Naomi Mitchison was born in Edinburgh in 1897 and educated at the Dragon School and St Anne’s College, Oxford. As a member of the Haldane family (her father was a noted physiologist and her brother the famous genetic scientist and essayist J.B.S. Haldane), Naomi Mitchison has been equally distinguished as one of the foremost historical novelists of her generation.
In 1916 she married the Labour politician Dick Mitchison, later Baron Mitchison, QC, and during their years in London she took an active part in social and political affairs, including women’s rights and the cause of birth control. Her career as a writer began with The Conquered (1923), a novel about the Celts whose approach anticipated similarly imaginative reconstructions from later writers of the Scottish Renaissance such as Neil Gunn, Grassic Gibbon and Eric Linklater. Further novels were set in ancient classical times, most notably The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931) which drew on her interest in myth and ritual and the writings of J.G. Frazer. The Blood of the Martyrs (1939) brought her hatred of oppression and a perennial concern for human decency to a tale of the early Christian movement. She returned to Scotland in 1937 to live in Carradale in Kintyre, and her novel The Bull Calves (1947) deals with the years after the Jacobite ‘45 and the Haldane family history at that time. Involved with local politics, conservation and Highland affairs, she has also travelled widely, and her long association with an African tribe in Botswana led to her adoption as an honorary chief in the 1960s.
In a life full of cultural and creative commitment Naomi Mitchison knew and corresponded with a host of fellow writers, including E.M. Forster, W.H. Auden, Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley and Neil Gunn. There are over seventy books to her name, including biographies, essays, short stories and poetry. Her entertaining memoirs have been published as Small Talk (1973), All Change Here (1975) and You May Well Ask (1970). She died in 1999.