Linklater, Eric (Robert Russell)

views updated

LINKLATER, Eric (Robert Russell)

Nationality: British. Born: Penarth, Glamorganshire, Wales, 8 March 1899; grew up in Cardiff and Aberdeen. Education: Aberdeen Grammar School, 1913-16; University of Aberdeen (Seafield, Minto, and Senatus prizes), 1918-25, M.A. in English 1925. Military Service: Served in the Black Watch, 1917-19: private; served in the Royal Engineers, commanding Orkney Fortress, 1939-41: major; staff member, War Office Directorate of Public Relations, 1941-45; temporary lieutenant in Korea, 1951: territorial decoration. Family: Married Marjorie MacIntyre in 1933; two daughters and two sons. Career: Assistant editor, Times of India, Bombay, 1925-27; assistant to the professor of English literature, University of Aberdeen, 1927-28; Commonwealth fellow, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and the University of California, Berkeley, 1928-30; Full-time writer from 1930; lived in Italy, then in Dounby, Orkney, until 1947; lived in Easter Ross, 1947-72; lived in Aberdeenshire, 1972-74; Scottish Nationalist parliamentary candidate for East Fife, 1933; rector, University of Aberdeen, 1945-48; deputy lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty, Scotland, 1968-73. Awards: Library Association Carnegie medal, for children's book, 1945. L.L.D.: University of Aberdeen, 1946. Fellow, Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1971. C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire), 1954. Died: 7 November 1974.


Short Stories

The Crusader's Key. 1933.

The Revolution. 1934.

God Likes Them Plain: Short Stories. 1935.

Sealskin Trousers and Other Stories. 1947.

A Sociable Plover and Other Stories and Conceits. 1957.

The Stories. 1968.


White-Maa's Saga. 1929.

Poet's Pub. 1929.

Juan in America. 1931.

The Men of Ness: The Saga of Thorlief Coalbiter's Sons. 1932.

Magnus Merriman. 1934.

Ripeness Is All. 1935.

Juan in China. 1937.

The Sailor's Holiday. 1937.

The Impregnable Women. 1938.

Judas. 1939.

Private Angelo. 1946.

A Spell for Old Bones. 1949.

Mr. Byculla. 1950.

Laxdale Hall. 1951.

The House of Gair. 1953.

The Faithful Ally. 1954; as The Sultan and the Lady, 1955.

The Dark of Summer. 1956.

Position at Noon. 1958; as My Fathers and I, 1959.

The Merry Muse. 1959.

Roll of Honour. 1961.

Husband of Delilah. 1962.

A Man over Forty. 1963.

A Terrible Freedom. 1966.

Fiction (for children)

The Wind on the Moon. 1944.

The Pirates in the Deep Green Sea. 1949.


The Devil's in the News (produced 1930s). 1934.

The Crisis in Heaven: An Elysian Comedy (produced 1944). 1944.

To Meet the MacGregors (produced 1946?). In Two Comedies, 1950.

Love in Albania (produced 1948). 1950.

Two Comedies: Love in Albania and To Meet the MacGregors. 1950.

The Mortimer Touch, from The Alchemist by Jonson (as The Atom Doctor, produced 1950; as The Mortimer Touch, produced 1952). 1952.

Breakspear in Gascony. 1958.


The Man Between, with Harry Kurnitz, 1953.


Poobie. 1925.

A Dragon Laughed and Other Poems. 1930.


Ben Jonson and King James: Biography and Portrait. 1931.

Mary, Queen of Scots. 1933.

Robert the Bruce. 1934.

The Lion and the Unicorn; or, What England Has Meant to Scotland. 1935.

The Cornerstones: A Conversation in Elysium. 1941.

The Defence of Calais. 1941.

The Man on My Back: An Autobiography. 1941.

The Northern Garrisons: The Defence of Iceland and the Faroe, Orkney and Shetland Islands. 1941.

The Raft, and Socrates Asks Why: Two Conversations. 1942.

The Highland Division. 1942.

The Great Ship, and Rabelais Replies: Two Conversations. 1944.

The Art of Adventure (essays). 1947.

The Campaign in Italy. 1951.

Our Men in Korea. 1952.

A Year of Space: A Chapter in Autobiography. 1953.

The Ultimate Viking (essays). 1955.

Karina with Love (for children), photographs by Karl WernerGullers. 1958.

Edinburgh. 1960.

Gullers' Sweden, photographs by Karl Werner Gullers. 1964.

Orkney and Shetland: An Historical, Geographical, Social, and Scenic Survey. 1965.

The Prince in the Heather. 1965.

The Conquest of England. 1966.

The Survival of Scotland: A Review of Scottish History from Roman Times to the Present Day. 1968.

Scotland. 1968.

The Secret Larder; or, How a Salmon Lives and Why He Dies. 1969.

The Royal House of Scotland. 1970; as The Royal House, 1970.

Fanfare for a Tin Hat: A Third Essay in Autobiography. 1970.

The Music of the North. 1970.

The Corpse on Clapham Common: A Tale of Sixty Years Ago. 1971.

The Voyage of the Challenger. 1972.

The Black Watch: The History of the Royal Highland Regiment, with Andro Linklater. 1977.

Editor, The Thistle and the Pen: An Anthology of Modern Scottish Writers. 1950.

Editor, John Moore's England: A Selection from His Writings. 1970.


Critical Study:

Linklater: A Critical Biography by Michael Parnell, 1984.

* * *

Eric Linklater was a prolific writer who wrote 23 novels and several volumes of short stories, as well as poetry, plays, biographies, histories, and essays. He also had an active and eventful life: he served in World War I and World War II, he was a journalist in India and an academic in Aberdeen, and he took part in Scottish politics in the cause of self-government. He was born in Wales as the son of a shipmaster with roots in the Orkney islands to the north of Scotland, but for most of his life Linklater fostered the notion that he was a native-born Orcadian. He had a strong emotional attachment to Orkney and its ancient association with the Vikings.

All these various strands in Linklater's life are reflected in his novels and short stories: his medical knowledge, his wide literary erudition, his military experience, his affection for Scotland, and Orkney in particular, and his travels in many parts of the world. Orkney and Aberdeen, for instance, appear in White-Maa's Saga, the United States appears in Juan in America, Scottish politics are in Magnus Merriman, and wartime Italy is featured in Private Angelo.

If his addiction to old legends suggest the romantic, he was a sophisticated romantic, given to mixing the legendary with a witty and ironic look at contemporary reality. Because of this blend of realism and fantasy he has often been compared to the eighteenth-century Scottish novelist Tobias Smollet. He also has been called Rabelaisian because of his evident delight in copiousness of language and the pleasures of the flesh, although there is always a fastidious reticence in his descriptions. He was a conscious stylist. As he remarked in one of his stories, "God Likes Them Plain," "whatever its subject a story is a good story or a bad story only by virtue of the style in which it is told." He varied his style to suit the theme. It could be rich and ornate but also direct and muscular. This applies equally to his novels and his short stories, but it was in his short stories that he was most successful.

Linklater wrote two major collections of short stories: God Likes Them Plain and Sealskin Trousers and Other Stories. A selection from these and other sources later was published as The Stories of Eric Linklater. A reviewer of one of these collections remarked that Linklater's stories have modern settings but that they have "roots which strike down into myth and ballad and poetry." This is not his invariable technique, but it is one that he often uses. "Kind Kitty," for example, goes back to a fifteenth-century Scottish ballad. "The Dancers" involves some very solid twentieth-century characters with the Orcadian legend of Peerie Men, dwarfs who live happy but subterranean lives. In "Sealskin Trousers" a sensible modern girl is easily persuaded to live under the sea with a selkie, a mythical creature, half seal and half man. Both of these stories carry overtones of discontent with the contemporary world. The most remarkable story of the supernatural is "The Goose Girl." A tale of a soldier returning from the war and his difficulty in adjusting to peaceful life, the story provides strong hints that the girl the soldier marries has, like Leda, been seduced by Zeus in the shape of a goose.

"The Crusader's Key" is set in the distant past but has nothing of the supernatural. It is a delicate and ironic tale of a knight's lady who, locked in a chastity belt, is wooed by a persistent troubadour. Like many of Linklater's stories, it has an unexpected turn at the end. The lady eventually wants to escape from the belt, not because of a desire of love but to eat. "The Duke," based on an actual event, is a powerful denunciation of the Highland landowners who cleared the people from the land to make way for sheep.

Other stories are set firmly in the present. "The Wrong Story" is a sharply observed account of a relationship, which ends in disaster, between a tourist and a guide in New Orleans. "Joy as It Flies" is a charming love story set in Edinburgh and Dublin. All of the stories, even the slightest, are told with wit and style, and they have the feel of a warm and tolerant personality.

—Paul H. Scott

See the essay on "Kind Kitty."