Our Literary Story

Our literary history spans centuries, with Edinburgh leading the world as a hotbed of genius, a ‘mad god’s dream,’ with the civilising influence of literature at its centre. Get the full story here.

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Scotland's Contribution to World Literature

Edinburgh has produced some of the world’s best loved books and characters; Jekyll and Hyde, Sherlock Holmes and Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Trainspotting, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, Ian Rankin’s science fiction, Muriel Spark’s novels, our poet Laureates and, of course, Harry Potter, all form part of Edinburgh’s literary landscape. We’re the Crème de la Crème. Not that we’re boasting, mind.

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The Enlightenment

Edinburgh’s philosophers changed the world, opening the western world to the idea of the study of mankind as a scientific, as well as philosophical pursuit, in which history, politics, and humanity was inextricably linked. Edinburgh was a hotbed of genius, producing thinkers David Hume, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart and Adam Ferguson, a close-knit community of philosophers in pubs.

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Edinburgh as a Centre of Publishing

Of course, Edinburgh’s prolific intellectual outpouring would not have been possible without its printing presses. Edinburgh’s printing industry introduced the foundation thinkers of western philosophy, not to mention some its greatest novelists, to the world, and is still going strong with publishers such as Canongate, Birlinn and Edinburgh University Press, to name but a few.

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Scotland: A Literate Nation with a Love of Books

Scotland has had a love affair with literature going back as far as 1496 when education was made compulsory by the Scottish Parliament, beginning a path to near universal literacy by the eighteenth century. Education and the spontaneous eruption of genius writers: coincidence? We think not. Edinburgh is still a world-leading smarty pants, with four universities, flourishing libraries, the world’s largest book festival, and over 30 literary festivals taking place across Scotland.

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Scotland's Unique Languages

Scotland writes in three languages: English, Scots and Gaelic. Although English overtook Scots as the language of the courts and polite society, Scots flourished in popular literature, producing some of the world’s best loved works such as the poetry of Robert Burns, and helping to keep Scotland’s culture intact. Scots and Gaelic stories can be found in the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh’s Literature Quarter with live storytelling events, and the use of these languages is an important and beautiful part of Scotland’s contemporary literature.

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A City of Remembrance and Inspiration

Ask any of Edinburgh’s writers; it is basically impossible not to be inspired by the city. Edinburgh is alive with literature, steeped in the stuff, bustling with everyday creativity and vitality. With its thriving Literature Quarter, its rich history and its vibrant calendar of events, the city is a character in its own right. No wonder it’s at the centre of so many of the world’s best loved books.

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An International Literary Profile

Scotland’s intercultural relationships flourish in places such as the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, which celebrates this connection with the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, and the Scottish Poetry Library, which curates many other languages in its collection. Over twenty-thousand Scottish titles have been translated into over a hundred languages, and Edinburgh’s literary activities continue to foster fruitful collaborations globally.

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