Luca Fumagalli

It was thanks to the nauseating “anti-papist” rhetoric that raged in Scotland at the beginning of the twentieth century that George Scott-Moncrieff decided, in Easter 1940, to convert to Catholicism.

Twenty years later, in the book The Mirror and the Cross: Scotland and the Catholic Faith he described with obvious contempt one of the violent demonstrations he had witnessed in Edinburgh, when an angry mob attempted to storm the car in which Archbishop McDonald.was traveling.

Scott-Moncrieff was twenty-five at the time of the Edinburgh riots. He was born in 1910, the second son of a minister of the Church of Scotland, the last child of a family of solid Presbyterian traditions. Despite this, his uncle, Charles Scott-Moncrieff – a well-known translator of Proust, Pirandello and Stendhal – had already become a Catholic when he was still a child.

In 1934 George married 20-year-old Ann Shearer, originally from Kirkwall, the main town of the Orkney Islands. After working for “The Orcadian”, Ann had moved to London in hopes of a better career; it was in the English capital that she met her future husband, who was also involved in journalism.

They returned to Scotland shortly before their marriage and six years later they were both welcomed into the Church of Rome.

Both devoted themselves to literature: George, who died in 1974, published novels such as Cafè Bar and Tinkers’Wind, a volume of verse entitled A Book of Uncommon Prayer and the one-act The Wind in the East. He also wrote The Lowlands of Scotland, Scottish Country, The Stones of Scotland, and was co-editor, from 1939 to 1941, of “The New Alliance”, a cultural magazine that supported the Scottish nationalist cause.

Ann’s fame, on the other hand, remains linked to children’s stories, although her career, at least at the beginning, was not at all easy: the book Auntie Robbo, for example, was rejected by the London publishers because it was judged “too Scottish” and therefore it could only be published in New York. Unfortunately she died just 29 years old in 1943. According to the poet and critic Edwin Muir, Ann had great talents, and if only she had lived she could have become one of the best Scottish writers of her time.

Sources: L. BICKET, George Mackay Brown and the Scottish Catholic Imagination, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2019; J. PEARCE, Literary Converts, Harper Collins, London, 2000.