A time of interregnum: navigating nation in devolutionary Scottish fiction

  • Jane Stedman

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis analyses four texts produced during the so-called 'devolutionary period' in Scotland, between the referendum of 1979 and the opening of the Parliament at Holyrood in 1999. Due to the particular political exigencies of the time, texts from this period have often been read through the prism of cultural nationalism. One particularly influential such characterisation argues that 'in the absence of elected political authority the task of representing the nation has been repeatedly devolved to its writers.' Such a critical paradigm can impose a limiting and distorting framework on these texts, reducing the scope and complexity of their political interventions by insisting too exclusively upon reading them through the lens of nation. Therefore, in this thesis, I undertake an analysis of these novels not as documents of cultural nationalism, but through Gramsci's description of times of interregnum. Gramsci suggested that the crisis precipitated at moments of regime change as one that 'consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; and in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.' This delineation of the fraught character of interregnum seems an apt and helpful way to elucidate the tensions and fault lines within devolutionary Scottish fiction, and help to evade the pitfalls of readings that would recruit these writers into a narrative of resurgent national confidence directly connected to the political process of devolution.In order to explore the dynamics of interregnum at work in devolutionary fiction, I will analyse four key canonical texts from 1979-1999; James Kelman's How Late it was, How Late (1994), Janice Galloway's The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989), Alan Warner's Morvern Callar (1995) and Jackie Kay's Trumpet (1998). I will be attentive to the ways that these novels literalise the figurative suggestions of Gramsci's aphorism; probing instances of death, woundings/illnesses and interrupted reproduction. Within my discussion, I will be attentive to the fault lines within Scottishness explored by these texts, in particular paying attention to the way that the nation has been gendered in damaging or occluding ways. I will also contend that the interregnum liminality of these texts is also enacted in their spatial negotiations, as the novels repeatedly press against spatial boundaries. I hope to offer a perspective on this period in Scottish literature that complicates and refines the predominant cultural nationalism that has coloured their critical reception.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLiam Harte (Supervisor) & Robert Spencer (Supervisor)

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