Haven in the Bay: Problems of Community in the Novels of George Mackay Brown
Baker, Timothy C
The novels of George Mackay Brown have often been read as upholding a traditional ideal of community as that which is singular and complete, a community which exists outside time and history. As this thesis will show, however, Brown emphasises themes of community, history and myth in his work not in order to validate them without reservation, but to question what use these ideas may have in contemporary life. By reading his novels in conjunction with the work of continental theorists ranging from Martin Heidegger to Jean-Luc Nancy, it becomes apparent that Brown critically explores a post-Kantian modernity in which metaphysical or faith-based foundations are no longer possible. Brown's greatest theme throughout his work is not only how community is built and maintained, but also how it is destroyed, and what life remains after that destruction. Brown continually problematises the idea of community in order to show both its relevance and impossibility in modern society. In separately regarding each of Brown's novels in length, this thesis will highlight the various approaches Brown takes to community: the potentially romantic view of community in Beside the Ocean of time; the centrality of sacrifice for the establishing of community in Magnus; and the interections between community and history in Time in a Red Coat, and Vinland. The thesis then turns directly to the question of the relation between individuals and community in Greenvoe, and ends with a discussion of the way in which Brown portrays his own relation to community in his nonfiction and autobiographical writings. Throughout the thesis, the prevailing notion of Brown as a parochial or naive writer will be continually questioned. In addition, by integrating a wide variety of continental theorists into a discussion of Brown's work, this thesis will explore new opportunities for the general study of contemporary Scottish fiction. By revealing Brown to be a more nuanced thinker of the relation between modernity and community than previous critics have allowed, this thesis will both offer a new perspective on Brown's novels and open new paths for the discussion of the role of community in modern literature.