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Women and Scotland

Marie-Odile Pittin-Hedon

Contemporary Scottish Women’s literature

Mothers and Daughterlands in Contemporary Scottish Women’s Literature

Glenda Norquay


This essay considers the deployment of mother and daughter dynamics as both dominant metaphors and structuring devices in contemporary Scottish women’s poetry and in other writing. It focuses on the work of Liz Lochhead, Carol Ann Duffy, Kathleen Jamie and Jackie Kay. It also references Janice Galloway’s memoir writing as an insight into the complex negotiations between mothers and daughters. The chapter argues that the construction of ‘daughterlands’, as spaces which carry multiple meanings and which occupy plural temporal dimensions, has shaped understanding of gender and national identity formations. These spaces of daughterhood are more troubling, challenging but also more productive than the much more common idea of a “motherland”.

Texte intégral

1Mothers and motherlands function in complicated ways for women. The idea of a motherland brings together the national and the domestic with considerable ideological power. And that has compelled women, just as they resist the figuring of women as muse, also to confront the symbolic use of the woman as representative of the nation. Yet mothers, as we know, are inextricably linked to the imaginings of both home and nation, imaginings which depend upon notions of community based on shared histories and shared cultures as well as values framed through the domestic sphere. Motherhood is also – both positively and problematically – situated at the heart of reproduction and race: if physical lineage is to be traced or valued the figure of the mother freighted with significance. For daughters, mothers represent their past, their own future, and potentially the future of their own children: mothers are therefore situated in a specific temporal context which appears dominated by linearity. Women writers, formulating a sense of who they are, have to confront these various identities – biological, psychological, racial, cultural, social – represented in the figure of the mother and in their own relationship with the mother figure in general but also the specifics of their own mothers.

2This essay reflects on writing which engages with the mother-daughter dynamic and suggests that such emotionally charged negotiations can be, indeed have been, deployed to challenge dominant models of national belonging which carry their own force and power.

3These reflections begin with some Tweets. In November 2016 Jackie Kay, the Scots Makar, went back with her mother to the school where her mother had worked as a teacher. A good time seemed to have been had by all, as evidenced in the image posted on Twitter of Jackie Kay, her mother and the children all looking happy and rather over-excited, and her words: “We loved returning to the school […] we had a blast – a trip down memory lane… .” (2nd November 2016). The writer and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli commented “I love your refusal to use the definite article when talking about your mum” to which Jackie replied: “– well it felt like today she belonged to everybody so “my mum” would have cramped her style! Plus she loves the indefinite things in life” (3rd November 2016). This short exchange encapsulates three things I reflect on in this essay. First it gives a snap shot of what Scotland appears to be politically at the moment – a country with three female party political leaders, with a Makar who is a woman and which – after a long history of being behind in LGBT politics, particularly in terms of legislation – now appears unafraid of recognising a range of sexualities. This is a country which presents itself as celebrating diversity and the cultural richness it brings, a country in which one mother can “belong to everybody”.

4Secondly the Tweet draws attention to mothers and daughters, to generations, and to the intermingling of personal and social histories. This is evident not just in the visual image – generations together, linked through personal but also institutional connections – but also in the celebratory emotion evoked. Fun and freedom in the present – we had a blast! – is framed in its relationship to the past: this was “a trip down memory lane”. Kay is one of a number of women writers who, in their literary engagements with maternal spaces, have contributed to a reshaping of political consciousness. Their interventions have not been politically direct, are not explicitly informed by agendas, but have made us think in profound yet personal ways about our mothers and ourselves and about our situation in time and space. Focusing on the families we are part of, whether through birth, through the societies we inhabit and the cultures we inherit, they have reconfigured our understanding of identity and belonging.

5The third point of interest in that short but rich expression by Kay is “the indefinite”, a term which suggests an unfixing of categories and draws attention to linguistic possibilities in imagining belonging and identity in new and more open, more complex, ways. This essay focuses on poetry and memoir as the arena in which a rhetorical strategy of “the indefinite” the non-binary, works to best effect. Although the themes I discuss are evident in Scottish women’s fiction they are almost inevitably more mediated: the most emotionally intense and textually nuanced engagements with the maternal come in writing which foregrounds the language of writing a “self”.

6In the first volume of her wonderful autobiography, This is Not About Me (2008) Janice Galloway describes how it felt as a child to write letters for her mother to send to her brothers far away:

The only real crossover was when I wrote my mother’s letters. […] Sometimes when she signed it her eyes would fill up. I thought she was disappointed by my handwriting, that seeing the account written was never as fine as she hoped, but in retrospect that wasn’t it. […] it moved her, this simple thing. The daughter, the one who hadn’t wanted to go to school at all, could write a letter. Lined Airmail paper and a blue Bic pen, running to the Post Office for the stamp. Alone, I would practice my cursive, hoping to make it better, whatever it took. […] Writing letters gave me a use. It hurt no one. It was one bridge between home and school I could cross no trouble, arrive without harm or fear of it on either side. I could do this. I was fine.
Galloway, This 192-3

7This intimate exchange between mother and daughter is one of the less complicated interplays between them in this book although one of the few either party allows themselves to relax into the expression of emotion. This is a passage inflected by a sense of distance and separation: most obviously there is the gap between the interior domestic space in which the letter writing takes place – a world of women – and that external and global space occupied by men, by her mother’s brothers. There is also a difference in time: “What will I put” asks the mother. “I never do nothing to put in a letter. What will I say?”, then answers herself: “You do it hen. You tell them something.” (Galloway, This 192) Janice, as the newer generation, represents more connection with a wider geography, or at least is being forced into to negotiating communication with those outside places: as this memoir and the one that follows it, All Made Up (2011) show, she will go into the world more than her mother. The passage also expresses distance between mother and daughter, articulated in terms of complicated emotions: pride, disappointment, yearning, anxiety all are at play here. This is a text that places emphasis on emotions – difficult and complicated emotions – even unarticulated emotions. Yet while those emotions appear raw and difficult, they are also mediated – we read them being narrated, being written. This short passage highlights the role of writing which might – or might not – help come to terms with the indefinite, which might – or might not – make it all fine.

8This moment in Galloway’s memoir, and all the difficulty it embodies, suggests the complexity and significance of the various spaces – physical, emotional, temporal, political and textual – which are negotiated in relation to the maternal and through the perspective of a daughter.

9So what does thinking about the maternal space offer women writers? In her influential study The Reproduction of Mothering (1978) Nancy Chodorow rethought Freudian models of the acquisition of gendered identity, situating them specifically in social and political contexts, and examining the ways in which the classic model of masculinity – in which the boy child separates from the mother and crosses the bridge to align himself (through fear of castration) with the father – is not, for obvious reasons, appropriate to the girl child. Instead “The ease of this identification and the feeling of continuity with her mother conflict with a girl’s felt need to separate from her and overcome her ambivalent and dependent preoedipally-toned relationship.” (Chororow 136) Chodorow’s study explores key questions of what happens when a girl does not become identical with her mother? What happens when the social/cultural values placed upon femininity and represented in the mother are rejected by the daughter? How does the girl negotiate relations both with ideas of motherhood and a real mother? These tensions – which we might understand in psychic terms as negotiations in identity formation – also have to be situated culturally and historically: the tensions also emerge from resistance to dominant models of gender. The conflict created between the pull of the maternal – love and need for a mother, the recognition and celebration of women’s lives – and the equally strong need for women to challenge, to separate themselves from their mothers’ lives and influences – is a preoccupation in the writing by Scottish women considered in this paper. But their preoccupation has implications beyond that of a personal understanding of female experience or a broader engagement with women’s history. Their engagement with the spaces of the maternal, their reworking of it through daughterly positions, encourages everyone to question the binaries evoked by that image of crossing the bridge, with all its implications of borders and territories and fixed allegiances.

10 To illustrate this, I return to that moment in Galloway’s memoir, which draws upon its own language of crossing and bridges, highlighted in the words “crossover” and “one bridge [...] I could not cross”. By this stage in the memoir Janice is (literally) writing for her mother in scribing the letter, is writing against her mother in terms of forming her own adult identity, and also, in more complicated ways, writing for her mother by the act of memory in recording their life together. In one way the scene enacts a model of separation: Janice has had to separate herself, by going to school, from the mother that she needs, that she clings to but is also always slightly unsure of. It is a later replication of that movement of the child away from believing the mother is all the world, a movement which is the movement into language and difference. But the trauma of separation into writing isn’t one in which separation is complete: she doesn’t end up on “the other side” of a border but remains poised in transition, balanced upon that: “It was fine”. As Chodorow, in the Reproduction of Mothering, suggested, because the girl does not have to separate herself from the mother, become “other” as does the boy, the self with whom she identifies can remain the self for whom she feels love. “[…] a girl retains a sense of self and relation to her mother which has preoedipal, or early developmental, characteristics. She is preoccupied with issues of symbiosis and primary love without sense of the other person’s separateness.” (Chodorow 115) She is therefore less “definite”: as a result, she has less strict ego boundaries. But while that girl might indeed be “fine” in that intermediate, indefinite space, she is also entering – certainly at the time Galloway is writing about – into social structures which did not value empathy, love, indefiniteness but which instead locate them into the realm of the less powerful, in familial femininity. So in that sense Janice is not “fine” because any identification with the mother places her outside being “fine”, part of a masculine social order, in the broader sense.

11As this moment in Galloway’s text shows, writing about, for and against your mother can drive a woman not just into explorations of a complicated personal dimension, a whole host of conflicting emotions, but also into examination of a relationship to history and to social and cultural environments. Notions of borders and belonging themselves came under question. This paper focuses therefore on the ways in which Scottish women writers have played out these complicated dynamics in poetry. It engages with the kinds of intertextual dialogues which have developed in relation to this theme of mothers and daughters. And it suggests that the dominant tropes, the central rhetorical strategies developed in order to challenge binaries, begin by a process of “negative articulation”.

12To give an example of this outside poetry, I return to Janice Galloway, thinking briefly about the title of her memoir. This is Not About Me is an unusual title for an autobiography or memoir: although Janice’s mother and sister feature strongly in the narrative, Janice is at the centre of the writing – however much the title tries to efface her. The title acknowledges, however, that being “me” is inevitably defined by relationships to others, in this case mother and sister, the other women the book is, in a way, more obviously “about”. As a trope, the title offers a negative assertion of self: defining identity by considering what it is “not”. This strategy of negative articulation emerges in all kinds of ways in women’s writing at this time and has various implications.

13Most obviously, to say no, or to assert what one is not, can be read as an act of resistance. In particular it can be a resistance to dominant models of femininity. represents exactly that kind of resistance to a dominant kind of femininity I was talking about earlier. Jackie Kay’s poem “Lucozade”, from her 2007 collection Darling, exemplifies both an emotional engagement with mother/daughter relations and the resistant use of the negative. Lying in her hospital bed the mother in the poem issues a stream of admonitions: “Don’t bring flowers, they only wilt and die”; “Don’t bring Lucozade either”, “Don’t bring magazines, too much about size”. When the daughter empties the mother’s bedside of all these objects, including the “orange nostalgia” of Lucozade, the mother is released and triumphant:

My mother, on her high hospital bed, waves back.
Her face is light and radiant, dandelion hours.
Her sheets billow and whirl. She is beautiful.
Next to her the empty table is divine.
Kay Darling 138

14In this wonderful poem mother and daughter create an electric negative energy – as fizzing as the drink of the title. In an inversion of the mother and daughter relationship conventionally conjured up by old Lucozade posters in which a sick child is ministered to by a saintly mother, here the child cares for the parent while the mother asserts her own self. The poem offers an acknowledgement of time passing, of the reversal of roles, of a future in which the mother might die. Yet it depends upon that resilient negative – the admonishing “don’t”, the saying no – to create an empty space, a free space, a divine space, which mother and daughter can occupy together in their mutual challenge to “orange nostalgia”.

15The combination of nostalgia and positive negatives expressed in relation to mother/daughter dynamics in Kay’s poem can be read as evidence of a recurring theme in Scottish women’s poetry but also as being part of an ongoing dialogue around maternal spaces and “daughterlands”. Not all of these poems share the final the triumphalism of Kay’s poem but all use distance, difference and “not” being something in their nuanced exploration of personal relations.

16 Liz Lochhead is a poet who works frequently with negative articulations: a striking number of her poems have “not” “never”; “no” “none” or “neither” in the title or in first two or three lines. For example, starting with titles, there is: “Poets Need Not”; “Trouble is Not my middle name”; “Glasgow’s No Different”. Opening lines structured around the negative include Social History – beginning “My mother never”; “A Night In” with “Darling tonight I want to celebrate/Not your birthday, no, nor mine”; “In the Dreamschool” starts with “You are never the teacher”; “Nae time eftir the bells” opens “Fetch on the First of January”; “Hafiz on Danforth Avenue” begins with “There are no nightingales in this lunchroom”; “The Offering” with “Never in a month of them would you go back”; “For My Grandmother Knitting” starts “There is no need”; “Spinster” begins with “This is no way to go on”. This deployment of negatives is a literary manoeuvre that enables her poetry to encompass complicated relationships with past, with country, with language and self. It is particularly evident in relation to the maternal in her poem “Social History” from The Colour of Black and White (2003) which also opens with a highly explicit negative:

My mother never
Had sex with anyone else
Except my father

17The poem goes on to itemize all the suitors her mother had or might have had during the war, dancing through a range of scenarios, with the daughter poet revelling in the exuberance of these imagined experiences:

The sex my mother could’ve had but didn’t
Sounded fantastic. Clever Jewish boys
from the East End of London
whirled her round the dance floors
niftily slow foxtrotting her into corners,
Telling her the khaki matched her eyes.

18And having gone through all these fantasy opportunities the poem concludes:

My mother never
had sex with anyone else,
except my father, which was a source
of pride to her generation,
as it would have been a source of shame to me, being of mine.

19This poem too can be seen as doing the work of feminism through opposition: it is “refusing” versions of the past that did not put women or mothers in their narratives. Hence its title “Social History” suggests a thinking back through our mothers and a celebration of ordinary lives. This is not a sentimental poem although separation and distances are there. It doesn’t demand easy identification: the poem attempts both to replicate the mother’s experiences – an attempt to see through your mother’s eyes – but also evaluates them from a cultural and temporal distance. Through these negatives the poem becomes a nuanced kind of tribute that bases itself upon a recognition of the complicated play of difference. It frees the mother from both her past and her future; it frees her from her daughter; and it frees the daughter from the mother. So it becomes both a very loving act of restoration and one of separation. This separation is presented positively in many ways but can only be articulated through negatives.

20As stated earlier, this use of negatives is a key trope in Lochhead’s work – a dominant mode, evident from her early writing – the well-known “Something I’m Not” (1972) but Lochhead is not alone in that circling of mother/daughter relationships, framed in complicated temporal dynamics. We can see a similarly nuanced exploration going on in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Before You Were Mine”, from Mean Time (1993). This is a poem with another dancing mother: in this case the daughter’s voice in the poem imagines and acknowledges the earlier self – a pre-child version – of her mother. Here too the lines fizz with excitement as they play out difference and distance through the use of a negative discourse:

I’m not here yet. The thought of me doesn’t occur
in the ballroom with the thousand eyes, the fizzy, movie tomorrows
the right walk home could bring. I knew you would dance
like that. Before you were mine, your Ma stands at the close
with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it’s worth it.

21Imagined and acknowledged differences –between daughters and mothers; between generations; between time-lines; between the shifting positions of possession and control in relationships – is central to this imagining of “your mother” before she was yours. The mother who is not a mother is seen by the daughter who simultaneously is and isn’t the daughter; the poem again plays in rich ways with being and not being.

22In both Lochhead and Duffy’s poems there is an assertion of motherly and daughterly selves in different moments and each poem is driven by the attempt to understand the other through the trope of “I am not you”. But this basic negative play is complicated by the situation of each self in relation to past, present and an implied future. In each case the structure draws attention to temporality: the linguistic oscillation between “you” and “I” allows the poems to challenge fixed and gendered selves while presenting a broader challenge to teleological thinking. Linguistic negativity is an energetic response to the complicated roles women have as both mothers and daughters, but also helps confront and question linear thinking. In this respect these writers offer different paradigms of negative articulation than those associated with earlier Scottish writing and literary politics. Prime example of negative discourse which draws on the power of binaries is MacDiarmid’s battle cry for the Scottish Literary Renaissance: “Not Burns – Dunbar!” and the motto of the Scottish Chapbook: “Not tradition – precedents!”

23Galloway’s title This is Not About Me doesn’t, however, have a corollary: it is not by implication “about you”. And, in the poetry discussed so far, although the writers are using negatives, and appear to be working with oppositions – mother/ daughter; I/you; past/present – they are not presenting these as fixed. Rather they are trying to create other, alternative spaces. Through this construction “negatives” carries the potential to for positive re-imaginings and – as in the case of Kay’s “Lucozade” – to become something that is potentially joyful.

24This joy – perhaps even “jouissance” as Kristeva and Irigaray redefined Lacan’s term – emerges in the recurring references to radiance. When the young Janice in Galloway’s memoir looks at a photograph of her mother, she describes how her father looks “natty” but: “She, however, is radiant […] That’s my mother before much of her life happened to her and she looks a million dollars. She looks competent, confident, good. She was.” (Galloway, This 11). This radiance also shines through “Lucozade” and inhabits the dancing mothers of Lochhead’s and Duffy’s poems. Significantly the joy that is given to the mother is not related to being a mother. Negatives and refusals provide the opportunity to move beyond, or at least challenge, boundaries and binaries.

25In Imagined Communities Benedict Anderson noted that “The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them […] has finite, if elastic boundaries beyond which lie other nations.” (Anderson 7). The reworking of boundary structures in Scottish women’s writing through mother/daughter relationships and their situation in time offers, by implication, two challenges to the shaping of national as well as gendered identities.

26The relationship between gender and nation has been critically invoked as part of a challenge to dominant identity formations. In “Gender and Nation: Debatable Lands and Passable Boundaries” (2002), Aileen Christianson drew on Maggie Humm’s (1991) description of “border women”: “not decentred or fragmented individuals but writers who have begun to cohere a core identity by entering the transitional space between self and other” (Humm 6) to argue for the “openness that Scottish women’s writing presents in its multiple and heterogeneous relation to gender and nation” (Christianson 80). In this prescient essay, Christianson suggested that the insertion of female experience into nationalist debate reshapes political consciousness through its focus on “in-between spaces”. The concept of “inbetween” or borderline states is key to Nancy Chodorow’s analysis of the mother/ daughter relationship and also infuses the poetry by Lochhead and Duffy. Through negotiating the maternal and the spaces occupied by daughters they articulate complex emotions and political desires. In the poems cited the pressures on women to situate themselves in a domestic space, in a historical dimension and in a broader inheritance of a cultural identity are both understood emotionally and “embodied” in the figures of the mothe r an d th e d a ughter. And the lineages being traced – both positively and negatively – involve both rejection and acknowledgement of physical, cultural, historical ties. The work of Lochhead, Duffy and Kay suggests that in their nuanced use of the negative they are moving on thinking about the nature of oppositions and boundaries. That moving on, as Christianson suggests, may in turn shape wider political responses to ideas of nationhood, blurring the notions of belonging or using gender to complicate the idea of national affiliation. But things have also “moved on” since the poems discussed above were written. Marie-Odile Pittin-Hedon concludes her study of The Space of Fiction (2015) by using Peter Widdowson’s phrase “active intertextualising” to argue for it as a key characteristic of contemporary Scottish fiction, suggesting that “revisionary” fiction offers a way of recasting and reseeing (Pittin-Hedon 186). A similar intertextuality might be identified in women’s poetry. As if responding to poets operating in the domain of maternal spaces, producing intimate and emotional explorations of the psychic and cultural dynamics of a relationship, Kathleen Jamie’s more recent “Another You”, from her 2015 collection The Bonniest Companie, also focuses on being a daughter, as memories are evoked by hearing a familiar song from her childhood on the radio:

That Sixties song on the radio tonight
Shrank me right down
That old Seekers thing
Sure took me home again

27This is a poem that oscillates in its rhythms, zigzags in its voice between English, Scots, nineteen-sixties grooviness, combines abstract emotions and material specifics and creates fluctuating temporalities in its conflation of past and present. In its engagement with the maternal, with “negative thinking” and with the imagining of personal and political selves, it can be read as in dialogue with earlier work by Scottish women but represents changes too.

28The poem, like the others I’ve discussed, is infused with images of the everyday; it focuses on interiors, on the domestic and on the local.

warmly-clad we were,
if rarely hugged –
love was a primary seven
dance dress you sewed for weeks,
a florid pinafore I wore
but once then took scissors to –
Jamie 55

29In its address to a dead mother the poem replicates the “close work” she did, by focusing in detail on her sewing, her knitting, her teaching, her singing and all the objects of a feminized space. It is also a lyric poem, in every sense, shaped by a song and working with emotions of loss and nostalgia. Like the other poems it is delicately poised in exploration of those different pulls of a girl’s desire to be and not be her mother: when the daughter tries on her mother’s spectacles “the sideboard loped, the carpet yawed” and “you’d snatch them back claiming I’d ruin my eyes”. To take on your mother’s eyes – both the mother and writer suggest – skews the vision: the desire to emulate is necessary but also a dangerous and difficult one. But Jamie’s poem goes further in terms of what it is doing with the maternal, with being a daughter and with nostalgia. Sara Ahmed, in her study The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2014) describes emotional journeys being bound up with politicization in a mediated rather than immediate way:

emotions are what move us, and how we are moved involves interpretations of sensations and feelings not only in the sense that we interpret what we feel, but also in that what we feel might be dependent on past interpretations that are not necessarily made by us, but that come before us.
Ahmed 170

30Jamie’s poem is interested in levels of mediation; it explores the interplay of a remembered past, the emotions of loss, sorrow and freedom. In the poem the daughter separates from the mother in classic ways – taking scissors to the dress her mother had sewn in hope of some “magic transformation” seems an interestingly feminized castration image. But the poem is also shaped by the maternal “swelling” of the past as the song plays through the most intimate domestic space of the kitchen in the past and the kitchen in the present. It thus embodies both separation and identification, a dynamic highlighted by the image of holding the mother’s knitting wool: “hands outstretched, I’d tension skeins of wool for you to wind” in which “tension” carries both the positive and negative elements of the relationship. But that tension which resides in the personal element of the poem, it also replicated in the social and cultural, shaped by dialogue with The Seekers’ song that frames this poem. The lyrics of “I’ll never Find Another You”, sung by this highly successful 1960s pop group, assure the listeners that “There’s a new world somewhere/They call the promised land./And I’ll be there someday/f you could hold my hand”.

31This is a song about loss, nostalgia, looking back and looking forward – in this case with regret. It’s a song attached to the idea of “a promised land” and “someone” who is the person for you: “There is always someone/For each of us they say”. Yet although Jamie’s a poem shaped by its emotions – by looking back, by a sense of loss – it performs an ironic relationship with that song, a song from the past bringing back the past but replayed in the present. The poem rejects teleologies of “a promised land” or a final union with one significant Other, ending with “I’ll never find another you/But that’s alright”. It resolves itself in a present tense “that’s alright” and into an easier, more accepting relationship with borderline states. In this way the poem takes the song by the seekers, a song about seeking, to reject the promises of futurity, to reject fantasies of unity, and to occupy and celebrate the borderlands of difference – without the “explaining” the daughter in the poem finds so difficult: “I never could explain myself./Never could explain”. The poem gives up on “seeking” and solution but becomes instead an acknowledgement, even assertion of “the indefinite”. In her discussion of the political deployment of emotion Sara Ahmed observes:

Being against something does not end with that which one is against. Anger does not necessarily become stuck on its object although that object may become sticky and compelling. Being against something is also being for something but something that is not yet articulated or is not yet.
Ahmed 175

32The earlier poems discussed in this essay are not caught in anger but are enmeshed in negative language – even if these negatives are then translated into positives. Jamie’s poem becomes freer, less under pressure from the tension of negatives in the earlier poems, and allows a positive assertion in its conclusion. This in itself could be read as indicative of a different political situation in Scotland and a national agenda of projecting the acceptance of difference as central to its identity. What these poems between mothers and daughters share, in addition to their sophisticated awareness of the complexities of that relationship, is an interest in time: they engage with social history, the future, the past, with imagining your mother before you were born. This emphasis on understanding mothers and daughters in the context of the temporal reveals the broader concerns of these intricate, intimate, funny and moving poems. Each of them addresses the tensions between acknowledging where you come from, celebrating your past and moving forwards, refusing past paradigms and from this interplay forging new identities which are not dependent on fixed oppositions. In that sense, in the writing I’ve discussed, real mothers, real daughters, the dynamics of personal relations function both metonymically and metaphorically as a means of mapping out broader configurations of identity.

33How this new imagining of self, and possibly of nation, might work through a focus on the complicated spaces of “daughterlands”, is evidenced in a recent poem by Jackie Kay, written for the opening of the Scottish parliament in 2016. Kay’s own personal situation liberates her in some respects from the weight of a blood tie that fixes connections with the past. Instead the space of being a daughter – and indeed being a mother in the case of her own mother – becomes one in which selves are not imposed. In her memoir Red Dust Road, she recalls her mother telling her:

“You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”. She’d usually say this with reference to some friend or another having difficulty with some member of her family. “But the thing that used to strike me about that cliché was that in my mum’s case it wasn’t true; she had chosen her family”.
Kay, Red 34

34Kay draws on the element of choice implied here to bring a sense of agency to both mother and daughter: the chooser and the chosen. Her poem, “Threshold” refers to the doors of the new Parliament being opened but also affirms the potential of spaces which accede neither to the past or future, spaces in which being a daughter or mother can carry multiple meanings.

Find here what you are looking for:
Democracy in its infancy: guard her
Like you would a small daughter
And keep the door wide open, not just ajar,
And say, in any language you please, welcome, welcome
To the world’s refugees.
Scotland’s changing faces – look at me!!
Whose birth mother walked through the door
Of a mother and baby home here
And walked out of Elsie Inglis hospital without me.
My Makar, her daughter, Makar
Of Ferlie Leed and gallus tongues.

35Through the use of the present tense, the reference to a future and the integration of past experiences into that future, temporality and reproduction are reworked and recuperated, confronted and embraced as positive paradigms for a nation’s political health.

36In her analysis of anger and negativity Sara Ahmed suggests that it is “when feminism is no longer directed towards a critique of patriarchy, or secured by the categories of “woman” or “gender” that it is doing the most “moving” work. The loss of such an object is not the failure of feminism activism, but is indicative of its capacity to move on or to become a movement.” (Ahmed 176). By exploring, confronting, negotiating maternal spaces and paying attention to the even more confusing arena of being a daughter, these writers have “moved us on”. They have moved us on in terms of feminism but also moved us on in terms of the ways in which we imagine our relationships to place, to history, to cultural, to belonging. That is why, I would argue, in their writing they have contributed to the imaginative reconstitution of Scotland.



Ahmed, Sara, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, [2004] 2014.

Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities Rev. Ed, London: Verso [1983] 2006.

Chodorow, Nancy, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978.

Christianson, Aileen, “Gender and Nation: Debatable Lands and Passable Boundaries”, in G. Norquay & G. Smyth (eds) Across the Margins, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002, 67-82.

Duffy, Carol Ann, Mean Time, London: Picador, [1993] 2013.

Humm, Maggie, Border Traffic: Contemporary Strategies of Women Writers, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991.

Jamie, Kathleen The Bonniest Companie, London: Picador, 2015.

Lochhead, Liz & Willie Rodger, The Colour of Black and White, Edinburgh: Polygon, 2003.

Galloway, Janice, This Is Not About Me, London: Granta, 2008.

Galloway, Janice All Made Up, London: Granta, 2011.

Kay, Jackie, Darling: New and Selected Poems, Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2007.

Kay, Jackie, Red Dust Road, London: Picador, 2010.

Kay, Jackie, “Threshhold” (2016): url: poetry/poems/threshold

Pittin-Hedon, Marie-Odile, The Space of Fiction: Voices from Scotland in a Post-Devolution Age, Glasgow: Scottish Literature International, 2015.

Springfield, Tom, lyrics “I’ll Never Find Another You”: The Seekers (1965); EMI Columbia DB 7431, Capitol Records.

Widdowson, Peter, “Writing back: contemporary re-visionary fiction”, Textual Practice 20 (3), 491-507.


Chair of Literary Studies at Liverpool John Moores University. She has published extensively on Scottish women’s writing, including editing The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Women’s Writing (2012) and on Robert Louis Stevenson. Her monograph, Robert Louis Stevenson and Theories of Reading came out in 2006. She is currently completing a monograph on Stevenson’s literary networks and is editing his last and neglected novel, St Ives for the New Edinburgh University Press edition of Stevenson’s Works.

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