Article

Edwin Muir

Margery Palmer McCulloch

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0043
Edwin Muir

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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.

Article.  12303 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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