Lewis Grassic Gibbon (2014 [1933]) Spartacus

James Leslie Mtichell took the pseudonym of Lewis Grassic Gibbon and was author of the classic A Scots Quair, the best known (and best liked) being Sunset Song. I can’t say I know a lot about the man. He died young, in his early thirties in the 1930s. He was a Socialist that lived in Aberdeen and like his heroine Chris Guthrie had a strong link with the Cloud of the Howe land and a calling to be educated with a love of books and learning.   Mitchell wrote 4000 words a day. He put this down to grounding himself in a language and time he was familiar with. It’s a half-breed lilting language not of the written word or the spoken word but musical in tone. Try writing 4000 words.  It’s a prodigious amount. He also learned Russian so he could speak with the Soviet envoy that was arriving in Aberdeen to meet with fellow Communists.

Spartacus is for me Kirk Douglas with a sword and some of the more rowdy kids in the ABCminors shouting ‘get into those Roman bastards’. It was nearly as good as Ben Hur. It was based on a historical novel by Howard Fast. The novel plays fast and easy with the rules of writing and is awful. Now get into those Romans.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Spartacus is a different kind of beast. A slave revolt against a controlling state and you know whose side he’s going to be on. Kleon stabs his master in the throat. The reader’s sympathy is with the slave. His master enjoyed tracts like ‘the Nine Rapings of the Greek Ataretos’ (a book that I’ve never read) and likes to have young Kleon whipped with wire before indulging in carnal pleasure with him. There are echoes here of Guthrie’s father calling to Chris to come to him because she is his. But Chris Guthrie belonged to no one but herself, as unchanging and changeable as the land. Kleon I fear is a truncated figure that will never grow to the stature of a Guthrie. I’m sure Spartacus is a juvenile work. Twenty pages in I ditched it.


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