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Edinburgh’s Literary Women Recognised

Edinburgh novelist Mary Brunton, a contemporary of Jane Austen, has been recognised alongside four other women writers following a campaign by the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust. 

Investigative journalists, poets, romantic novelists and biographers, these five literary women were also social reformers, champions of women’s rights and instrumental in shaping Edinburgh’s history.  Plaques have been awarded through Historic Environment Scotland’s (HES) Commemorative Plaque scheme for three of these women, and the Trust have hopes for a further two, on buildings in the city associated with Mary Brunton, Christian Isobel Johnstone, Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane, Lady Margaret Sackville and Rebecca West, who was also nominated by IASH at the University of Edinburgh. 

Copies of books written by all five women are being donated by the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust to fifteen public libraries across the city. Each set contains a copy of Mary Brunton’s best-selling first novel Self-Control, Rebecca West’s debut novel The Return of the Soldier which documents the aftermath of the WW1 from a woman’s perspective and Clan-Albin by Christian Isobel Johnstone which engages with themes on British imperial expansion, England’s economic and political relationship with Scotland and the role of women in public life. Selected Poems by Lady Margaret Sackville and Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane’s memoir of her mother Mary Elizabeth Haldane: A record of a hundred years complete the donation.

The Edinburgh City of Literature Trust and HES have also created Building Stories, a series of podcasts profiling the lives, careers and major works of the five women. Researched and produced by I Am Loud Productions, the podcasts can be found at

Ruth Plowden, Chair of the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, said: “While these five writers were renowned and applauded in their own lifetimes they have fallen out of public consciousness.  The City of Literature Trust is proud to have worked with HES to install these plaques which go some way to acknowledging the extraordinary talent and influence of these literary women and to keep their stories and legacy alive.  They helped shape Edinburgh’s history and their writing now takes its rightful place in our city’s libraries for a new generation to discover and enjoy.”

The new plaques follow on from recognition in 2019 of two of Edinburgh’s other female authors, Dorothy Emily Stevenson and Susan Ferrier, who were also nominated by Edinburgh City of Literature Trust.