• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Is Edinburgh deserving of its title as a “City of Literature”?

Tall gothic buildings of Edinburgh clouded in fog

In 2004, the city of Edinburgh became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, and the reasons, at the time, were obvious. With Edinburgh University boasting the world’s oldest English Literature course and being home to many of history’s most iconic literary figures (think Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few). But in the past almost twenty years, does the city still deserve its title?

Spoiler: yes (well, I think so.) As a joint honours literature student, I have the pleasure of reading both English Literature (see: Literature written broadly in English) and Scottish Literature (literature written specifically by Scottish authors) and find myself every day in (slightly disgruntled) awe at the city around me. There are very few places in the world where almost every cobblestone or street sign feels deeply embedded in a history that still lives and breathes around you. There is a reason Edinburgh is spoken of so romantically; you can still feel the ghosts careening down Fleshmarkets Close to catch a train at Waverley, you can still hear the (very loud) bagpipes being played on the Royal Mile to call in a new (probably damp and misty) day in Edinburgh. 

And speaking of Waverley train station, you can’t ignore the fact that this city has made admirable attempts to continuously honour its rich literary past, with the Scott Monument and the Balmoral Hotel (famously where J.K Rowling finished her Harry Potter Series) bookending Princes Street. Greyfriars Kirkyard, whilst perhaps not having a specific literary background, is an absolute must if you want to indulge in Edinburgh’s gothic, haunted past. And I mention Greyfriars Kirkyard because I genuinely think there is more to calling a city a ‘city of literature’ than just how many books were written there, or how many monuments you can erect in honour of your writers. Walking past Greyfriars Kirk on a misty morning evokes perhaps every gothic novel ever written, to feel the bite of the cold on a November stroll through the meadows is to remember the first time you heard In The Bleak Midwinter- there is a melancholy that permeates both Edinburgh and the people who decide to stay here. Everyone always feels like they are moving on, I have always felt that nothing in Edinburgh feels permanent, perhaps other than its literature.

Edinburgh serves a reader the distinct feeling of being inexplicably lonely whilst surrounded by people, often possessing a similar wonder to the city around them- and is loneliness not why so many readers devour the books they do? The occasional fog is also a nice touch for a gothic novel.

Foggy Edinburgh” by clogsilk is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0