Portraying the Hebrides: the irresistible lure and the irredeemable legacy

Kathryn A Burnett, Ray Burnett

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


From the 18th century to the present, the islands that lie off the western seaboard of Scotland, collectively known as the Hebrides, have been one of the foremost island groups in Europe to attract the attention of artists and to acquire a substantial volume of cultural representations of their landscape, environment, people and communities, in literature, music, song, the visual arts, photography and film. Restricting itself to artistic representations in literature and film this paper examines the formulation and the legacy of two recurring and influential tropes of cultural representation of these islands ─ the ‘Hebridean Other’ and ‘Solitude and Desertion’.

The literary prism for this close focus study is provided by the life and work of Compton Mackenzie, the islomanic inspiration for D. H. Lawrence’s short story, ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’. MacKenzie’s lifelong attraction to islands involved successive periodic residency on acquired island properties from Capri in Italy, to Herm and Jethou in the Channel Islands and the Shiants and Barra in the Hebrides. The screen adaptations of MacKenzie’s Hebridean novels and the acclaimed Hebridean classics of the Michael Powell / Emeric Pressberger partnership provide the filmic prism.

The paper discusses the twin tropes of the ‘Hebridean Other’ and ‘Solitude and Desertion’ with specific reference to key iconic cultural representations, the novel/film adaptation Whisky Galore! (1947/1949 and the films The Edge of the World (1937) and I Know Where I’m Going (1945). It reflects on the enduring consequences of this cultural legacy for the island locations and communities with which they are associated, Barra, Eriskay, St Kilda, Mull and its adjacent isles in relation to the cultural referential framework they created. And it concludes by tracing the far-reaching and continuing reverberations in relation to ongoing issues relating to the cultural and symbolic capital of the islands.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010
EventArt and Islands Islomania Conference - Guernsey, St Peter Port, Guernsey
Duration: 23 Jun 201025 Jun 2010


ConferenceArt and Islands Islomania Conference
CitySt Peter Port


  • Scotland
  • Islands
  • Hebrides
  • Highlands and islands
  • Media Representation
  • Narrative
  • Alterity
  • Peripheral
  • Margins
  • Community
  • Scottish History
  • Tourism
  • Heritage
  • Gaelic
  • island studies
  • Landscape


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