From Dramatic Space to Narrative Place: George Mackay Brown's 'Time in a Red Coat'

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

George Mackay Brown’s 1984 novel Time in a Red Coat traverses hundreds of years of history and a succession of allegorical and archetypal spaces, as its heroine (Maurya) voyages from medieval China to modern-day Orkney in a quest to ‘slay the dragon of war, or at least to reconcile the dragon with the peaceable creatures of the earth’. Manuscripts held by Edinburgh University Library (GB 237 Coll-50) reveal that the novel itself marks the terminus of a lengthy journey from drama to fiction, evolving from a play of the same name on which Brown worked from 1979 to 1982. This essay charts its passage from dramatic to narrative time and space, analysing a growing tension between the use of archetypal locations and situations and the increasing deployment of real world spatio-temporal indicators. As the original play is mapped onto the novel, the provision of fuller geographical and historical detail permits a closer plotting of Maurya’s itinerary. At the same time, the allegorical dimension is significantly enriched by authorial discussions of the universal spatial metaphor that each chapter explores, by a greater emphasis on the motif of the dragon of war, and by a persistent emphasis on the theme of female solidarity. The character of the heroine herself, however, never fully emerges from the allegorical space of the drama into the historical world of the novel. In the play, the characters that Maurya encounters—ferryman, smith, innkeeper, soldier, fisherman—exist on the same universal, archetypal plane as herself. In the novel, conversely, Brown provides them with a personal or communal back-story while Maurya becomes increasingly depersonalized and emblematic. A consequence of Brown’s efforts to foreground and to individualize other characters is that we now see Maurya through their eyes rather than vice-versa. Rather than a moving observer, she becomes a curiously static object of observation, who does not so much pass through spaces, real or allegorical, as manifest herself within them. As such, instead of a quest narrative, Brown appears to present us with a series of tableaux vivants in which Maurya stages the same symbolic standoff with the dragon of war.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Poetics of Space and Place in Scottish Literature
EditorsMonika Szuba, Julian Wolfreys
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan, Cham
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9783030126452
ISBN (Print)9783030126445
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

Publication series

NameGeocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • George Mackay Brown
  • Scottish literature


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