- Series: Canongate Classics
- Paperback: 112 pages
- Publisher: Birlinn Ltd (March 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0862412307
- ISBN-13: 978-0862412302
- Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.3 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,719,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Childhood In Scotland (Canongate Classics)
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About the Author
Christian Miller, the youngest of a family of six, was born in 1920. Brought up on her father's estate in the highlands of Scotland, she was educated by governesses. After the death of her father, the estate was inherited by her elder brother, and the rest of the family moved to London, where – at eighteen – she became a debutante. During the Second World War, having started as an aircraft fitter working on heavy bombers, she became a technical adviser in the Ministry of Production. She married during the war and had two daughters, and it was not until the 1960s that she started writing, beginning with short stories, which were widely translated. A Childhood in Scotland (1981) first appeared in The New Yorker, and received a Scottish Arts Council Book Award in 1982.
Growing up in an ancient castle and being the daughter of the "Monarch of the Glen" sounds wonderfully romantic. But this memoir is nothing of the sort. We hear about the austere, lonely life experienced by the author/reader growing up in a home in which children were not to be coddled or indulged. Christian Miller tells her own story in a flat world-weary voice that not only gives a clear picture of life in the castle, but also conveys the emotionally deadening effect of her harsh upbringing. Listening to this production is like having tea with an elderly relative who takes the time to tell you absolutely everything about her life as a little girl. It is a literate and unusual presentation of oral history. D.L.G. © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Christian Miller describes for us the castle and its properties, the ghosts that inhabited the castle, the rooms and furnishings, the castle staff (butler, housemaids, cook, etc.), mealtimes, the cadence of a typical day, governesses, the yearly shooting events on the estate, the lack of medical care, holiday traditions, and the arrival of the telephone. In many ways Miller describes the life we see depicted in Downton Abbey minus all the grand clothing and sumptuous eating and warm-ish parental involvement.
Often people imagine that life in a castle was filled with privilege and excess. In some ways that was true. However, it seems that more often than not castle owners were more “property rich” and “cash poor.” Miller grew up receiving very little food at meals and feeling hungry much of her day. She had five older siblings to interact with but it seems her parents thought it best to keep them isolated from other children. Miller explains the harsh upbringing of her father which sheds light on her own upbringing and the remnants of Victorian Era behavior that pervaded it.
This book is not all harsh reality. Miller recounts many happy memories of going into the village with her mother to shop, attending the Highland games, running about in the castle gardens, and playing with her siblings. Miller’s story is a gem of insight into a bygone world of which many of us still long to catch a glimpse.
Travel Notes: Christian (Grant) Miller grew up on the Monymusk Estate in Aberdeenshire. The Estate is still privately owned but you can drive through the village and explore the area. Or, you can hire out the castle for a wedding! This book is relevant reading for just about any castle tour in Scotland.
But this fairytale existence had some ogres. Her father was eccentric and somewhat bombastic, given to sudden fits of temper and just as sudden periods of calm. Her mother was affectionate but distant and distracted. As the youngest of a large family she tended to be ignored or given short shrift, left to be raised by servants who could be as capricious as her parents. Educated by a governess, she rarely had much contact with people outside of the estate. This life came to an end abruptly in 1931 when Christian was ten. Her father died having failed to make certain that his widow and minor children would be taken care of, meaning that her eldest brother inherited everything and she and her mother had to move to smaller quarters in London.
I first read A Childhood in Scotland many years ago now when it ran in The New Yorker, and I could never get Christian's mysteriously sad but appealing childhood out of my mind. This short little book of less than 100 pages is impossible to put down and hard to forget. It's one of those special books that I like to keep close at hand to pull out and reread sections of at odd times.
Having a cruel father, and a distant mother, and being the youngest child, Christian recounts in picturesque detail, the castle and the surrounding countryside in Scotland, her phenomenal experience of nature, her friendship with the ghosts that lived in the castle, and fear of the demons.
A poignant portrait of a lonely child who used her imagination to try to make her young life whole, a deprived childhood in a wealthy household, Christian recounts how she was beaten while waiting for scraps of food outside the castle dining room.
She makes several wry observations such as that the lessons given by her stern governess could have been made more interesting if when learning about the Napoleonic Wars, the children had been taught that Napoleon had surrendered to her great grandfather on her mother's side, and that Shakespeare may not have bored them had they known that they were descended on their father's side form Macbeth's victim , King Duncan .
Beautifully written for adults and young readers aged 12 and up.