Monitor: The late Naomi Mitchison - as remembered by the world's newspapers
Sunday 17 January 1999
- Daily Telegraph
LADY NAOMI Mitchison, 101, who was often called the doyenne of Scottish literature, has died, her family said in Carradale, Scotland. A poet and novelist, Lady Mitchison was a prolific writer - completing more than 80 novels. She wrote historical novels, science fiction, travel stories and a three-volume autobiography. Her first novel, The Conquered, was published in 1923 and was based on her wartime experiences. In 1935, Lady Mitchison published her most controversial work. We Have Been Wanted explored sexual behavior, including rape, seduction and abortion. The book was rejected by leading publishers and ultimately censored. In addition to her writings, Lady Mitchison was also a vocal women's rights campaigner, actively lobbying for birth control.
- St Louis Post Dispatch
DESPITE A trace in her of romanticism (she liked jumping over bonfires at midnight and sallying forth with a gun to shoot a sheep for dinner), her attitude to the local farmworkers and fishermen was not in the least sentimental. She showed her practical spirit by standing as Labour candidate for the Scottish universities in 1935, and by sitting on the Argyll County Council as a Labour representative, from 1945 to 1966. It is generally agreed that her finest novel, and perhaps the best historical novel of the 20th century, is The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931). The book obviously had the Labour Party in mind, containing as it did a message of both warning and encouragement for all reformist movements.
SHE WAS privileged and she was posh, but she tried hard not to let that get in the way of relations with the Carradale community - or indeed with any of the many communities which she adopted. But she wasn't without self-awareness - she knew there were barriers. Reflecting in 1992 on the way Carradale had changed, she remarked: "At first they didn't accept me because I was too posh. Now they don't accept me because I'm not posh enough."
SHE WAS an active, early supporter of birth control - helping to run the North Kensington Clinic and speaking and writing on the subject - but joyfully, if painfully, she had seven children over 22 years. Her marriage was happy but not entirely satisfactory, despite help from the books of Marie Stopes, and both she and her husband entered into several other relationships, which were conducted with dignity and described with humour. She was an extrovert who exposed her weaknesses as well as her strengths to an often hostile public, a rationalist who suffered from nightmares and panics, wept as much as she laughed, and started physical as well as verbal fights, a humanist who sympathised with religion and ritual, a reformer who always stressed "what people really want".
MITCHISON WAS blessed with an incomparable gift of concentration. The typewriter on her desk in the crowded drawing-room at Carradale was always uncovered and she would work there busily while the guests played Scrabble, strummed guitars, a fisherman came about the salmon, a ghillie to consult about skinning a deer, or just somebody asking what was for supper. Mitchison was able to write anywhere, which helped because - as a compulsive traveller - she could get on with her writing on planes or in trains. She went to the US in the 1930s, because she was worried about sharecroppers; to Vienna in 1934 when the Nazi-era storm clouds gathered, and she smuggled letters from endangered people to Switzerland in her knickers.
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