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Metadata for text 205
No. words in text47622
Title An Dubh is an Gorm
Author Mac a’ Ghobhainn, Iain
Editor N/A
Date Of Edition 1963
Date Of Language 1950-1999
Publisher Aberdeen University (Oilthigh Obair-Dheadhain)
Place Published [Aberdeen]
Volume N/A
Location National and academic libraries
Geographical Origins Lewis
Register Literature, Prose
Alternative Author Name Iain Crichton Smith
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 18cm x 13cm
Short Title An Dubh is an Gorm
Reference Details NLS: 5.2558
Number Of Pages 8 (un-numbered), 106
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Iain Crichton Smith (known in Gaelic as Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn) was born in Glasgow in 1928. His parents were both from Lewis, but had left the island in order to find work. They returned to Lewis in 1930 and the three boys (of whom Iain was the second) were brought up in Upper Bayble on the Point peninsula, about seven miles east of Stornoway. Their father died from tuberculosis when Iain was just three years old, leaving his mother to bring up the children alone.

Smith spoke Gaelic at home, learning English when he went to primary school in Bayble. He studied at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, where he became interested in English poetry. He graduated with a degree in English from the University of Aberdeen in 1949, and then gained a teaching qualification at Jordanhill College in Glasgow. He began his teaching career in Clydebank, in 1952, and taught for many years at Oban High School. He retired from teaching in 1977 in order to concentrate on writing. In that same year, he married Donalda Gillies Logan, and became stepfather to her two sons. After suffering a breakdown in 1982, he continued writing both in Gaelic and in English. He died of cancer at his home in Taynuilt in October 1998.

Smith was a prolific writer of both poetry and prose in English and in Gaelic. Smith’s first book of poetry, The Long River, was published in 1955. His best known work in English is his novel Consider the Lilies, which tells of an old woman’s struggle during the Highland Clearances. His first collection of Gaelic poems and short stories, Bùrn is Aran, was published in 1960. He went on to publish a number of volumes of short stories, including An Dubh is an Gorm (1963), An t-Adhar Ameireaganach (1973) and Na Guthan (1991). He also published a number of short novels, including An t-Aonaran (1976) and Na Speuclairean Dubha (1989), and a number of poetry collections, including Eadar Fealla-Dhà is Glaschu (1974) and Na h-Eilthirich (1983). Smith also wrote plays and translated Gaelic poetry (e.g. Sorley MacLean’s Dain do Eimhir) into English. Recurring themes in Smith’s writing include religion, exile, alienation, island life and identity, and language.
Contents This volume begins with a Facal Taing from the author, followed by a list of Sgeulachdan. This volume contains twenty short stories as follows: An Solus Ur (pp. 1-7), Is agus Esan (p. 8), Am Maor (pp. 9-16), An Cuan ’s na Faoileagan (pp. 17-20), A’ Ghloine (pp. 21-24), An Carbad (pp. 25-27), E Fhein ’s a Bhrathair (pp. 28-30), Abraham is Isaac (pp. 31-33), Jenkins is Marlowe (pp. 34-39), A’ Bhan-Shoisgeulaiche (pp. 40-48), Aig a’ Chloich-Chuimhne (pp. 48-50), An Taghadh (pp. 51-55), An Comhradh (pp. 56-58), An Leine (pp. 59-62), Anns a’ Bhurn (pp. 63-65), Anns an Uaimh (pp. 66-71), Na h-Iudhaich (pp. 72-75), Am Priosanach (pp. 76-80), Na Facail air a’ Bhalla (pp. 81-82), An Dubh is an Gorm (pp. 83-106).

The stories in this volume are excellent examples of the short story genre. The stories are generally told in the third person, and frequently we are given insights into the thoughts and feelings of the primary character. Each story takes place over a short period of time, though we are sometimes given flashbacks which put into context the current situation. The stories in this volume cover a variety of subjects, including religion, death, loneliness, and isolation.

A’ Bhan-shoisgeulaiche deals with the excessive religious zeal of a young female missionary who goes out to Kenya to convert the natives to Christianity. The story explores the missionary’s relationship with the native population and with her father. She finally conquers her fear of the forest, and of the natives, as she visits a sick young boy one evening. She realises, as she watches him with his mother, that the children are not hers, and that she doesn’t belong there. As she returns home, she sees the prayer-house on fire. As she approaches the fire, she is pushed into it by a group of natives carrying spears.

An Comhradh tells of a young boy who is dying, and his relationship with his mother and with the local minister. The minister puts the fear of God into him, and his mother does nothing to comfort him, believing that the minister knows best. The boy becomes more and more introverted as he realises that he is dying, and as he begins to accept the minister’s account of heaven and hell and the bleakness of his situation.

Aig a’ Chloich-Chuimhne depicts a war veteran standing before the war memorial he visits every year. He became an artist after the war, but never used red paint, as it reminded him of those who died in action – the image of rósan searbha na Frainge—air na broillichean mar fhuil (p. 49). He relives a particular experience in his mind, where he tries to save one of his friends, and as a result a young German soldier is shot. He mourns the loss of the German soldier, and is sent home shortly afterwards. After experiencing this memory, he returns home and begins to paint – a bright red flower under a blue sky.

An Dubh is an Gorm is written in a letter format – 13 letters which a young man (Coinneach) sends to his father as he begins his studies at University. Through the letters we see Coinneach awakening to a new world as he meets new people with new ideas that contrast with his upbringing in the Highlands, and with his father’s strict religiosity.

In other stories, we are introduced to Napoleon as the primary character in An Cuan ’s na Faoileagan, and Is agus Esan tells the story of Adam, Eve and the apple.
Language Mac a’ Ghobhainn makes good use of imagery and symbolism in his work, frequently using colour to great effect. For example, we find Os cionn nan tighean bha an solus uaine, is grian òir anns an adhar (p. 1), and Bha an t-adhar air taobh muigh na h-uinneig a’ fàs dearg an déidh a bhith uaine (p. 4). The stories contain many similes, e.g. mar nathair ann an gàrradh sgòthan (p. 4) and dh’fhalbh e mar fhaileas (p. 42).

The terminology is as varied as the subject matter. Of note are terms which have been adopted from English, such as telefonan (p. 1), muillionan (p. 1), rocaidean (p. 1), and pacaid thoitean (p. 1). We also find terms such as am fear-riaghlaidh (p. 1), luathas-analach (p. 45), tallan (p. 86), and anns a’ chùlaisd (p. 106). Also of interest are idiomatic phrases such as tha mi coimhead nach robh sibh a-muigh (p. 89) and Eil thu riutha?, meaning ‘Do you smoke?’ (p. 1).
Orthography The language of this text is not strongly dialectal. The orthography is that of the mid-20th century. Both accents are used.
Edition First edition. This volume was reprinted in 1969, 1979, and 1985. The orthography appears to be the same in all three editions.
Other Sources
Further Reading Thomson, Derick S., ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm).
ODNB article on Smith:
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