An Orkney Tapestry

John Burnside at Literary Review:

‘Art, considered as the expression of any people as a whole, is the response they make in various mediums to the impact that the totality of their experience makes upon them, and there is no sort of experience that works so constantly and subtly upon man as his regional environment,’ wrote Mary Austin in The English Journal in 1932.  ‘It orders and determines all the direct, practical ways of his getting up and lying down, of staying in and going out, of housing and clothing and food-getting; it arranges by its progressions of seed times and harvest, its rain and wind and burning suns, the rhythms of his work and amusements. It is the thing always before his eye, always at his ear, always underfoot.’

In this short article, one of the most precise definitions of regionalism ever written, Austin was talking specifically about American fiction, but her reasoning could just as easily be applied to George Mackay Brown, whose work, throughout a long and varied career, not only captures the totality of Orcadian life but also draws from that life a humane vision of creaturely dwelling, of man’s symbiotic relationship with the land and its history that, to his mind, was becoming dangerously eroded by the treacherous mythologising of ‘progress’.

more here.