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John Buchan

John Buchan John Buchan[1†]

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (26 August 1875 – 11 February 1940), was a Scottish novelist, historian, and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada, the 15th since Canadian Confederation[1†][2†]. He was born in Perth, Scotland[1†][2†], and was educated at Glasgow University and Brasenose College, Oxford[1†][3†][4†].

Buchan began his writing career and his political and diplomatic careers simultaneously, serving as a private secretary to the administrator of various colonies in southern Africa[1†]. He eventually wrote propaganda for the British war effort during the First World War[1†]. He was elected Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities in 1927[1†].

Buchan is best known for his adventure fiction, notably writing The Thirty-Nine Steps and other adventure fiction[1†]. In 1935, King George V, on the advice of Prime Minister R. B. Bennett, appointed Buchan to replace the Earl of Bessborough as Governor General of Canada[1†]. He occupied the post until his death in 1940[1†].

Buchan was enthusiastic about literacy and the development of Canadian culture[1†]. He received a state funeral in Canada before his ashes were returned to the United Kingdom[1†].

Early Years and Education

John Buchan was born on August 26, 1875, in Perth, Scotland[1†][5†]. He was the first child of John Buchan, a Free Church of Scotland minister, and Helen Jane Buchan (née Masterton)[1†]. The family moved to a small mining town in Fife in 1876 when his father became the Free Church minister there[1†][6†]. As a young boy, Buchan played on the shore of the River Forth and spent his holidays on his relatives’ farm at Broughton in the Borders[1†][6†]. This is where he first became fascinated with the Border rivers, hills, shallow glens, and their people[1†][6†].

Buchan attended Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow[1†][7†]. He was awarded a scholarship to the University of Glasgow at age 17, where he studied classics as a student of James Caddell and wrote poetry[1†][7†]. He then moved on to study Literae Humaniores (the Classics) at Brasenose College, Oxford, with a junior William Hulme scholarship in 1895[1†][7†]. His friends at Oxford included Hilaire Belloc, Raymond Asquith, and Aubrey Herbert[1†].

Buchan began his writing career as a youth, publishing his first novel when he was 20[1†][8†]. After studying for three years at Glasgow University, he gained a scholarship to Oxford, where he read Classics[1†][8†]. After Oxford, he read for the Bar in London and practiced as a barrister[1†][8†].

Career Development and Achievements

After graduating from Oxford, Buchan entered into a career in diplomacy and government[1†]. In 1901, he became the private secretary to Alfred Milner, who was then the High Commissioner for Southern Africa, Governor of Cape Colony, and colonial administrator of Transvaal and the Orange River Colony[1†]. This role put Buchan in what came to be known as Milner’s Kindergarten[1†]. His time in South Africa was an unhappy experience that exposed him to the dark side of British colonialism[1†][9†].

Upon returning to London, Buchan began to hobnob with influential types[1†][9†]. His marriage to Susan Grosvenor, a bookish girl from a notable aristocratic family, introduced him to a large network of agreeable connections[1†][9†]. Despite these connections, Buchan was responsible for earning all the money[1†][9†].

Simultaneously, Buchan began his writing career[1†]. He wrote more than a hundred books, including twenty-seven novels, six substantial biographies, a monumental twenty-four-volume contemporary account of the First World War, three works of political thought, and a legal textbook[1†][10†]. His most notable work is “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, which he began writing in August 1914, the month Britain entered the war[1†][9†]. When published in October 1915, it was a hit, not least among soldiers at the front[1†][9†].

In 1927, Buchan was elected Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities[1†]. However, he spent most of his time on his writing career[1†]. In 1935, King George V, on the advice of Prime Minister R. B. Bennett, appointed Buchan to replace the Earl of Bessborough as Governor General of Canada[1†]. For this purpose, Buchan was raised to the peerage[1†]. He occupied the post until his death in 1940[1†].

Throughout his career, Buchan was enthusiastic about literacy and the development of Canadian culture[1†]. He received a state funeral in Canada before his ashes were returned to the United Kingdom[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

John Buchan was a prolific writer who authored a variety of works, including novels, biographies, and historical studies[11†]. Here are some of his main works:

Buchan’s historical novels, such as Midwinter, Witch Wood, and The Blanket of the Dark, deserve a far greater readership[11†][8†]. His biographies and historical studies, such as Cromwell, Montrose, and Sir Walter Scott, are still regarded as classics of eminently readable scholarship[11†][8†].

Analysis and Evaluation

John Buchan’s work, particularly his novel “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, revolutionized suspense fiction[13†]. The novel, first published in 1915, has been hailed as the progenitor of espionage fiction, influencing masters of the genre such as Ian Fleming and John LeCarré[13†]. Buchan’s novel combines a convoluted plot of solving one crime and preventing another with the relatable theme of an innocent man falsely accused[13†].

The protagonist, Richard Hannay, is an Everyman who falls into a bizarre situation and then must solve the mystery, both to avert war and to save himself[13†]. This type of hero, whom trouble finds when he least expects it, appeals to varied readers who have found themselves in similar predicaments[13†]. The novel does not aim for psychological depth or social critique. Instead, Buchan increases the reader’s interest through presenting picturesque settings and interactions with a variety of characters[13†]. The suspense builds because the reader, like Hannay, does not know who he can trust[13†].

Buchan’s life was full of action but not much drama, which may have inspired his stories of derring-do, of spies and adventurers, and innocent men wronged[13†][9†]. Like many writers, he lived his best and most fulfilling life in his head, among his characters; his actual life could not compete with it[13†][9†].

Buchan established the patterns that became basic to the genre of suspense and adventure tales, which developed and flourished in the twentieth century[13†][14†]. His original work effectively created a template for subsequent mystery writers, a formula so successful that, for decades, few deviated significantly from it[13†].

Personal Life

John Buchan was married to Susan Charlotte Grosvenor in 1907[15†]. They had four children, including John, William, and Alastair[15†][1†]. His family life was filled with warmth and affection, which was a stark contrast to his austere and reserved mother, Helen Jane Masterton[15†][6†]. Buchan’s father, a lively Free Church minister, was an indulgent parent who had a great influence on Buchan’s upbringing[15†][6†].

Buchan led a full life, blessed with friends and family, decorated with all sorts of honours and achievements[15†][9†]. Despite his busy professional life, he managed to maintain a balance between his work and personal life. His personal life was as fulfilling as his professional life, and he was known to be a loving and devoted family man[15†][9†].

Conclusion and Legacy

John Buchan’s legacy is multifaceted and enduring. He was a prolific author, historian, and politician, and his contributions to literature and public service have left a lasting impact[16†][1†].

Buchan’s literary contributions were significant. His adventure fiction, notably “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, has left an indelible mark on the genre[16†][1†]. His writings showcased his unique perspective on a world reshaped by conflict, and his works continue to influence literature and history[16†][17†][18†].

In addition to his literary achievements, Buchan’s political and diplomatic contributions were also noteworthy. As the 15th Governor General of Canada, he was an enthusiastic advocate for literacy and the development of Canadian culture[16†][1†]. His tenure as Governor General strengthened trans-Atlantic relations, and he played a crucial role in interpreting Canada, Britain, and America to each other at a critical time in world history[16†][19†].

Buchan’s profound reflections on democracy and literary modernism, along with his strong faith and catholicity of vision, further underscore his intellectual stature[16†]. His belief in the progressive socialization of the state, coupled with his insistence on the spiritual integrity of the individual, reflects his moderate conservative philosophy[16†].

In conclusion, John Buchan’s legacy extends beyond his literary and political achievements. His life and work reflect a deep commitment to service, a keen intellect, and a profound understanding of the human spirit. His enduring influence continues to resonate in literature, politics, and history[16†][17†][18†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - John Buchan [website] - link
  2. Britannica - John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir: British statesman and author [website] - link
  3. Goodreads - Author: John Buchan (Author of The 39 Steps) [website] - link
  4. Biography Base - John Buchan Biography [website] - link
  5. Britannica Kids - John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir [website] - link
  6. National Library of Scotland - John Buchan [website] - link
  7. New World Encyclopedia - John Buchan [website] - link
  8. John Buchan Society - John Buchan [website] - link
  9. The Guardian - Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan review – a man of no mystery [website] - link
  10. Crime Reads - Learning to Appreciate John Buchan for More Than The Thirty-Nine Steps [website] - link
  11. Wikipedia (English) - List of works by John Buchan [website] - link
  12. Wikipedia (English) - Category [website] - link
  13. eNotes - The Thirty [website] - link
  14. eNotes - The Thirty [website] - link
  15. The University of Edinburgh - About John Buchan [website] - link
  16. First Things - The Neglected Legacy of John Buchan [website] - link
  17. John Buchan Society - John Buchan Society [website] - link
  18. John Buchan Society - John Buchan Unbound [website] - link
  19. John Buchan Society - Canadian Legacy [website] - link
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