1814 – 1914 – 2014. Another anniversary.
When I started work on Christina’s wartime memoir, War Classics, I didn’t know that it would end up being published in 2014, amid all the tv programmes, books and events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. In some ways – as you’ll know if you’ve read the book – her story will be even more relevant in 2018, when the focus of commemorations should shift to the transition from war to peace. I love Christina’s own account of Dieppe on the day peace was declared – the music playing in the streets, the rowdy, joyful army huts, the hushed stillness of the cathedral, and finally her walk down by the shore, thinking of the naval base at home in Thurso.
The shore at Dieppe
Recently, particularly here in Edinburgh, another anniversary has been marked, which also has relevance to Christina’s life and work. 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s first novel, Waverley. Christina’s final book was her study of Walter Scott, The Author of Waverley, which she finished shortly before she died and which Barrogill saw through publication.
The Author of Waverley: a study in the personality of Sir Walter Scott, by Christina Keith
Walk through Edinburgh’s Waverley station today – apparently the only railway station in the world to be named after a novel – and you’ll see quotes by Scott on the walls, windows and floor. These are part of a wider Great Scott! Campaign, organised to mark both the publication of Waverley and 10 years of Edinburgh’s status as the world’s first Unesco City of Literature.
There are a lot of ‘world firsts’ here, because Waverley is often said to be the world’s first historical novel. Here I should maybe confess that I haven’t actually read it. Oops. I’m doing a lot of Covenanter-related research for a new book, so have recently read Old Mortality, but I will make sure I read Waverley before the end of 2014.
This whole train of thought (no pun intended – I blame my brother-in-law) was sparked in my mind when I received an email from someone who has read War Classics, and as a result is interested in Christina’s other writing, and is now reading The Author of Waverley. I’m so pleased to think that publishing her memoir has led someone to discover Christina’s other work. And the fact that all this takes place in the 200th anniversary of the publication of Waverley just seems to be yet another of those perpetual coincidences which make exploring history such fun!
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