British and Irish Literature Edwin Muir
by
Margery Palmer McCulloch
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0043

Introduction

Edwin Muir was born in the Orkney Isles in 1887, living between the age of two and seven on the small island of Wyre, the memory of which provided the inspiration behind many of the themes and images in his adult poetry. The late 19th century was a time of agricultural change in the Orkneys, and the high rents demanded by “improving” landlords eventually drove the family into emigrating to the city of Glasgow when Edwin was thirteen. Within four years of the family’s arrival, both parents and two elder brothers were dead, and Muir found himself alone in the city physically unwell and psychologically disturbed, undereducated and poorly employed, and with little prospect of improving his situation. The impact of that traumatic transplantation and his attempt to recover imaginative contact with his childhood home became the inspiration behind his poetry of the interwar period and the first version of his autobiography, The Story and the Fable, which became a classic on its publication in 1940. Muir eventually educated himself through Orage’s The New Age, and eventually became a contributor to the journal. The success of his first book We Moderns (1918) resulted in a contract with the American Freeman magazine, which allowed him and his wife, Willa, to travel in Europe, learning the German language that equipped them to become the translators of fiction by Franz Kafka and Hermann Broch. Although Muir’s First Poems were published in 1925, he was at that time best known for his criticism, critiquing the writers we now recognize as the leaders of Anglophone modernism and contributing to the major journals of the time. He was, however, never entirely at home in Scottish literary circles. It was also not until the 1940s, and especially in his collections The Labyrinth of 1949 and One Foot in Eden of 1956, that we find a truly mature poetry, written in part out of his postwar experiences in Prague and Rome. At the present time Muir appears marginalized in British criticism, out of place in the nationalist context of Scottish writing and not quite accepted into canonical English literature. Yet as some of the bibliographical items cited here suggest, there is a growing recognition of his contribution as poet, translator (with his wife, Willa), and prose writer to European literature of the modernist period.

General Overviews

Books cited in this section to a larger or smaller extent discuss the range of Muir’s work as poet, critic, novelist, and autobiographer. All were published after Muir’s death. (J. C. Hall’s introductory Edwin Muir in Longman’s Writers and their Work series was published in 1956 in Muir’s lifetime but is now difficult to obtain and so has not been listed here.) Butter 1966 supersedes the short introductory study by Butter published in 1962 and is probably indispensable for biographical information about the man, his personal contacts, and his work, but should be supplemented by additional interpretive and cultural contexts such as those offered by MacLachlan and Robb 1990, Palmer McCulloch 1993, and the criticism listed in Specific Studies. Mellown 1979 organizes chapters as specific aspects of Muir’s literary activity: literary critic, novelist, and autobiographer, early poems, late poems, etc. Knight 1980 is introductory, as its title suggests, and its attractive enthusiasm for Muir and his work needs to be accompanied by more detailed and discriminating analysis. Hixson 1977 aims to introduce Muir to an American audience as a modern writer to be read alongside T. S. Eliot and W. B. Yeats and includes a useful chapter on his translation work. Glen 1981 provides a good range of topics in a small number of essays.

  • Butter, P. H. Edwin Muir: Man and Poet. Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1966.

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    Gives full details of Muir’s life and work, including quotations from poems, articles, letters, and reviews of Muir’s work. Interpretations are highly biographical in nature with no wider discussion of Muir in a modernist or Scottish literary revival context. Excellent selected bibliography.

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  • Glen, Duncan, ed. Special Issue: Akros 16.47 (August 1981).

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    Contains six essays covering Muir’s period at Newbattle College, his fiction and criticism, including work as “Edward Moore,” relationship with Scotland, autobiographical writings, and poetic journey from preoccupation with myth to his later theme of the “single, disunited world.” Also includes reprint of Eliot’s preface to Selected Poems of 1965.

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  • Hixson, Allie Corbin. Edwin Muir: A Critical Study. New York: Vantage, 1977.

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    Hixson’s hope is that her study will introduce Muir to American students as a poet “who belongs [. . .] alongside Yeats, Eliot, Auden” (preface) and her preface emphasizes the earlier American critics who furthered his reputation. Ranging from Orkney beginnings to his late poetry and criticism, this study also has a useful chapter on translation.

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  • Knight, Roger. Edwin Muir: An Introduction to His Work. London: Longman, 1980.

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    Knight’s enthusiasm for Muir and his poetry provides encouragement for the new reader, but there is a need to examine Muir’s achievement more closely and with more keen examination of texts. There needs also to be more discrimination between the early and mature late poetry. Very much an introductory book.

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  • MacLachlan, C. J. M., and D. S. Robb, eds. Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Aberdeen, UK: Association for Scottish Literature Studies, 1990.

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    A wide-ranging selection of essays from personal recollections to distinctive themes in his poetry, his translation work, European affinities, the importance of his Orkney context, and his attitude to Scottish nationalism.

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  • McCulloch, Margery. Edwin Muir: Poet, Critic and Novelist. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993.

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    Palmer McCulloch brings together Muir’s poetry, criticism, and fiction, with consideration of his European interests and influences, especially German. His poetry is discussed chronologically but with principal focus on the stylistically mature late work and its social and political themes. Includes a chapter on Muir’s relationship with Scotland.

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  • Mellown, Elgin W. Edwin Muir. Boston: Twayne, 1979.

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    Written by Muir’s bibliographer, this book covers the range of his work in discrete chapters dealing with Muir’s professional journalism, criticism, as well as essays, novels, and autobiography. Discussion of his poems is divided into three chronological sections. Good selective bibliography of primary sources, translations, and secondary texts. Still predominantly a life and work study.

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Specific Studies

This group of book-length studies focuses on either a specific work or group of works, or on a specific theme found in a work. Several of these deal with Muir’s interest in and use of myth. Hoffman 1967 includes Muir alongside W. B. Yeats and Robert Graves as modern poets attracted to ancient myth in their poetry, as does Feder 1971 but with particular focus on Muir’s Autobiography. Huberman 1971 considers Muir’s poetry in relation to a struggle between good and evil reaching back to Homer’s time, while also stressing his European connections. Aitchison 1988 has a religious theme, considering Muir’s poetic journey in the context of the loss of a childhood Eden. In contrast, Marshall 1987 demythologizes Muir’s account of his Orkney childhood, giving a factual account of the actual historical changes in Orkney in and before Muir’s time. Gardner 1961, a specific lecture, is especially good on Muir’s interest in and experience of psychological ideas and analysis, situating his work also in relation to 17th-century metaphysical poetry. Wiseman 1978 concentrates on Muir as symbolist poet, with special emphasis on the late poetry.

  • Aitchison, James. The Golden Harvester: The Vision of Edwin Muir. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1988.

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    Focuses on Muir as visionary poet, with his poetic journey one from the loss of childhood paradise to the eventual “acceptance” and “faith” of One Foot in Eden. It thus deals little with Muir’s wider intellectual and artistic context but ties interpretations closely to his life and visionary journey. Useful bibliography.

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  • Feder, Lillian. Ancient Myth in Modern Poetry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.

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    Considering the diversity of myth as used by modern poets, Feder brings Muir’s Autobiography together with Yeats’s A Vision and Graves’s The White Goddess as a prose work that “incorporates and explicates the mythical and legendary background of much of his poetry” (p. 368). Emphasis on ambivalence in Muir’s use of myth.

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  • Gardner, Helen. Edwin Muir: The W. D. Thomas Memorial Lecture. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1961.

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    Designed for a specific lecture, this study nevertheless provides a fine introduction to Muir as poet, pointing to significant elements in his life and work: his involvement “in the long crisis of this century,” awareness of Freud and Jung, “metaphysical” in the sense of Vaughan as opposed to Donne or Eliot.

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  • Hoffman, Daniel. Barbarous Knowledge: Myth in the Work of Yeats, Graves and Muir. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

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    Good on Muir’s affinity with the ballads and Greek myth, but ill-informed about Scotland’s languages, believing Muir to have written: “The Scot habitually thinks in English but feels in Gaelic” (p. 234) (mistaken for “Scots”). A simplistic opposition made between Orkney and Glasgow. Not useful as an introduction to Muir.

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  • Huberman, Elizabeth. The Poetry of Edwin Muir: The Field of Good and Ill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

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    Huberman believes Muir’s themes to be those of “the great poets, from Homer’s time to the present: the struggle between good and evil in the individual, in society, in the universe” (p. 4) and her account focuses on the ways in which he gives these poetic form. Also stresses Muir’s European affinities.

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  • Marshall, George. In a Distant Isle: The Orkney Background of Edwin Muir. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1987.

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    A useful account of the actual historical changes in Orkney placed against Muir’s mythologized and idealized account of his Orkney childhood. Good also in showing how Muir’s sudden transition to Glasgow enabled him to write of the industrial landscape in a way denied to those with everyday familiarity with it.

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  • Wiseman, Christopher. Beyond the Labyrinth: A Study of Edwin Muir’s Poetry. Victoria, Canada: Sono Nis, 1978.

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    Concentrating on Muir’s poetry, Wiseman presents Muir as a postsymbolist poet and one whose work is susceptible to formal analysis, thus moving the poetry into a modernist context and away from the predominantly biographical interpretation of earlier studies. Principal focus is on late poetry from The Labyrinth onward.

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Principal Works and Editions

Edwin Muir has a strong body of work in various genres. His reputation now is principally as poet, but he first came to attention as a critic and essayist; this critical prose writing, published in books and periodicals, continued throughout his life. He also wrote three fiction books, a biographical study of John Knox, two autobiographies, and several books about Scotland, in addition to eleven individual books of poetry including his Collected Poems of 1960 which was selected by him before his death in 1959. With his wife, Willa, he was the first translator into English of the fiction of Franz Kafka and Hermann Broch, in addition to work by several other 20th-century German writers, and through these translations and his critical essays on German writing, he introduced this body of European work to an English-speaking readership. A selected list of editions of his poetry and other work will be given here, with a more exhaustive list of primary sources to be found in the bibliographies cited in the Bibliographies and Archives section.

Poetry

Muir 1991, comprehensively edited by Peter Butter, is now the standard edition of Muir’s poetry, with excellent documentation of sources and revised versions, and annotations for individual poems. Muir 1963 and later reprints, although without such documentation, is still useful. Muir 1954 remains of interest for its Piper illustrations, and Muir 1925 is of historic interest as his first collection. Muir 1965 also remains of interest in relation to T. S. Eliot’s choices and preface, while Muir 2008 provides a different selection and a more informative introduction and layout of poems. Once could argue, however, that there is still a place for a more wide-ranging selection with useful introduction and notes (although less comprehensive than Muir 1991) that would provide an accessible and representative introduction to Muir’s poetry for the general reader and newcomer to his work.

  • Muir, Edwin. First Poems. London: Hogarth, 1925.

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    Muir might be seen as too self-critical in his choice of only eight poems from this first collection for inclusion in Collected Poems 1960. Although omissions are restored in Muir 1991, First Poems retains its historic interest as a discrete marker of his early poetic development, formally and thematically.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Prometheus (Ariel Poems). Illustrated by John Piper. London: Faber and Faber, 1954.

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    Originally written at the request of T. S. Eliot for Faber’s series of Ariel poems. The text is included in Muir 1991, but the original publication with its Piper illustrations remains of historic and visual interest.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Collected Poems, 1921–1958. Edited by J. C. Hall and Willa Muir. London: Faber and Faber, 1963.

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    Muir chose the poems for inclusion in the first 1960 edition before he died. Willa Muir and J. C. Hall added a final section of late poems not previously collected, with further emendations in the second edition of 1963. Later reprints remain a viable collection and are of interest for Muir’s choices.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Selected Poems. Edited and introduced by T. S. Eliot. London: Faber and Faber, 1965.

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    Although a modest selection, this is still of interest for Eliot’s preface on Muir as poet and for his choices which reflect his own predilections as poet as well as his view of Muir’s poetry.

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  • Muir, Edwin. The Complete Poems of Edwin Muir. Edited by Peter Butter. Aberdeen, UK: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1991.

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    This is now the standard edition of Muir’s poetry, indispensable for serious students of his work but also helpful for the beginner in relation to its annotations and other critical apparatus.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Selected Poems. Edited by Mick Imlah. London: Faber and Faber, 2008.

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    A more helpful selected edition than Eliot’s (Muir 1965) in relation to its fuller introduction and listings giving previous collection title and date, it also includes later poems of a social/political nature excluded by Eliot.

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Prose Fiction

Muir’s fiction is probably the least well-known element of his work, but it contributed significantly to his creative development as a writer as well as having merits of its own. Muir 1987 grew out of his sojourn in Europe in the early 1920s: when he discovered the fiction of Franz Kafka in the late 1920s he wrote that it appealed to the part of him that authored The Marionette. Muir 1931 has links with its author’s consistent hostility to Calvinism and his biography of John Knox, as well prefiguring a number of elements of his autobiography. Muir 1982 also has affinities with his autobiography and is now read as an interesting contribution to Glasgow fiction. None of these books were successful in their own time.

  • Muir, Edwin. The Three Brothers. London: Heinemann, 1931.

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    Ostensibly a historical novel set in the Scottish Reformation period, the book is more truly a journey toward self-knowledge involving relationships between three brothers, but with the kind of open ending disliked by Muir the critic. Interesting links with Muir’s autobiography.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Poor Tom. Edinburgh: Paul Harris, 1982.

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    Unsuccessful when first published in 1932, Poor Tom is now considered as making a significant contribution to the “Glasgow Novel” as well as to the Bildungsroman genre exemplified by Sons and Lovers and the Clayhanger trilogy. Interesting connections with Muir’s autobiography.

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  • Muir, Edwin. The Marionette. London: Hogarth, 1987.

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    Muir’s first novel, published by Hogarth Press in 1927 and set in Salzburg, where he and Willa Muir spent the autumn of 1923. A psychological novel that relates to Muir’s disturbed state of mind at the time, The Marionette also captures the atmosphere of the Austrian city.

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General Criticism and Essays

For most of his writing life, Muir was probably most fully occupied and best known as a critic and reviewer. His extensive periodical criticism is listed in Mellown 1979 (cited in Bibliographies and Archives). The following is a list of collected critical writings. Muir 1918 is the book that brought him to prominence and opened up connections to American publication and his involvement with German literature. First published as a series of essays in The New Age and still of interest for what it describes as being “caught in the whirlwind of modern thought” (p. 91). Muir 1924 shows the first fruits of his contract with the American Freeman and his travels in Europe. He was later dismissive of both these early books. Muir 1926 explores the literary and cultural zeitgeist and discusses writers of the post-1918 period now considered central to Anglophone modernism, while Muir 1979 is a reprint of his 1928 study of the novel form. Both books retain their interest and should be better known than they are, especially Muir 1926. Muir 1965 is the second revised edition of his Essays on Literature and Society, first published in the same year as his Labyrinth poetry collection in 1949 and growing out of his thinking about social and cultural issues over the 1930s and 1940s. Muir 1962 is the posthumous publication of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures given at Harvard University between 1955 and 1956, where he continued to review cultural questions: the lectures express his fear for the survival of an audience for poetry in a changing modern world. Muir 1988 is a sample range of his periodical reviews, previously uncollected, and edited and introduced by Peter Butter.

  • Muir, Edwin. We Moderns: Enigmas and Guesses. London: Allen and Unwin, 1918.

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    First published as a series of aphoristic essays in The New Age, We Moderns charts what it means to be “modern” even as it shows its author struggling against many modern preoccupations. The American edition (1920), introduced by H. L. Mencken, opened the door to Muir’s career as a professional writer.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Latitudes. London: Melrose, 1924.

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    This collection comprises many of the essays sent from Europe during Muir’s contract with the American Freeman, including contributions on Dostoevsky, Ibsen, and Nietzsche. Muir did not rate this book highly in later life, but it provides interesting insight into his early career as critic.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Transition: Essays on Contemporary Literature. London: Hogarth, 1926.

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    Muir identifies writers now considered to be at the center of English-speaking interwar literary modernism, including Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, and Lawrence, although he admires Eliot the critic more than the poet. With its provocative introductory chapter on the zeitgeist, it is surprising that this book is now little-known.

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  • Muir, Edwin. The Estate of Poetry. London: Hogarth, 1962.

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    Muir’s posthumous essay collection first delivered as the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard during his period as Visiting Professor of Poetry 1955–1956 where his concerns are for the “effective range and influence of poetry” in a world where its readership is shrinking and its communal relevance no longer apparent.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Essays on Literature and Society. London: Hogarth, 1965.

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    First published by Hogarth Press in 1949, this revised edition includes the important essay “The Poetic Imagination.” Other significant items are “Robert Henryson,” “The Politics of King Lear,” “Friedrich Hölderlin,” “Franz Kafka,” and “The Natural Man and the Political Man.”

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  • Muir, Edwin. The Structure of the Novel. London: Chatto and Windus, 1979.

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    First published by Hogarth Press in 1928 and still admired for its discussion of time in the novel. There are insightful contrasts between what Muir calls the “novel of character” and the “dramatic novel,” despite his terminology differing from contemporary usage.

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  • Muir, Edwin. The Truth of the Imagination: Some Uncollected Reviews and Essays. Edited by Peter Butter. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1988.

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    A sample range of Muir’s extensive periodical writing, mostly book reviews, divided into English, American, French, German, and General sections with helpful cross-references to essays on similar topics not included here.

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Scottish Criticism

Muir wrote articles and reviews on Scottish topics throughout his career as critic, but he was especially involved in writing about Scotland in the 1930s and he returned from London to live in Scotland in 1935. Once again, Mellown 1979 (cited under Bibliographies and Archives) is the principal source of information about Muir’s periodical Scottish writing. The following is a list of important Scottish books, together with collected Scottish essays and selected prose. Muir 1929 addresses biographically the problem of John Knox and Scotland, a theme connected with Muir 1982a and its linking of Calvinism with the “emptiness” he finds in post-Reformation Scottish life. Muir 1982a is also notorious for its provoking a quarrel with Hugh MacDiarmid over the use of the Scots language. Muir 1979 reports on the state of Scotland by means of a journey from the Borders to Orkney, and is immensely readable as well as thought provoking. Muir 1982b is a collection of Muir’s Scottish periodical writings, and Muir 1987 is a centenary selection of his prose chosen by the poet George Mackay Brown.

  • Muir, Edwin. John Knox: Portrait of a Calvinist. London: Jonathan Cape, 1929.

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    Muir was no admirer of Knox or his Calvinist religion, which he held responsible for the sorry state of post-Reformation Scotland. Not an objective account of Knox, although of interest in relation to Muir himself.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Scottish Journey. Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1979.

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    First published in 1935 during a vogue for travel writing, Muir’s journey from the Borders to his childhood Orkney is an interior journey where landscape and social contact become metaphors for the psychological condition of Scotland. Witty and at times humorous and sobering.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Scott and Scotland: The Predicament of the Scottish Writer. Edinburgh: Polygon, 1982a.

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    In her memoir Belonging, Willa Muir blamed the “uncharacteristic acerbity” of this 1936 book on “living in St Andrews,” (p. 195) but Muir’s diagnosis of an emptiness in Scottish life and attack on the viability of Scots predate his return to Scotland. Not Muir’s best book and currently given too much attention in Scottish criticism.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Uncollected Scottish Criticism. Edited by Andrew Noble. London: Barnes and Noble, 1982b.

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    A useful collection in its bringing together a number of Muir’s periodical articles about Scottish literature and the condition of Scotland, including the important “Bolshevism and Capitalism,” “Robert Henryson,” and “A Note on the Scottish Ballads.” Polemical introduction is too long, and the editing and annotation could have been done more carefully.

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  • Muir, Edwin. Selected Prose. Edited by George Mackay Brown. London: John Murray, 1987.

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    This selection by fellow Orcadian and poet Mackay Brown provides a short but relevant introduction to Muir’s prose work in various genres: Scottish and non-Scottish criticism, autobiography, European travel, and letters. It ends with Brown’s memory of Muir at Newbattle College.

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Translations

Muir’s work as translator was carried out in cooperation with his wife, Willa, who had graduated with first-class honors in classics from St. Andrews University and was the better linguist when they studied German and later began their translation work. From 1925 until the outbreak of World War II, the main part of the Muirs’ income came from translation. Mellown 1966 (cited under Bibliographies and Archives) gives a full list of their joint translations, together with those undertaken by Willa Muir alone, and one by Edwin Muir alone. The translations cited here are a sample list only and include their best-known work. Feuchtwanger 1926 is the translation that first brought them acclaim and public attention. Kafka 1930 introduced the author to an English-speaking readership, as did Broch 1932 for Hermann Broch. Kafka 1933 was considered a more approachable text for the British public, and Kafka 1937 was the eventual appearance of Kafka’s The Trial, postponed by the publisher because of poor sales of the earlier The Castle. Kafka 1938, America, is the last Kafka translation before the outbreak of World War II.

Autobiography, Biography, and Letters

The story of Muir’s life has been so dominated by his own account of the “fable” of his Orkney childhood that there might seem to be little space for an impersonal biographer. Butter 1966 follows Muir’s own account closely and relates biographical information to the adult poetry. Marshall 1987 attempts to introduce historical reality by considering environmental changes in Orkney in the later 19th century while also linking biography to poetry. Muir 1940 is the poet’s first account of his life, up to 1922, with additional diary excerpts between 1937 and 1939. Muir 1980 takes the life story up to the end of Muirs’ period in Rome with the British Council in 1950, with some interesting political omissions from the first version and no mention of his difficulties at Newbattle Adult Education College after 1950. Muir 2008 fills in many of the gaps in their joint story while bringing Willa’s own perspectives to the happenings of the time and the work they shared. Muir 1974 is a well-edited collection of letters with a useful chronology that offers an additional portrait of Muir in discussion with his personal and business correspondents.

  • Butter, P. H. Edwin Muir: Man and Poet. Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1966.

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    Although also listed in General Overviews, this life and work study has so much useful biographical information interacting with the study of the poetry that it earns its biographical place here.

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  • Marshall, George. In a Distant Isle: The Orkney Background of Edwin Muir. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1987.

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    Listed also in Specific Studies, this account of the actual historical changes that took place in Orkney during the late 19th century provides contextual information to place against Muir’s autobiographical account of his childhood in Orkney.

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  • Muir, Edwin. The Story and the Fable: An Autobiography. London: Harrap, 1940.

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    This autobiography stops at 1922 during the Muirs’ first sojourn in Europe but includes extracts from Muir’s 1937–1939 diary. There is an iconic picture of his Orkney childhood but also some provocative inclusions omitted from later expanded version such as his wish that “Scotland might become a nation again” (p. 228).

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  • Muir, Edwin. Selected Letters of Edwin Muir. Edited by P. H. Butter. London: Hogarth, 1974.

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    Muir’s letters provide indispensable insights into his thoughts about society and his own work, as well as his relationships with his various correspondents at different stages of his life. And often it is not the Muir we expect who emerges from these pages. Well-annotated, with a useful chronology.

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  • Muir, Edwin. An Autobiography. London: Hogarth, 1980.

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    An extended version of The Story and the Fable and first published in 1954, this takes Muir’s story up to 1950 and the end of his brief but much-enjoyed period with the British Council in Rome. Especially interesting section on Prague after World War II.

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  • Muir, Willa. Belonging: A Memoir. Glasgow: Kennedy and Boyd, 2008.

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    Belonging, first published in 1968 when Willa Muir was seventy-eight, completes Edwin’s story by adding new sets of perspectives on their lives together, the places and people they encountered, and on their work as writers and co-translators. An excellent memoir: well-written and keenly observed.

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Bibliographies and Archives

Muir has been well served in relation to bibliographies of his own work, with Mellown 1966 offering a comprehensive guide to his published work, including his extensive periodical writings and his joint translations with Willa Muir. Early critical works such as Butter 1966 and Huberman 1971 also provide good, sizeable bibliographical sections. Hoy and Mellown 1971 provides a complementary list of critical writings about Muir. The National Library of Scotland has extensive manuscript collections as listed below. The online Poetry Foundation website has excellent introductory biographical and bibliographical material. The Scottish Poetry Library also has information about Muir and his work as well as collections of his poetry. The Scottish Theatre Archive at Glasgow University holds scripts for miscellaneous Muir broadcasts from 1930s to 1950s.

  • Butter, P. H. “Bibliography.” In Edwin Muir: Man and Poet. Edited by P. H. Butter, 301–308. Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1966.

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    A very useful bibliography of Muir’s poetry collections, prose books (critical and fiction), selected Muir contributions to other books, a selection of uncollected articles and list of translations by the Muirs. Also includes selected books and articles about Muir (up to 1964) and other books cited in the study.

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  • Edwin Muir (1887–1959). Poetry Foundation.

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    This provides an excellent introduction to Muir, covering his biography and publications, with relevant contextual comments. There is also a bibliographical list of his principal books, divided into poetry, criticism, novels, translations, and other material, together with a selected list of critical books and periodicals containing articles about him.

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  • Edwin Muir (1887–1959). Scottish Poetry Library.

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    There is a brief biography of Edwin Muir on the website, together with a selected bibliography of his poetry and prose books and a selected list of critical books and a few critical articles. There are at present no poems on the website, although an update is planned, and direction is given to print holdings relating to Muir online.

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  • Edwin Muir manuscript collection. MSS. 19651–19674. National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.

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    This is the catalogue number for the principal Muir papers in NLS. Other useful NLS references are Acc.13226 (recent donation of papers) and the following listings from Guide to Manuscript Collections: MS.19703; Acc. 9645, Acc. 6598, Acc. 4922, Acc.10410 (all Muir, Edwin); Acc. 5654 (Muir, Edwin, microfilm); Acc.13226, Acc.12172, Acc.10557 (all Muir, Edwin and Muir, Willa).

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  • Hoy, Peter C., and Elgin Mellown. A Checklist of Writings about Edwin Muir. Troy, NY: Whitson, 1971.

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    An important complement to Mellown 1966 in that it gives comprehensive listings of books, sections of books, essays and reviews concerning Muir and his work, together with reviews of such critical books. Needs updating.

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  • Huberman, Elizabeth. “Bibliography.” In The Poetry of Edwin Muir: The Field of Good and Ill. By Elizabeth Huberman, 239–245. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

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    Less comprehensive than Butter 1966 but still useful, this includes a list of poetry and prose books by Muir (often in American editions), together with a small group of Muir introductions and articles relating to translations. Also includes large group of writings about Muir, but only to later 1960s.

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  • Mellown, Elgin W. A Bibliography of the Writings of Edwin Muir. 2d ed. London: Nicholas Vane, 1966.

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    An extensive listing of Muir’s poetry, fiction, critical prose, and many reviews. Includes a section on the Muirs’ many translations, annotated where necessary in relation to publication details. An indispensable guide to primary sources for Muir.

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  • Scottish Theatre Archive. University of Glasgow.

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    A name search on the catalogue should bring up a list of fifteen items relating to Edwin Muir: eleven scripts of BBC Scotland radio programs, three sets of press cuttings, and one letter. The scripts range from 1936 to 1947, with a memoir of Muir by Willa Muir in 1969.

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Critical Approaches

Critical responses to Muir’s work published as individual essays in journals and books are categorized in the following nine sections. The main contributions relate to his poetry, but there is a significant amount of material relating to his joint translation work with Willa Muir and to his relationship with German literature. Surprisingly, given his strong reputation as critic during his lifetime, there is little that deals specifically with his work as critic, although that often feeds into other considerations. The first section is a general one, with a variety of approaches to his work. That section is followed by a section devoted either to specific works or specific aspects of his work and to comparative discussion. The third section deals with Muir’s relationship with Scotland in his writing and with Scottish responses to this. Myths, Dreams, Symbolism discusses Muir’s use of such imagistic practices in his writing and is followed by a section on philosophical and religious themes or aspects of his writing, together with his preoccupation with the nature of human life and how we live together as human beings. Europe and Modernity, together with the following sections on German Literature and Translation, mostly focus on what has become a more common theme in Muir criticism in recent years: namely a recognition of his status as a European poet and one who, in his own non-canonical way, has made a significant contribution to early-20th-century cosmopolitan modernism. The Translation section also has useful references and information about the Muirs’ translation work. The final section, Reception, considers the nature of responses to Muir as writer from the interwar period to the present day.

General Perspectives

Crawford 1983 shows how social and political themes were always present in Muir’s work, although these became more overt in his late poetry. Robertson 1983 supports this view by his consideration of Muir as a social critic in The New Age. Cuthbert 2011 also discusses Muir’s relationship with The New Age, what he gained from and gave to the journal. Scott 1981 considers his journey from myth to man, and Fraser 2000 suggests that it is the tension between the visionary and the mundane that holds his poetry together. Holloway 1960–1961 finds that New Criticism theories have made it more difficult to find a relevant approach to Muir’s poetry while Whyte 2004 finds Muir’s most mature work in The Labyrinth collection.

  • Crawford, Thomas. “Edwin Muir as a Political Poet.” In Literature of the North. Edited by David Hewitt, 121–133. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1983.

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    Crawford’s discussion shows how social and political concerns were present in Muir’s poetry from the beginning, although more prominent and formally achieved in his late work. An informed analysis that points to Muir’s continuing relevance to our own time as poet and social commentator.

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  • Cuthbert, Alexander J. “Muir and The New Age.” In Scottish and International Modernisms: Relationships and Reconfigurations. Edited by Emma Dymock and Margery Palmer McCulloch, 63–74. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2011.

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    Cuthbert considers Muir’s relationship with The New Age: what Orage and his journal contributed to Muir’s development as writer, leading to his first book We Moderns and contract with American Freeman. Useful for an understanding of Muir’s early literary context. See also Europe and Modernity.

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  • Fraser, Russell. “Edwin Muir’s Other Eden.” Sewanee Review 108.1 (January–March 2000): 78–92.

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    Fraser suggests it is the tension between the opposites of his visionary goal and his earthly concerns that holds Muir’s poetry together and that “the journey counts more than its end.” Many relevant and perceptive comments in this account, but the overcasual writing style can be off-putting. Available online by subscription.

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  • Holloway, John. “The Poetry of Edwin Muir.” Hudson Review 13.4 (1960–1961): 550–567.

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    An early, perceptive review published shortly after Muir’s death, discussing how the New Criticism methodology fashionable at that time made it difficult to find a relevant approach to Muir’s poetry—although his poetry is not exactly unreceptive to imagistic analysis. Considers Muir European in orientation. Available online by subscription.

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  • Robertson, Ritchie. “‘Our Generation’: Edwin Muir as Social Critic, 1920–22.” Scottish Literary Journal 9.2 (December 1982): 45–65.

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    Robertson describes this little-known series of early essays by Muir as “social criticism of a high order, combined with a penetrating analysis of generally received ideas” (p. 45), comparing and contrasting it with the preceding We Moderns and showing how the idea of human emancipation is central to both.

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  • Scott, Alexander. “From Myth to Man.” Akros 16.47 (August 1981): 14–33.

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    Focusing on Muir as poet, Scott considers his journey from his early myth-derived poems to his mature work of the 1940s and 1950s and its preoccupation with the social, political, and philosophical theme he described in his autobiography as “how we live with one another.”

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  • Whyte, Christopher. “The 1940s.” In Modern Scottish Poetry. Edited by Christopher White, 74–80. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.

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    Whyte places Muir in the 1940s in his decade-structured book by virtue of his view that Muir’s poetry reached maturity in The Labyrinth collection of 1949, with the title poem “a high point in Muir’s poetic career” (p. 79). Also contains insightful comments on Muir’s earlier and later poetry.

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Specific and Comparative

Butter 1987 compares and contrasts two Orkney-born writers, Muir and George Mackay Brown, while Corcoran 1993 discusses the late recognition of the contribution to modern poetry made by Muir and Louis MacNeice. Morgan 1974 contrasts Muir’s narrow range of mythical references with the wider use by Yeats, Pound, and Eliot. Dodd and Lapsley 1980 discusses Muir’s references to Shakespeare’s King Lear in various areas of his work. Robertson 1983 considers his novels and their relationship with the ideas and techniques of the German writers Goethe and Broch. Robichaud 2005 gives a comparative discussion of the contribution made to the Scottish identity debate by Muir and MacDiarmid, finding unexpected affinities among their differences. Gunn 1987 highlights one such difference in Gunn’s review of Muir’s Scott and Scotland. Palmer McCulloch 2007 brings together Edwin and Willa Muir, exploring the several contexts of their lives and their work.

  • Butter, P. H. “George Mackay Brown and Edwin Muir.” Yearbook of English Studies 17 (1987): 16–30.

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    Brown and the older Muir were both brought up in Orkney and both explored time and history in their poetry and prose writings. Butter explores the “tension between journey back and way on” (p. 17) in selected works of each poet, pointing to differences in their treatment of form and theme. Available online by subscription.

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  • Corcoran, Neil. “Varieties of Parable: Louis MacNeice and Edwin Muir.” In English Poetry since 1940. Edited by Neil Corcoran, 15–25. London and New York: Longman, 1993.

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    Comparing the late recognition of the contribution made to modern poetry by the later work of both these poets, Corcoran points to the European nature of Muir’s late poetry in particular as “bearing, in English poetry, the brunt of the physical and political desolation of Europe after the Second World War” (p. 22).

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  • Dodd, Philip, and M. M. Lapsley. “King Lear in Edwin Muir’s Prose Writings.” Studies in Scottish Literature 15 (1980): 268–272.

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    Muir’s best-known reference to Shakespeare is his 1946 lecture The Politics of King Lear, but this essay considers his comparative use of Lear in the themes and descriptive detail of his novel Poor Tom, in references from Scottish Journey, and in his poetry of the later 1930s and early 1940s.

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  • Gunn, Neil M. “Muir’s Scott and Scotland.” In Landscape and Light: Essays by Neil M. Gunn. Edited by Alistair McCleery, 122–126. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1987.

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    A review by the novelist Neil M. Gunn of Muir’s now-notorious 1936 book. Gunn agrees that one problem for the Scottish writer is a lack of self-belief and support in the home community, but he rejects Muir’s charge that blame rests with Scotland’s polyphonous language situation and Calvinist Reformation.

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  • Morgan, Edwin. “Edwin Muir.” In Essays. Edited by Edwin Morgan, 186–193. Cheadle, UK: Carcanet, 1974.

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    First published in The Review in 1963, Morgan offers a poet’s critique of Muir’s use of myth, contrasting his reliance on a “narrow range of recurrent images” (p. 187) with the wider practice of Yeats, Pound, or Eliot but emphasizing his success with Greek myth in particular. An insightful account.

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  • Palmer McCulloch, Margery. “Edwin and Willa Muir: Scottish, European and Gender Journeys, 1918–69.” In Modern Transformations: New Identities (from 1918). Vol. 3 of The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature. Edited by Thomas Owen Clancy, Susan Manning and Murray Pittock, 84–94. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

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    A consideration of Edwin and Willa Muir covering their sojourns in Europe and sense of dislocation in Scotland, their joint translations of German literature and their own creative writing. It ends with Willa’s exploration of gender issues and her memoir of their marriage and its contexts.

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  • Robertson, Ritchie. “Goethe, Broch, and the Novels of Edwin Muir.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 19.2 (April 1983): 142–157.

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    Robertson considers Muir’s novels and their relationship with the philosophical ideas and technical forms of German writers such as Goethe, whose poetry he had greatly admired before he went to Germany, and Broch, whose innovative novel Die Schlafwandler he and Willa Muir translated in 1932. New perspectives on Muir’s fiction. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Robichaud, Paul. “MacDiarmid and Muir: Scottish Modernism and the Nation as Anthropological Site.” Journal of Modern Literature 28.4 (Summer 2005): 135–151.

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    A comparative discussion of MacDiarmid’s and Muir’s oppositional and inconclusive quests in relation to modern Scottish identity. It considers Muir’s achievement undervalued and not yet fully assessed in the context of a Scottish modernism identified mostly with MacDiarmid, despite many affinities in their diagnoses. A stimulating, well-illustrated discussion. Available online by subscription.

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Scotland

Bruce 1981 argues that as Muir reached poetic maturity he realized the flaws in his earlier work dealing with Scotland, while Dunn 1987 maintains that as an Orkney man Muir was temperamentally detached from the Scottish identity debate. Pittock 1990 gives a keen exploration of Muir’s responses to nationalism, and Scott 1990 argues that his stance in Scott and Scotland is an “extended apologia” for his own literary practice. Grieve 2005 is a rediscovered angry response from 1938 to Muir’s anti-Scots language position in Scott and Scotland, and Gifford 2007 gives a present-day consideration of the same quarrel. McCulloch 1993 ranges more widely over Muir’s relationship with Scotland through discussion of his prose work, radio broadcasts, and poetry. Stegmeier 1992 explores violence in Scottish society and history through a consideration of Muir’s Scottish Journey.

  • Bruce, George. “The Peculiar Perception of Edwin Muir as Critic and in Self-Portrayal.” Akros 16.47 (August 1981): 48–61.

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    Bruce’s thesis is that as Muir reached the maturity of his poetry from The Narrow Place 1943) onward and his revised Autobiography of 1954, he came to realize the flaws in his earlier work dealing with Scotland. A provocative reconsideration of Muir’s Scottish themes.

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  • Dunn, Douglas. “Edwin Muir: Poetry, Politics and Nationality.” Radical Scotland (1987): 26–27.

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    Dunn focuses on Muir’s detachment from Scotland as an “Orkney man” (p. 26), a position temperamentally opposed to Hugh MacDiarmid’s. A lifelong socialist, Muir also rejected the direct intrusion of politics into poetry. Dunn finds his poetic career “a courageous drama [. . .] he broke the barriers of conviction and nationality” (p. 27).

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  • Gifford, Douglas. “Sham Bards of a Sham Nation? Edwin Muir and the Failures of Scottish Literature.” Studies in Scottish Literature 35–36 (2007): 339–361.

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    Appearing at times keen to sit on both sides of Muir’s fence, this argument would benefit from clearer targets and less expansive illustrations. Absence of discussion of a postcolonialist dimension in the interwar literary revival is surprising, but a good case is made for the teaching of Scottish literature in schools. Available online by subscription.

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  • Grieve, C. M. [Hugh MacDiarmid]. “Scots as a Literary Medium: Point of View for Burns Day.” Scottish Studies Review 6.1 (Spring 2005): 61–67.

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    First published in the Bulletin in January 1938, Grieve’s article is the first of two attacks on Muir’s advocacy in Scott and Scotland of English as a literary language for ambitious work. Muir responded with a sharp defense of his position. An important exchange, rediscovered in 2005. Available online by subscription.

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  • McCulloch, Margery. “‘My Second Country’: Edwin Muir and Scotland.” In Edwin Muir: Poet, Critic and Novelist. By Margery McCulloch, 86–101. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993.

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    Wide-ranging consideration of Orkney-born Muir’s relationship with his “second country” through references to his prose works and radio broadcasts dealing with Scottish history, as well as his actual and metaphorical use of that Calvinist history in his poetry. Deals also with Scott and Scotland and his Wardenship of Newbattle College.

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  • Pittock, Murray. “Edwin Muir and Scottish Nationalism.” In Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Edited by C. J. M. MacLachlan and D. S. Robb, 38–46. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1990.

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    A provocative and convincing exploration of Muir’s responses to nationalism, his commitment to socialism, and his overriding belief in the importance of internationalism in poetry and in politics. Also with useful comments on Muir’s reading of Scottish religious history and its relationship to social and economic issues.

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  • Scott, P. H. “Muir and Scotland.” In Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Edited by C. J. M. MacLachlan and D. S. Robb, 87–94. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1990.

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    Starting with a dismissal of Muir’s Scott and Scotland as an inadequate treatment of its “ostensible theme” (p. 88), Scott concludes that the book is more accurately an “extended apologia” (p. 93) for Muir’s own literary practice. An informed and convincing historical discussion.

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  • Stegmaier, Edmund. “Edwin Muir’s Scottish Journey and the Question of Violence.” Scottish Literary Journal 19.2 (November 1992): 50–61.

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    An examination of Muir’s exploration of “structural” and “direct” (p. 50) violence in Scottish society and history: the first a victimization of human beings by the process of industrialization and capitalist competition, the second a continuing capacity for dissension in the Scots themselves. Relevant also beyond Scotland.

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Myth, Dreams, Symbolism

Muir’s use of myth in his poetry is explored in various ways here. Huberman 1987 focuses in particular on the part played by myth in the development of the poem “Day and Night,” while Morgan 1974 gives a poet’s response to myth in Muir’s poetry, emphasizing his success with Greek myth. McCulloch 1990 also focuses on Greek myth, suggesting that it became a metaphor through which he could explore the restrictions of Calvinist theology in human life. In contrast, Taylor 1989 discusses the Penelope poems and finds that Greek myth can be the vehicle for an exploration of human faithfulness. Bouson 1982 discusses Muir as a visionary poet but also a poet aware of the limitations of poetic language. Jennings 1960, in contrast, does not explore the implications of poetic language, despite the presence of “Allegorist” in its title, offering the kind of warm and general appreciation of visionary qualities that is a characteristic feature of early Muir criticism. Wiseman 1990 presents a more specific argument for Muir as a symbolist poet, and one who has his place in European letters. Pittock 1987 interprets Muir’s use of metaphor and symbol in relation to his ongoing critique of Scotland and its history.

  • Bouson, J. Brooks. “Poetry and the Unsayable: Edwin Muir’s Conception of the Powers and Limitations of Poetic Speech.” Studies in Scottish Literature 17 (1982): 23–38.

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    Bouson focuses here on Muir as a visionary poet, concerned with the poetic imagination and power of art to triumph over the limitations of time but aware also of the limitations of language and expression.

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  • Huberman, Elizabeth. “The Growth of a Poem: Edwin Muir’s ‘Day and Night.’” Studies in Scottish Literature 22 (1987): 106–114.

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    Starting with the quotation from a notebook sentence among Muir’s manuscript papers, Huberman explores what she sees as the related growth of Muir’s late poem “Day and Night,” in the process exploring the importance of dreams and myth in Muir’s work as a whole.

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  • Jennings, Elizabeth. “Edwin Muir as Poet and Allegorist.” London Magazine 7.3 (March 1960): 43–56.

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    Jennings identifies Muir as a Christian visionary poet whose visionary experience came to him “in terms of imagery.” There is little interrogation of idea or image, however, or recognition that Muir’s unconventional use of “allegory” might affect interpretation. A supportive account but limited in interpretation.

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  • McCulloch, Margery. “Edwin Muir, Calvinism and Greek Myth.” In Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Edited by C. J. M. MacLachlan and D. S. Robb, 75–86. Aberdeen, UK: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1990.

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    Muir’s recurring metaphorical use of Greek myth is explored in the context of his life-long animus against Scottish Calvinism, both of which appear to present a deterministic philosophy that negates the possibility of human agency, something contrary to Muir’s belief in social and philosophical emancipation. Supported by close reading and analysis.

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  • Morgan, Edwin. “Edwin Muir.” In Essays. Edited by Edwin Morgan, 186–193. Cheadle, UK: Carcanet, 1974.

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    First published in The Review in 1963, Morgan offers a poet’s critique of Muir’s use of myth, contrasting his reliance on a “narrow range of recurrent images” (p. 187) with the wider practice of Yeats, Pound, or Eliot, but emphasizing his success with Greek myth in particular. An insightful account.

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  • Pittock, Murray. “‘This Is the Place’: Edwin Muir and Scotland.” Scottish Literary Journal 14.1 (May 1987): 53–72.

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    Pittock examines Muir’s use of metaphor and symbol in his poetry from early to late work, pointing to its interpretive function as a critique of Scottish history, sense of nationality identity, and religious and social organization. A less usual but rewarding analysis of Muir’s symbolic methodology.

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  • Taylor, Nancy Drew. “Edwin Muir’s Penelope Poems.” Studies in Scottish Literature 24 (1989): 212–220.

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    Drew shows how Muir used Greek myth to explore human everyday concerns including loyalty to beliefs as well as understanding of time’s inevitable changes. Useful pointers also to the importance of sound and image in Muir’s poetry, despite technique not being his primary concern.

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  • Wiseman, Christopher. “The Buried Grace: Edwin Muir and Symbols of Transformation.” In Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Edited by C. J. M. MacLachlan and D. S. Robb, 129–140. Aberdeen, UK: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1990.

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    Writing of Muir as a symbolist poet whose best poems allow positive and negative symbols to interpenetrate each other, Wiseman finds also a strong social element co-existing with his symbolic transformations of reality and an imaginative breadth of thought and output that marks him as a European man of letters.

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Humanity, Philosophy, Religion

This section weaves together philosophical and religious themes with the sublunary theme defined by Muir in An Autobiography as how we live together as members of a human family. Watson 1964, the earliest reference, takes up Muir’s own 1930s theme of “time,” and the “evil” of his title is more the cruelty of human mortality and the inexplicable tragedies of human existence than the deliberate evil-doing that becomes a dominant theme of Muir’s Labyrinth poetry. Huberman 1972 discusses metaphorically the movement from protected childhood innocence to adulthood through consideration of “The Gate.” O’Donoghue 1990 sees Muir as a visionary poet, a mystic who followed his own road rather than any system. Bouson 1979 and Fraser 2000 are concerned with the relationship between the visionary and mundane Muir, and the tension between these, which is an essential element in his poetry—with especially good late poetry discussion in Bouson. Dodd and Lapsley 1982 focuses on Muir’s exploration of “the very nature of man” through his experience of Wyre and Glasgow and his political and religious affinities. Slater 1990 is an attempt by a practicing priest to elucidate, through investigation of biblical intertextual references, one of Muir’s most elliptical poems, while Gribben 2006 mounts a defense of the Knoxian Reformation and its literature against the bias of Muir and MacDiarmid.

  • Bouson, J. Brooks. “The Survival of the Human Spirit in an Age of Crisis: Edwin Muir’s Vision of Modern History.” Cithara: Essays in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition 19.1 (1979): 26–39.

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    Bouson considers Muir a visionary poet operating in “an age of impersonal calamities,” (p. 37) keeping alive belief in poetic imagination and the “mystery of [. . .] ‘how we should live with one another’” (p. 37). Excellent discussion of late poetry supported by illustration and analysis and demonstrating Muir’s continuing relevance for our own age.

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  • Dodd, Philip, and M. Lapsley. “Is Man No More Than This? A Consideration of Edwin Muir’s The Story and the Fable.” Studies in Scottish Literature 17 (1982): 13–22.

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    Starting from the premise that Muir’s autobiographical search is not centered on personal or social identity but “on the very nature of man,” (p. 13) the authors conduct their investigation through the contrasting social settings of Wyre and Glasgow and through Muir’s own evaluation of socialist and religious faith systems.

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  • Fraser, Russell. “Edwin Muir’s Other Eden.” Sewanee Review 108.1 (January–March 2000): 78–92.

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    Fraser suggests it is the tension between the opposites of his visionary goal and his earthly concerns that holds Muir’s poetry together, and that, for Muir, “the journey counts more than its end” (p. 79). Available online by subscription.

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  • Gribben, C. R. A. “The Literary Cultures of the Scottish Reformation.” Review of English Studies 57.228 (February 2006): 64–82.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/hgl022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A defense of Scottish Reformation Protestantism against the “anti-theological bias” (p. 64) of Muir and MacDiarmid during the interwar literary renaissance and the denial of Scottish theology a place at the “centre of Scotland’s contemporary literary imagination” (p. 82). Muir’s attack on Calvin’s “iron pen” is, however, hard to counter. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Huberman, Elizabeth. “Initiation and Tragedy: A New Look at Edwin Muir’s ‘The Gate.’” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 87.1 (January 1972): 75–79.

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    Huberman finds it surprising that so little detailed examination has been undertaken of Muir’s individual poems. She finds “The Gate” with its positioning at the center of The Narrow Place collection and theme of the loss of innocence a key poem for the understanding of Muir’s work as a whole. Available online by subscription.

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  • O’Donoghue, N. D. “Edwin Muir: The Untutored Mystic.” In Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Edited by C. J. M. MacLachlan and D. S. Robb, 119–128. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1990.

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    Rejecting any “esoteric” or “folk-lore” (p. 119) definition, Donoghue links Muir with Wordsworth and Eliot of Four Quartets as a poet who is a mystic; “untutored” because he followed no system or master. The philosophical/religious understanding that “came to him in his own way” (p. 120) is explored through his autobiography and poetry.

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  • Slater, R. G. “The Toy Horse.” Theology 93 (January/February 1990): 27–30.

    DOI: 10.1177/0040571X9009300105Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Slater, himself a priest, mentions that he was first attracted to Muir’s poem because of its obscurity but also his impression that it was connected to the Bible. His short essay is both a metaphorical investigation and a biblical exegesis of the meaning it ultimately offers to him.

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  • Watson, J. R. “Edwin Muir and the Problem of Evil.” Critical Quarterly 6 (Autumn 1964), 231–249.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8705.1964.tb01241.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A thoughtful exploration of Muir’s preoccupation with human positives and negatives with ample attention to the poetry. Less about “evil” than about the cruelty of mortality and inexplicable tragedy. Perhaps too ready to see Muir finding an answer (and his best work) in his late biblical-theme poems. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Europe and Modernity

This section deals with Muir and his work in its relationships with Europe and with modern ideas and writing. Cuthbert 2011 discusses Muir’s introduction to European ideas and literature through The New Age, as well as his contributions to the modern ambience of the journal. Čulík 1993 remembers Muir in Prague immediately after the end of World War II. McCulloch 1993 also deals with Muir and Prague, considering the impact on him of his two sojourns in the city (early 1920s and late 1940s). Holloway 1964 is an early recognition of the relationship between Muir’s work and a European context, while Macrae 1999 considers his contribution to cosmopolitan modernism through his bringing intellectual developments in Europe to an English-speaking audience. Palmer McCulloch 2009 argues for a recognition of Muir’s contribution to English-language modernism through his late poetry. Robertson 1990 makes the case for Muir as a European poet through his use of “ciphers” learned from Hölderlin, and Robertson 2011 forms a case study of how the German modernist fiction of Kafka brought Muir’s own poetry into relationship with European modernism.

  • Čulík, Jan. “Edwin Muir as Remembered by One of His Prague Students.” In Scotland and the Slavs: Selected Papers from the Glasgow-90 East-West Forum. Edited by Peter Henry, Jim MacDonald and Halina Moss, 141–147. Nottingham, UK: Astra, 1993.

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    Čulík brings together his memories of Muir as teacher and director of the British Council in Prague during the Communist post–World War II period with his later reading of his autobiography and poetry. What stands out is Muir’s rejection of human impersonality, his belief in human freedom, and the autonomy of art.

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  • Cuthbert, Alexander J. “Edwin Muir and The New Age.” In Scottish and International Modernisms: Relationships and Reconfigurations. Edited by Emma Dymock and Margery Palmer McCulloch, 63–74. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2011.

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    Cuthbert discusses how The New Age and its editor helped the young Muir educate himself in the European ideas and literary works influential in the modern period, while Muir as contributor showed his readers what it was to be “modern.” An interesting cameo of both Muir and The New Age.

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  • Holloway, John. “The Modernity of Edwin Muir.” In The Colours of Clarity: Essays on Contemporary Literature and Education. Edited by John Holloway, 95–112. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.

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    Holloway begins by discussing aspects of Muir’s poetry inimical to an analytical age, but his most significant argument comes when he places Muir “in a movement in the arts of Europe as a whole” (p. 108) and in particular alongside German painters such as Paul Klee, Max Beckmann, and Franz Marc.

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  • Macrae, Alasdair D. F. “Edwin Muir: One Foot in Europe.” Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies 20 (1999): 103–114.

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    Macrae argues that Muir contributed to the cosmopolitanism of modernism through his criticism and translation work by bringing awareness of literary developments in German-speaking Europe in particular into Anglophone literary and intellectual culture, although his own poetry was itself only mildly modernist in form.

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  • McCulloch, Margery. “The Single Disunited World: Edwin Muir and Prague.” In Scotland and the Slavs: Selected Papers from the Glasgow-90 East-West Forum. Edited by Peter Henry, Jim MacDonald, and Halina Moss, 131–140. Nottingham, UK: Astra, 1993.

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    A discussion of the influence of Prague on Muir’s life and work at two critical periods: early 1920s and late 1940s. While the early visit freed his imagination for poetry, the later destruction of social and political freedom produced his significant poetry of “the single, disunited world.”

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  • Palmer McCulloch, Margery “Edwin Muir and Late Modernism.” In Scottish Modernism and its Contexts, 1918–1959: Literature, National Identity and Cultural Exchange. By Margery Palmer McCulloch, 169–182. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

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    Recent expansion in critical perceptions of modernism and the artistic maturity of Muir’s post–World War II poetry come together here to argue for Muir’s recognition as a European modernist poet alongside his existing reputation as critic and translator of modernist writing. Supported by attention to poetic detail.

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  • Robertson, Ritchie. “Edwin Muir as European Poet.” In Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Edited by C. J. M. MacLachlan and D. S. Robb, 102–118. Aberdeen, UK: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1990.

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    A consideration of Muir as a European poet with particular reference to the “language of ciphers” (p. 105) influences he derived from a German neo-Romantic poet such as Friedrich Hölderlin. While endorsing Holloway’s emphasis on Muir’s “modernity,” Robertson also reviews reasons for his apartness from canonical modernist poetry.

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  • Robertson, Ritchie. “Edwin Muir, Kafka and German Modernism.” In Scottish and International Modernisms: Relationships and Reconfigurations. Edited by Emma Dymock and Margery Palmer McCulloch, 20–33. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2011.

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    Robertson’s account of Muir’s philosophical and artistic discovery of the new world of Kafka’s fiction provides fresh insights into modernism itself from a German perspective as well as an interesting case study of German, as opposed to French (as with MacDiarmid), influences on a Scottish modernist writer.

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German Literature

German literature was very important to Muir’s development as poet and writer generally, and his firsthand study of it began when he lived in Austria and Germany in the early 1920s. Gaskill 1978 and Gaskill 1980 deal with his criticism of the poet Friedrich Hölderlin and with the evidence of knowledge of Hölderlin’s life and work that can be seen in Muir’s own poetry. Gaskill 1984 gives information about Muir’s stay in Hellerau and the translations into German of his early poetry that were made there. Mellown 1964 is an early essay on Muir’s criticism of Kafka, with Robertson 1984 comes a more developed and substantiated discussion of the same topic. Robertson 1983 considers possible influences from Rainer Maria Rilke in Muir’s poetry, and Robertson 2011 is a strong account of German modernism and in particular of Muir’s discovery of the modernist world of Kafka’s fiction.

  • Gaskill, P. H. “Edwin Muir as a Critic of Hölderlin.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 14 (1978): 345–364.

    DOI: 10.1093/fmls/14.4.345Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gaskill emphasizes that Muir did not approach German literature from a British perspective; but during his 1920s sojourn in German and Austria he read works considered important by the Germans themselves, including the rediscovered Hölderlin. For Muir, Hölderlin was “a mystical poet, but a mystic of the earth” (p. 348). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gaskill, P. H. “Hölderlin and the Poetry of Edwin Muir.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 16 (1980): 12–32.

    DOI: 10.1093/fmls/16.1.12Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Muir discovered the poetry of Hölderlin in Hellerau when beginning to write poetry himself. He later introduced Hölderlin to an English-speaking readership through writing about his poetry. Here Gaskill explores the various ways in which this knowledge of Hölderlin’s life and poetry can be seen in Muir’s own work. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gaskill, P. H. “Edwin Muir in Hellerau.” Scottish Literary Journal 11.1 (May 1984): 45–56.

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    An interesting biographical item giving information about the Muirs’ stay in Hellerau that does not appear in their own accounts, including discussion with illustrations, of translations of some early Muir poems by student Gerda Krapp.

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  • Mellown, Elgin W. “The Development of a Criticism: Edwin Muir and Franz Kafka.” Comparative Literature 16.4 (Autumn 1964): 310–321.

    DOI: 10.2307/1769614Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mellown considers that Muir’s view of Kafka changed after 1938, linking this to Muir’s own progress as poet and his realization of his Christianity. While Muir’s unconventional critical use of the term “allegory” is recognized, neither this nor his unconventional Christianity is explored. Otherwise, this is a useful introduction to Muir on Kafka. Available online by subscription.

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  • Robertson, Ritchie. “Edwin Muir and Rilke.” German Life and Letters 36.4 (July 1983): 317–328.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0483.1983.tb00294.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Referring to Muir’s early lack of enthusiasm for Rilke, Robertson considers his later modified opinion, together with possible influences from Rilke in his poetry such as his use of the theme of death and the declarative direct entry methodology of a poem such as “Orpheus’ Dream” (“And she was there”). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Robertson, Ritchie. “Edwin Muir as Critic of Kafka.” Modern Language Review 79.4 (July 1984): 638–652.

    DOI: 10.2307/3728868Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A convincing and well-referenced consideration of Muir’s Kafka criticism covering theme, literary method, symbolism, humor, and Kafka’s relation to the modern novel. An especially interesting discussion of Muir’s unconventional “allegory” terminology, the impact of this on his interpretations of Kafka and on misinterpretations of his own criticism. Available online by subscription.

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  • Robertson, Ritchie. “Edwin Muir, Kafka and German Modernism.” In Scottish and International Modernisms: Relationships and Reconfigurations. Edited by Emma Dymock and Margery Palmer McCulloch, 20–33. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2011.

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    Robertson’s account of Muir’s philosophical and artistic discovery of the new world of Kafka’s fiction provides fresh insights into modernism itself. This serves as an interesting case study of German, as opposed to French (as with MacDiarmid), influences on a Scottish modernist writer.

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Translation

The time spent by the Muirs in Dresden and Hellerau on their first sojourn in Europe in the early 1920s resulted in their becoming proficient in German and ultimately turning themselves into what Edwin called “a sort of translation factory” for German literature. This section is particularly concerned with their translations of Franz Kafka and Hermann Broch and with the issues raised by recent retranslations of Kafka’s works. Hixson 1977 is a nonspecialist discussion of the entry of the Muirs into translation work and their eventual involvement with Hermann Broch and the translation of The Sleepwalkers. Gray 1977 examines their translation of Kafka’s The Castle, suggesting that their “natural” English presents a more benign text than we find in the original German.Mark Harman, as retranslator of The Castle, is more severe in his strictures regarding the Muirs’ work (Harman 1996), while Coetzee 1998 gives an informative account of their translations, pointing to problems but recognizing what they achieved and generally opening up the difficulties of such translation. Huberman 1989 and Huberman 1990 both deal with the correspondence between the Muirs and Broch during their translation of The Sleepwalkers, while Kahler 1980 discusses the difficulties faced by Broch himself when translating English-language poetry into German, including Muir’s “Transmutation.”

  • Coetzee, J. M. “Translators on Trial.” New York Review of Books, 14 May 1998, 14–17.

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    An informative account of the Muirs as translators of Kafka, the problems resulting from their reliance on Brod’s heavily edited source text, their own lack of systematic grounding in German literature and culture, and their reading of Kafka as a writer of religious allegory. Positives also recognized.

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  • Gray, Ronald. “But Kafka Wrote in German.” Cambridge Quarterly 7.3 (1977): 205–216.

    DOI: 10.1093/camqtly/VII.3.205Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gray praises the Muirs’ rendering of Kafka “into an English so natural that one might not suspect he had written in any other language” (p. 205) but also offers fascinating insights into how, through word choices, they present a more benign Bunyan-like K (and Kafka) than is to be found in German. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Harman, Mark. “‘Digging the Pit of Babel’: Retranslating Franz Kafka’s Castle. New Literary History 27 (1996): 291–311.

    DOI: 10.1353/nlh.1996.0022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As retranslator of Kafka himself, Harman is severe on earlier naturalizing translators such as the Muirs (as well as the “flawed” editing of Brod), finding that their “grace notes” (p. 292) and “theological agenda” (p. 297) subvert Kafka’s intentions and literary form. Interesting discussion of approaches to translation and features of Kafka’s style. Available online by subscription.

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  • Hixson, Allie Corbin. “The Seamless Garment of Translation.” In Edwin Muir: A Critical Study. Edited by Allie Corbin Hixson, 111–136. New York: Vantage, 1977.

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    Accepting the “excellence” of their Kafka work, and nonspecialist in approach, Hixson’s chapter is an account of the Muirs’ introduction to translation, their early successes, and in particular their involvement with Hermann Broch and translation of The Sleepwalkers. Sizeable and informative quotations from correspondence with Broch and useful endnote references.

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  • Huberman, Elizabeth. “The Broch/Muir Correspondence.” Modern Austrian Literature 22.2 (1989): 45–57.

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    Commenting that “it was the business of translating from one language to another that prompted the exchange [of letters]” (p. 45), Huberman uses the Broch/Muir correspondence to explore not only how they went about their Sleepwalkers task but also their exchange of literary, social, and political ideas.

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  • Huberman, Elizabeth. “Translating Broch’s The Sleepwalkers—Ordeal and Reward.” In Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Edited by C. J. M. Maclachlan and D. S. Robb, 47–57. Aberdeen, UK: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1990.

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    This essay covers much of the same ground as Huberman 1989 but has sufficient differences to make it worth listing. Moreover, it is written with an English-speaking readership in mind as opposed to the German-speaking context of the material and references in the Modern Austrian Literature publication.

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  • Kahler, Alice von. “Broch als Übersetzer.” Modern Austrian Literature 13.4 (1980): 205–221.

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    After consideration of Broch’s debt to the American translator of Der Tod des Vergil, this essay continues by discussing Broch’s attempts at translating English-language poems by Eliot, Joyce, Muir, and Whitman. Muir’s “Transmutation” is reprinted here in English and German. (Comment on its translation also in Huberman 1989).

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Reception

Grieve 1926 is the earliest entry here, and it is interesting that its praise is for Muir the critic, and one who was already becoming known for his interest in literature beyond Scotland (in C. M. Grieve’s words a critic of weltliteratur). Muir the poet took longer to come to public attention, and early critics saw him principally as a visionary poet. After the publication in 1940 of The Story and the Fable, interpretations of Muir’s work were linked closely to biography and to his use of the biblical metaphor of the loss of Eden. These interpretations are represented by several entries in the General Overviews section and in other sections throughout this bibliography. The entries here on the whole seek to situate Muir in a wider critical context in relation to his themes and to public recognition or non-recognition of his poetic achievement. Galler 1959, written in the year of Muir’s death, considers him to have made a “unique” contribution to English-language literature—but a contribution that has not yet been acknowledged. Summers 1961 is also supportive, with strong writing on both poetry and criticism. Eliot 1965 reconsiders Eliot’s own early indifference to Muir’s poetry because of its apparent lack of technical innovation, now finding the late work in particular “remarkable.” Robertson 1987 places Muir’s work in the European tradition of Franz Kafka and Rainer Maria Rilke, a context not always understood by his English-speaking readers. Frisardi 2000 acknowledges that with technical innovation not being a primary concern in Muir’s poetry, and with its lack of ironic communication, Muir’s work has been pushed to the margins of high modernist and postmodernist poetry; yet Frisardi considers that the poetry’s own individual qualities are of particular relevance to our impersonal 21st-century world. Heaney 2002 and Heaney 2005 bring a contemporary poet’s understanding to the recognition of Muir’s significance both as a European poet and for the qualities he brings to European poetry through his Scottish traditions.

  • Eliot, T. S. “Preface.” In Selected Poems of Edwin Muir. Edited by T. S. Eliot, 9–11. London: Faber and Faber, 1965.

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    Eliot considers that, unlike himself, technique was never a “primary concern” for Muir but that he found “the right, the inevitable way of saying what he wanted to say” (p. 10), Now, Eliot is struck “by the power of his early work,” while finding the late poetry “the most remarkable” (p. 10).

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  • Frisardi, Andrew. “The Anomaly of Edwin Muir.” Hudson Review 52.4 (Winter 2000): 576–586.

    DOI: 10.2307/3853270Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Frisardi recognizes that Muir’s lack of technical innovation and nonironic belief in social and cultural unity have left his poetry on the margins in modernist and postmodernist criticism; yet Frisardi finds that Muir’s particular qualities make him a relevant poet for our present impersonal and “hyper-technological” (p. 586) world. A well-argued assessment. Available online by subscription.

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  • Galler, David. “Edwin Muir.” Poetry 94 (1959): 330–333.

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    Galler finds “the realm of Muir’s poems is Contradiction” and his poetic voice “existential as no other is in this century’s English poetry” (p. 330). He points to Muir’s “unique contribution to our literature” (p. 333) but considers that his greatness has not been acknowledged in his lifetime. Available online by subscription.

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  • Grieve, C. M. “Edwin Muir.” In Contemporary Scottish Studies. Edited by C. M. Grieve, 108–119. London: Leonard Parsons, 1926.

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    An early recognition of Muir the critic by Grieve/MacDiarmid who realized Muir’s international importance to the new Scottish literary revival movement. For Grieve, Muir is “in the first flight of critics of welt-literatur” and a “Pan-European intervening in the world-debate on its highest plane” (p. 108).

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  • Heaney, Seamus. “Edwin Muir.” In Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971–2001. Edited by Seamus Heaney, 246–256. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.

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    Heaney’s 1989 essay analyzes Muir’s achievement and poetic identity, noting affinities with Wordsworth and Owen. Ending with an endorsement of Muir’s Scottishness, he relates this to European connections, realized in the “Pictish bareness” of “Prometheus’s Grave” and the “tragic sense” of “Troy” (p. 256) rather than local color.

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  • Heaney, Seamus. “The Place of Edwin Muir.” In Alba Literaria: A History of Scottish Literature. Edited by Marco Fazzini, 505–518. Venice: Amos Edizioni, 2005.

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    In this 2005 essay, Heaney considers Muir’s origins and his place in modern poetry in English, speaking “most surely” in the interplay of oral tradition and art poetry, belonging also to a European tradition shared by Czeslaw Milosz and Franz Kafka in his late political poetry and in his “gift for bilocation.” (p. 506)

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  • Robertson, Ritchie. “Edwin Muir.” In Twentieth Century. Vol. 4 of History of Scottish Literature. Edited by Cairns Craig, 135–146. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1987.

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    Robertson’s intellectual and artistic familiarity with German poetry and philosophy enables him to place Muir in a European tradition that includes the modernism of Kafka and Rilke: something he considers misunderstood by Muir’s readers, thus leaving his stature as writer “still problematic” (p. 144). Very good on early prose writings.

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  • Summers, Joseph H. “The Achievement of Edwin Muir.” Massachusetts Review: A Quarterly of Literature, the Arts and Public Affairs 2.2 (1961): 240–260.

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    An important assessment of Muir’s achievement written two years after his death, with a particularly detailed and perceptive assessment of his criticism. Spoiled only by the absence of sources for its many splendid quotations. Good comments on the poetry also, with special reference to One Foot in Eden. Available online by subscription.

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