James Leslie Mitchell

Start Your Free Trial

Download James Leslie Mitchell Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lewis Grassic Gibbon was the pen name of James Leslie Mitchell, born the youngest of three sons in a farming family in northeast Scotland. (Gibbon published under both the pen name and his own name but is best known by the former.) Although “the land” is central to his writings, from his geographical studies to his Scottish fiction, he personally despised the hard labor of the farming life and the stern demands of his father. His mother, Lilias Grassic Gibbon, always encouraged his reading interests, which were also supported by the local schoolmaster and parish minister, who loaned him books; it was from his mother that he took his pen name.{$S[A]Mitchell, James Leslie;Gibbon, Lewis Grassic}

Gibbon attended the Arbuthnott School and, for a short time, Mackie Academy in Stonehaven. After quarreling with the schoolmaster and quitting the academy, Gibbon worked as a journalist in Aberdeen and Glasgow; however, his radical politics and conflicts with his employers eventually sent him back to the farm in some shame. In 1919 he escaped to the army, where he remained until March of 1923; in August of that year, again distressed with life, he joined the Royal Air Force for six years of additional military service. Although military life did not particularly suit Gibbon’s temperament, it enabled him to travel extensively and provided him with a wealth of experience that served as the basis for much of his writing. In 1925 he married Rebecca (Ray) Middleton, and they had one daughter, Rhea Sylvia. They moved to Welwyn Garden City in 1931, where Gibbon, already an established writer, worked steadily and with incredible speed for the last four years of his short life. He died in 1935 following surgery for a perforated ulcer.

In Gibbon’s brief but prolific career as a self-described “professional writer-cratur” he pursued a wide variety of subjects and genres and achieved substantial artistic success in nearly everything he attempted. His diverse literary output includes The Lost Trumpet, an archaeological quest for a lost “golden age”; the prehistoric fantasy of Three Go Back; Spartacus, a work of historical fiction based on a slave uprising in the first century b.c.e.; a life of the Scottish explorer Mungo Park and other histories of geographical explorations; political essays; and Scottish fiction that provides a realistic portrayal of life in Gibbon’s twentieth century northeast Scotland. Although there is great diversity in Gibbon’s works, there are a few major themes that appear consistently in both his fiction and nonfiction. Gibbon’s political socialism and his diffusionist philosophy figure in much of his writing, as does his strong sense of Scottish political and cultural nationalism. Yet his writings tend to be characterized by ambivalent rather than definite feelings on these issues, arising clearly out of his personal experience from the early conflicts of farming and reading to the nationalist politics of post-World War I Scotland.

Gibbon’s themes and artistry come together most...

(The entire section is 743 words.)