The Kailyard School

Novelists of the 'Kailyard School' of writers, produced stories which sentimentalised Scotland, showing life through rose-tinted spectacles as cosy, innocent and safe, populated by quaint, child-like characters, and the endings were always happy. They are full of humour and nostalgia.

The musical (and film) Brigadoon shows a similarly old-fashioned, unrealistic, sanitised Scotland set in a mythical highland village. Grassic Gibbon's references are to one example of the genre, Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush by Ian McLaren.

Visual artists of the time also liked to paint country scenes, often with gardens of cabbages. These paintings were very popular with the new urban Scots who saw them as a portrayal and reminder of their roots in the country.

The House with the Green Shutters

This novel was written by George Douglas Brown in 1901. It was written as a reaction to the false jollity pictured in the 'Kailyard' novels. It in an intensely gloomy novel, populated by unlikeable characters who are motivated by malice and greed. The main characters all die.

The principal of these is John Gourlay, a petty tyrant who is the most powerful man in a small town, the owner of a carrier's business. He marries a rich woman for her money, and then proceeds to humiliate and abuse her. He has high ambitions for his son, and sends him to university. However young Gourlay has no academic ability and takes to drink. He gets expelled for bad behaviour.

He rebels against his father's bullying and eventually murders him by beating him with a poker. His mother is dying of an abscess following a blow from her husband, and his sister is also dying, of tuberculosis. All three end their lives by taking poison.

Sunset Song reflects some aspects of this book – John Guthrie is given a name very similar to the anti-hero John Gourlay and some aspects of his personality. The disintegrating relationship between father and son is not dissimilar, although much toned down in the later novel. In each book, a wife takes poison because the husband's treatment of her has ruined her health.

In The House with the Green Shutters, an important element is the 'Bodies', a group of malicious gossips whose chief occupation is discussing their neighbours' affairs, and gloating when these go wrong. Gossips in the community are also shown as causing harm to the inhabitants of Kinraddie.

In Sunset Song, Grassic Gibbon includes light-hearted episodes which have something of the tone of the Kailyard novels, but he maintains realism by not shying away from the more unpleasant aspects of life, thus achieving the balance which has made Sunset Song such an enduring success.

The novel avoids the worst excesses of both the Kailyard and the Green Shutters books – it avoids sentimentality and bitterness.

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