Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Lewis Grassic Gibbon was the pseudonym of James Leslie Mitchell[1] (13 February 1901 – 7 February 1935), a Scottish writer.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon
BornJames Leslie Mitchell
(1901-02-13)13 February 1901
Hillhead Seggat, Auchterless, Aberdeenshire
Died7 February 1935(1935-02-07) (aged 33)
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
Pen nameLewis Grassic Gibbon
GenreGeneral fiction
SubjectScottish country life
Science fiction
Historical novels
Literary movement20th-century Scottish Renaissance
Notable worksThe trilogy A Scots Quair, in particular the first book Sunset Song
ChildrenRhea Martin


Born in Auchterless, and raised in Arbuthnott in the former county of Kincardineshire, Mitchell started working as a journalist for the Aberdeen Journal in 1917 and later for the Farmers Weekly following a move to Glasgow.[2] Gibbon grew up in Stonehaven, and attended Mackie Academy[3]. Around this time he was active with the British Socialist Party.[4] In 1919 he joined the Royal Army Service Corps and served in Iran, India and Egypt before enlisting in the Royal Air Force in 1920. In the RAF he worked as a clerk and spent some time in the Middle East. He married Rebecca Middleton (known as "Ray") in 1925 and they settled in Welwyn Garden City.[5] He began writing full-time in 1929. Mitchell wrote numerous books and shorter works under both his real name and his nom de plume before his early death in 1935 of peritonitis brought on by a perforated ulcer.

Mitchell attracted attention from his earliest attempts at fiction, notably from H. G. Wells, but it was his trilogy entitled A Scots Quair, and in particular its first book Sunset Song, with which he made his mark. A Scots Quair, with its combination of stream-of-consciousness, lyrical use of dialect, and social realism, is considered to be among the defining works of the 20th century Scottish Renaissance. It tells the story of Chris Guthrie, a young woman growing up in the north-east of Scotland in the early 20th century. All three parts of the trilogy have been turned into serials by BBC Scotland, written by Bill Craig, with Vivien Heilbron as Chris. Additionally, Sunset Song has been adapted into a film, released in 2015.[6] Spartacus, a novel set in the famous slave revolt, is his best-known full-length work outside this trilogy.

In 1934 Mitchell collaborated with Hugh MacDiarmid on Scottish Scene which included three of Gibbon's short stories. These were collected posthumously in A Scots Hairst (1969). Possibly his best-known short story is Smeddum, a Scots word which could be best translated as the colloquial term "guts". Like A Scots Quair, it is set in north-east Scotland with strong female characters.[7] It was also dramatised by Bill Craig and the BBC, as a Play for Today in 1976, along with two other short stories, Clay and Greenden.[8] Also notable is his essay The Land.

The Grassic Gibbon Centre was established in Arbuthnott in 1991 to commemorate the author's life. There is a memorial to him and his wife, and other members of the Mitchell family, in the western corner of the Arbuthnott village churchyard (parish church of Saint Ternan).

In 2016 Sunset Song was voted Scotland's favourite novel in the BBC Love to Read campaign.


  • Hanno: or the Future of Exploration (1928)
  • Stained Radiance: A Fictionist's Prelude (1930)
  • The Thirteenth Disciple (1931)
  • The Calends of Cairo (1931)
  • Three Go Back (1932)
  • The Lost Trumpet (1932)
  • Sunset Song (1932), the first book of the trilogy A Scots Quair
  • Persian Dawns, Egyptian Nights (1932)
  • Image and Superscription (1933)
  • Cloud Howe (1933), the second book of the trilogy A Scots Quair
  • Spartacus (1933)
  • Niger: The Life of Mungo Park (1934)
  • The Conquest of the Maya (1934)
  • Gay Hunter (1934)
  • Scottish Scene (1934), with Hugh MacDiarmid
  • Grey Granite (1934), the third book of the trilogy A Scots Quair
  • Nine Against the Unknown (1934)
  • The Speak of the Mearns (1982), published posthumously


  1. Joseph F. Clarke (1977). Pseudonyms. BCA. p. 70.
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/43vprlT8qgGVRYK9VPRmmfw/lewis-grassic-gibbon
  3. "Lewis Grassic Gibbon - Stonehaven Heritage Society". www.stonehaven-heritage.org. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  4. https://www.marxists.org/archive/foot-paul/2001/12/gibbon.htm
  5. Hadley, Tessa (8 August 2008). "Rereading: Life on the land". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  6. Bonnar, Mark; Mullan, Peter; Deyn, Agyness; Guthrie, Kevin (4 December 2015), Sunset Song, retrieved 31 March 2017
  7. review of Smeddum
  8. Play for Today website Archived 30 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Scott Lyall (ed.), The International Companion to Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Glasgow: Scottish Literature International, ASLS, 2015) ISBN 9781908980137
  • Scott Lyall, 'J. Leslie Mitchell/Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Exploration', in Scottish Literary Review 4.1, Spring/Summer 2012, pp. 131–50.
  • Scott Lyall, '"East is West and West is East": Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Quest for Ultimate Cosmopolitanism', in Gardiner et al. (eds), Scottish Literature and Postcolonial Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), pp. 136–46.
  • Scott Lyall, 'On Cosmopolitanism and Late Style: Lewis Grassic Gibbon and James Joyce', in Dymock and Palmer McCulloch (eds), Scottish and International Modernisms (Glasgow: ASLS, 2011), pp. 101–15.
  • Ian Campbell, Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985).
  • Douglas Gifford, Neil M. Gunn & Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1983).
  • Margery Palmer McCulloch and Sarah Dunnigan (eds), A Flame in the Mearns (Glasgow: ASLS, 2003).
  • William K. Malcolm, A Blasphemer and Reformer: A Study of J. Leslie Mitchell/Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1984).
  • Douglas F. Young, Beyond the Sunset: A Study of James Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon) (Aberdeen: Impulse Publications, 1973).
  • Iain S. Munro, Leslie Mitchell: Lewis Grassic Gibbon, (Oliver and Boyd, 1966).
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