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About Marion Lochhead

For nearly 60 years, Marion Cleland Lochhead (1902-1985) was a prolific and versatile presence on the Scottish literary scene. Her work ranged widely across poetry, fiction, biography, history, children’s writing, journalism, and broadcasting.

The Poet and Novelist

Lochhead was born in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, and educated at Glasgow University. She worked initially as a schoolteacher, but soon embarked upon a career as a full-time writer and freelance journalist. Lochhead made her literary debut with Poems (1928) and published three further collections of verse (in Scots and English) over the next decade: Painted Things (1929), Feast of Candlemas and Other Devotional Poems (1937), and Fiddler’s Bidding (1939). Her verse is marked by a strong Christian faith, and her five novels of the 1930s, Anne Dalrymple (1934), Cloaked in Scarlet (1935), Adrian Was a Priest, Island destiny (both 1936), and The Dancing flower (1938) also explore religious themes, reflecting, in particular, Lochhead’s interest in Anglo-Catholicism and the Oxford Movement. Although seldom associated with the Scottish Renaissance movement, the young Lochhead was also active in Edinburgh literary circles. Along with Helen B. Cruickshank, she was a founder member of Scottish PEN in 1927.

The Historian and Biographer

After the Second World War, Lochhead largely abandoned fiction and poetry for history and biography. Her interests in social and domestic history were reflected in The Scots Household in the Eighteenth Century (1948), Their First Ten Years: Victorian Childhood (1956), Young Victorians (1959), and The Victorian Household (1964). She wrote pioneering life-studies of Elizabeth Rigby, Lady Eastlake (1961) and of Sir Walter Scott’s son-in-law and biographer John Gibson Lockhart (1954). Her lifelong love of Scott also found expression in Portrait of the Scott Country (1968). (Lochhead was a close friend of Scott’s descendants the Maxwell-Scotts, and a regular visitor to Abbotsford.) The religious interests that informed her pre-war novels culminated in an authoritative history of Episcopal Scotland in the Nineteenth Century (1966).

The Children's Writer

Lochhead’s most lasting work may prove to be her masterly retellings of Scottish folk-tales for children in On Tintock Tap (1946), The Other Country: Legends and Fairytales of Scotland, Scottish Tales of Magic and Mystery (both 1978), The Battle of the Birds: And Other Celtic Tales (1981), and Magic and Witchcraft of the Borders (1984). She also wrote The Renaissance of Wonder in Children's Literature (1977), an influential study of fantastic fiction for children from the Victorian period onwards. Here she developed ideas first expressed in chapters on Victorian juvenile reading in Their First Ten Years and Young Victorians.

The Journalist and Broadcaster

Lochhead was a prolific contributor to the Scottish press from the 1930s onwards, publishing on a wide variety of literary, religious, and historical subjects in The Scotsman, Glasgow Herald, Scottish Home and Country, and Scottish Field. From the 1950s onwards, she was a regular book-reviewer for the Weekend Scotsman, showing a particular appreciation for Scottish women’s writing. Longer essays appeared in the Quarterly Review and Blackwood’s Magazine. Late in life, Lochhead turned to broadcasting, giving talks and interviews on BBC Radio Scotland.

Recognition

Marion Lochhead was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1955 and awarded an OBE in 1963. Her work is yet to be the subject of a full-length study. Paradoxically, its sheer breadth and variety may have prevented recognition of her contribution to Scottish letters. Her collection of Scottish folk-tales The Other Country was translated into Swedish in 1983.