A Hidden Gem Revealed

May 20, 2009 | No Comments

Scottish author Robin Jenkins wrote over thirty novels, collections of short stories and various articles, in a long career that spanned from his first publication in 1951 till his death in 2005. Many of his books are sadly out of print in the US (though second-hand copies can be tracked down), and I try to find them whenever I return to Scotland. My latest import was Poverty Castle (1991), a novel-within-a-novel, in which an author, respected but rarely read, tries to finish one final work before he dies; he want to write a novel about happiness deserved. He invents the captivating Semphill family; a guileless and gentle father and five daughters all named after Walter Scott heroines, whose self-contained contentment is put at risk by the mother’s inability to grasp her astounding good fortune and her desperate yearning for more. Into the family comes Peggy Gilchrist, a poor student from Glasgow, and the story becomes, as all Jenkins’s do, a parable about class. Peggy’s education is beginning to alienate her from her own family, but she resents her feelings of admiration for the Semphills. “The working class grudge the rich being rich,” her mother says. “Whit they hate is for one of themselves to rise in the world. You should ken, Peggy.” Poverty Castle begins like a fairy tale, as beguiling as its setting in Argyll, and ends with human nature having extracted its toll.