Nannie K. Wells
Nannie K. Wells is a bit of a change from the other poets that we have studied so far. We have debated the identity of some writers that we have studied, as we must consider how much being Scottish and being a women affects their poetry. When it comes to Wells, however, it becomes evident by looking at her life and her published works that she strongly identified with being Scottish and was proud of it. If being a women affected her Scottish identity or writing identity, she did not let it show through her works.
Nannie K. Wells, sometimes referred to as Katharin Wells, was a twentieth century Scottish poet. She was born in Findhorn, Morayshire in 1875, however her date of death is unknown. She is the daughter of a former Rector of Milnes School in Fochabers, Scotland, a prestigious private secondary school (Purdie). Wells was well educated, she attended schools in Berlin, Paris and Aberdeen (Purdie). Although Wells spent some time in Oxford before returning to Scotland, upon her return to Scotland she was secretary of the Edinburgh Women’s Citizens’ Association (Purdie). Wells started out her writing career by writing regularly for nationalist publications, such as The Scots Independent and the Free Man (Purdie). The Free Man was founded in 1932 by Robin Black, who was sympathetic to the nationalist cause but did not claim to be directly associated with any particular party (McCulloch 152). The Free Man “included a wide range of social, economic and cultural articles which analyzed Scotland’s current situation and proposed remedies” (McCulloch 152).
Wells married in 1901 when she was 26 years old and had three sons. During the First World War she worked in the Foreign Office, and this was just the beginning of her political involvement (Purdie). Wells was widely known as a Scottish Nationalist and was always involved in the politics and well being of Scotland. She was also an avid supporter of the Scottish Renaissance Movement, a primarily literature movement involving artists and writers who expanded their interests from art into philosophy and politics (McCulloch 107).
(Today’s Scots Independent Paper Header. Wiki Commons)
In his article on Wells, Bob Purdie recalls how he came across her while researching Scottish Nationalism. He discovered that Wells was the Secretary Depute of the Scottish National Party during the late 1920’s and early 1930s. Purdie also recalled a “photograph of her…sitting in front of a group of friends with a lively, humorous face”. He found this picture in Gordon Wright’s illustrated biography of MacDiarmid, and Purdie notes that Wells “…clearly, was someone well worth getting to know”.
Wells’ involvement in politics becomes evident through her many political publications, and she was one of the first Scottish Nationalists to speak out against Fascism (Purdie). In one of her articles from the August 1933 publication of the Free Man, she discussed fascism and its affect on Scotland, saying it was,
“ A time of heart-searching – of courageous decision, of endurance, of determined resistance to these false ideals awaits all Free Men. Maybe it is for them that our Scotland has lain fallow these years – so that within us, Leadership and Liberty – may again be reconciled as they have been more than once in our history as a nation.” (Wells)
This is another excerpt from the Free Man:
“Let us not underestimate the power of this Challenge. Democracy is hardly even on its trial anymore; it has been condemned and dismissed in too many countries” (Wells)
Evidently, most of her writings revolved around her pride for Scotland, and she often discussed politics in the world and how it affected her country. Because of the time she was alive as a writer, her activism and national identity was the primary inspiration for her writings. Many writers during the 1920‘s found themselves inspired by politics rather than the arts (McCulloch). This excerpt is from one of Wells’ articles called Fascism and the Alternative:
“ A time of heart-searching – of courageous decision, of endurance, of determined resistance to these false ideals awaits all Free Men. Maybe it is for them that our Scotland has lain fallow these years – so that within us, Leadership and Liberty – may again be reconciled as they have been more than once in our history as a nation” (Wells).
Although Wells wrote professional political articles and was widely published, she was also a creative writer. She published a poetry and a few novels, one in 1932 called “A diverse Road” and another in 1960s called “George Gordon, Lord Byron: a Scottish Genius”. She collaborated with Hugh MacDiarmid (another Scottish Nationalist and also a friend of hers) and worked on an “unpublished biography of the 14th century rebel Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch” (Purdie).
Although she is not known as a primarily creative writer (McCulloch 107), her poetry also reflects her love of Scotland, such as her poem called Scotland My Lover. This simple poem demonstrates an admiration and love of her home country, declaring her dedication by repeating the line “Scotland my lover,” and ending with “Scotland, my jewel, my lover”
“There are mountains that are more to me than men,
There are rivers that are more to me than love,
There’s a rock where my soul takes cover.
Wild winds on a maddened world have driven,
Lifted me up to the bare hills above,
Scotland, my Lover.” (Wells)
More of her political involvement can be interpreted through her poetry, and was a theme she wrote about often. This is a stanza from her poem called From the Altar Squint, where there are clear parallels between politics of the time, and Wells expresses a sadness in missing the innocence of Scotland.
“The clever-selfish intellect
leaves every mind defiled
the radiance of the perfect
withered, or sardonically smiled
away; all gentleness and joy in sore neglect.
I miss the Child.” (Wells)
Overall, Nannie K. Wells, although a Scottish women poet, can first be considered a Scottish Nationalist. Her extensive involvement in Scottish politics during the turmoil of the second world war is evidently the central inspiration for her writing. Her political publications are great demonstration of her love and allegiance to Scotland, and despite being a women, (which some may consider a hinderance or a deterrent), she was avidly involved in politics and had a voice in her society. Additionally, her poetry demonstrates her extensive love and care for Scotland. Overall, despite the minimal personal information we know of her, Nannie K. Wells shows us through just her writings what kind of person she was; a dedicated and proud Scottish Women.
Purdie, Bob. “The Scots Independent Newspaper Online – The Flag in the Wind.”The Scots Independent Newspaper Online – The Flag in the Wind. N.p., 19 Nov. 2004. Web. 26 Feb. 2013
Palmer McCulloch, Margery. Scottish Modernism and Its Contexts 1918-1959: Literature, National Identity and Cultural Exchange. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2009. Print.
Palmer McCulloch, Margery. “Emigrating from North Britain: The Importance of Little Magazines in the Interwar Movement for Scottish Renewal.” Journal of Irish Scottish Studies 1.2 (2008): 145-55. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.
Information compiled by M.McParland