Spectral ambiguities : the tradition of psychosomatic supernaturalism in Scottish fiction
This thesis aims to prove that there exists in Scottish literature a previously undervalued, or indeed, overlooked tradition of ‘psychosomatic supernaturalism’, which like other literary traditions, refers to an evolving constellation of texts with similar themes, motifs and techniques. It is widely accepted that the continued presence of supernatural elements is a common feature in Scottish literature. However, the modifier ‘psychosomatic’, a term borrowed from the field of psychiatry, designates those specific supernatural events or beings around which accumulate sustained doubt as to whether their origins are in the actual or the psychological. This supernatural/psychological tension – discussed but rarely analysed closely by critics – occurs primarily in fiction throughout the national literary history from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day. The evocation of this tension is a subversive strategy, challenging realism and its associated modes of representation. Perhaps the most renowned example of the tension occurs in James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824). However, Hogg wrote a number of equally significant psychosomatic supernatural tales, including the novel The Three Perils of Woman (1823), and the short story ‘The Brownie of the Black Haggs’ (1828). The start of the nineteenth century marks the establishment of psychiatry, and the underlining of the distinction between madness and supernatural forces, a demarcation that was previously hazy. This was something Hogg was fully aware of, and as a writer with a documented interest in the supernatural and folk tradition, and in evolving views on mental illness, his work forms the starting point for the thesis. The development of this tradition throughout the nineteenth century is subsequently traced. During this time ‘social realism’ is a prominent mode in fiction. There are, however, critical and subversive exceptions to this in the work of writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Margaret Oliphant and J.M. Barrie. The thesis considers their work, and then examines how this tradition is manifested during the period now referred to by critics as the Scottish Renaissance. Late twentieth-century manifestations of the tradition are then analysed, against a background of the increasing dominance of realism and its associated metanarratives in Scottish fiction, and mass media contexts such as film and television.