Witness to a century : the autobiographical writings of Naomi Mitchison
This thesis is a study of the autobiographical writings of Naomi Mitchison, a prolific writer of exceptional versatility who was born in the last years of the Victorian period and is now best known as a writer of fiction, and as part of the 'Scottish literary Renaissance' of the first half of the twentieth century. In her late seventies, towards the end of a highly productive literary career, Mitchison published three volumes of autobiography, Small Talk: Memoirs of an Edwardian Childhood (1973), All Change Here: Girlhood and Marriage (1975) and You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920-1940 (1979). Unusually for retrospective memoir, however, these texts cover less than half of her hundred and one years, leading the reader to question the location and mode of her complete autobiographical writings. Working extensively with archival material, much of which has been previously unavailable, this thesis sets out to demonstrate that Mitchison's personal writings are far more extensive than have been previously acknowledged, and are to be found through a wide range of out-of-print and unpublished material which include diaries, travel writing, personal correspondence, and, in few instances, poetry and prose fiction. In the course of this research I have compiled two substantial volumes of source materials which have been lodged in the Department of Scottish Literature Library. A contribution to Mitchison studies in themselves, I here draw attention to their existence and availability. While at first sight many of the texts on which this study focuses are minor writings in relation to the major achievements of Mitchison's literary career, this thesis argues that as a collected body of work, they form an autobiographical corpus which documents and bears witness to an extraordinary twentieth-century life, and constitutes a substantial literary achievement. Autobiographical- and life-writings often escape strict generic boundaries, and this study employs genre theory to interrogate the categorisation of literary genre. Central to this focus on traditionally marginalised non-fictional writings are questions of the changing position of memoir, the diary, epistolary and travel writings to the canon, and recent theoretical approaches are examined.