The Quarry Wood, although published well before Sunset Song, inhabits a similar world; the progress of its heroine could almost be the alternative story of a Chris Guthrie who did go to university. Compassionate and humorous, the grace and style of Shepherd’s prose is heightened by a superb ear for the vigorous language of the north-east.
The Weatherhouse, Shepherd’s masterpiece, is an even more substantial achievement which belongs to the great line of Scottish fiction dealing with the complex interactions of small communities, and especially the community of women - a touching and hilarious network of mothers, daughters, spinsters and widows. It is also a striking meditation on the nature of truth, the power of human longing and the mystery of being.
The third and final novel, A Pass in the Grampians, describes Jenny Kilgour’s coming of age as she has to choose between the kindly harshness of her grandfather’s life on a remote hill farm, and the vulgar and glorious energy of Bella Cassie, a local girl who left the community to pursue success as a singer, and has now returned to scandalise them all.
The Living Mountain is a lyrical testament in praise of the Cairngorms. It is a work deeply rooted in Shepherd’s knowledge of the natural world, and a poetic and philosophical meditation on our longing for high and holy places.
This is the first omnibus edition of Shepherd’s prose works- her sensitivity and powers of observation raise her work far above the status of regional literature and into the front rank of Scottish writing.
Anna (Nan) Shepherd was born in 1893 and died in 1981. Closely attached to Aberdeen and her native Deeside, she graduated from her home University in 1915, and went on to work for the next 41 years as a lecturer in English at what is now Aberdeen College of Education. An enthusiastic gardener and hill walker, she made many visits to the Cairngorms with students and friends and was a keen member of the Deeside Field Club. Her last book, a non-fiction study called The Living Mountain, testifies to her love of the hills and her knowledge of them in all their moods. Her many further travels included visits to Norway, France, Italy, Greece and South Africa, but she always returned to the house where she was raised and lived almost her entire adult life, in the village of West Cults, three miles from Aberdeen on North Deeside.
Nan Shepherd wrote three novels, all well received by the critics: The Quarry Wood (1928), followed by The Weatherhouse (1930) and A Pass in the Grampians (1933). A collection of poems, In the Cairngorms, appeared in 1934, and The Living Mountain was published in 1977. She edited Aberdeen University Review from 1957 to 1964, contributed to The Deeside Field, and worked on editions of poetry by two fellow North-east writers, J.C. Milne and Charles Murray. She was awarded an honorary degree by Aberdeen University in 1964, and her many friends included Agnes Mure Mackenzie, Helen Cruickshank, Willa Muir, Hugh MacDiarmid, William Soutar and Jessie Kesson.