International Journal of Arts and Humanities

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Balladic Fantasy as Symbolic Scottish Otherness in Elspeth Barker’s and Jessie Kesson’s Novels

Lin, Hsin-Ying (Alice)




Accepted 18th July, 2021.


Elspeth Barker’s O Caledonia (1991) and in Jessie Kesson’sThe White Bird Passes (1958), (in particular Barker’s O Caledonia set in the 1940s and 1950s, during and post World War II, and Kesson’sThe White Bird Passes set in the 1920s, post-World War I) rhetorically fuse north-eastern Scottish landscape with balladic fantasy. Given that the north-eastern milieu provides particular elements for the literary expression of its Otherness (its political, religious and economic difference from Lowland Scotland, particularly on the way to industrialisation after the World Wars), we must look more carefully into whether or not this literary representation of a local historical account attempts to challenge the dominant forces at work in a particular society. I discuss the historical backgrounds in Barker’s O Caledonia and Kesson’sThe White Bird Passes, which structurally display the subjugated position of the female in post-war rural communities, backgrounds wherein the industrial centralisation of labour predominates, but wherein both authors rhetorically emphasise the female characters’ internal rejection of their subjugated position and their interaction with wild nature. Balladic fantasy, as a literary tool that counters the social inequalities, involves a creative complex in regenerating social force. I contend that in the two novels, the representation of landscape in north-eastern Scotland aligns with the female protagonists’ identification with lost maternal love, where the presentation of the north-eastern landscape provokes discussion about the imprisonment of gender and sheds light on the psychological resistance to, and transgression of, gender reality.


Keywords: ballad, fantasy, gender, maternal, otherness