ideal trade for a creative writer, as I know from personal experience - and this may have affected his prose, if not his poetry.

I had hoped to learn a lot about the Scottish and UK literary scenes as he knew many writers but there is little if anything of interest.
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