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Neil Gunn: The Lost Glen

After the relative success of Morning Tide, his publisher wanted more of the same but Gunn wanted to publish a novel that had already appeared in serial form and had one of his favourite themes – the economic distress of the Highlands. Ewan MacLeod has gone to university to study for the church at the expense of his Uncle Willy who has made good as a publican. The book starts with Ewan returning home in disgrace. We later find out that he and his friends got drunk to celebrate his exam results and Uncle Willy caught them in the act and cut off the funds at once. Ewan initially plans to go off and make his fortune but ends up being a gillie, after his father is drowned while fishing.

Ewan, along with his friend Colin MacKinnon – who continually plays the tune of The Lost Glen on the bagpipes – Ewan’s and Colin’s family and the unfortunate crofters who are evicted near the end of the novel represent the threatened Highland way of life. On the other hand there is the almost evil Colonel Hicks, an Englishman with some Scottish blood, who lords it over the locals, particularly his unfortunate gillie, Donald. Hicks is joined by his niece, Clare Marlowe, who goes fishing with Ewan as her gillie. However, it seems that the relationship between Clare and Ewan is not to the colonel’s liking and, when the colonel almost rapes Mary MacKinnon, Colin’s daughter and Ewan’s love, there is the inevitable climax.

The plot of this novel is fairly straightforward and simple but, as in his other novels, what makes this novel is Gunn’s splendid poetic evocation of the Scottish Highlands in the 1920s – not the romantic Highlands but the Highlands where economic problems are to the forefront. We see the crofters and their suffering but also the struggles of Ewan’s sisters to find employment and when his sister Jean gets pregnant by her boyfriend, a university student, her concern is as much economic as social disgrace. The other side is represented by the colonel, who treats the local as”natives” and his niece, who while more willing to adapt to and react to the locals on their own terms, is still English and rich and foreign. And you know, when it comes to the showdown between the colonel and Ewan, who will win.

Publishing history

First published 1932 by The Porpoise Press