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Lewis Grassic Gibbon$
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William K. Malcolm

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789620627

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789620627.001.0001

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Haunted by Horrors: Image and Superscription and Spartacus

Haunted by Horrors: Image and Superscription and Spartacus

(p.59) 6 Haunted by Horrors: Image and Superscription and Spartacus
Lewis Grassic Gibbon

William K. Malcolm

Liverpool University Press

Mitchell himself confessed that he was vexed to a near-pathological extent by ‘horrors’ – incidences of human cruelty in past and present – which provided the emotional and ethical drive for his writing. This chapter explores the two novels that most acutely highlight this aspect of the author’s mindset. Image and Superscription, his bracing picaresque novel of Rebirth, is presented as an unsuccessful attempt to dramatise and come to terms imaginatively with mankind’s propensity for cruelty. While visceral scenes depicting human brutality in contemporary times are overstated, however, the graphic treatment of historical atrocities points forward to the success of Spartacus. The historical novel dealing with the legendary uprising of the slaves against the Roman Republic is adjudged a triumph in conception and execution. It is appraised as both a realistic account of an inspirational historical event and an emblem of revolutionary ardour. Further, Mitchell’s permeating humanism is productively allied with a deeper lying philosophical scepticism to sustain a sanguine vision of humankind’s destiny.

Keywords:   Image and Superscription, Spartacus, ‘horrors’, overstatement, Rebirth, picaresque, historical novel, Roman Republic, humanism, scepticism

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