Janet Adam Smith

August 28, 2016
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Janet Adam Smith (9 December 1905 – 11 September 1999) was a writer, editor, literary journalist and champion of Scottish literature. She was active from the 1930s through to the end of the century and noted for her elegant prose, her penetrating judgement, her independence of mind – and her deep love of mountains and mountaineering.

Janet Adam Smith at her home in London, July 1992

Assessment of her literary contribution[edit]

In an obituary published in The Scotsman shortly after her death in September 1999, the Scottish novelist and journalist Allan Massie wrote:

“The critical study of Scottish literature owes much to Janet Adam Smith. … Ernest Mehew, the editor of the great Yale University edition of Stevenson's Letters, paid tribute to the ‘leading part’ she played ‘in the revival of critical interest in Stevenson's life and work at a time when he was largely ignored in academic circles’. He referred to the biography, her edition of Stevenson's correspondence with Henry James, and her two editions of Stevenson's poetry (1950 and 1971) – ‘a major work of scholarship which has not been superseded’.

“Stevenson was not alone in benefiting from her enthusiastic and discriminating advocacy. Two lectures on Sir Walter Scott and the Idea of Scotland, given at the University of Edinburgh in 1963, gave an impetus to the revival of academic interest in Scott. Her analysis of Waverley is unsurpassed.

“But her masterpiece was her biography of John Buchan. It is probably hard for people today to realise just how low Buchan's reputation stood in the early Sixties. He was dismissed as a mere entertainer with disreputable political and social views. Janet Adam Smith corrected misconceptions and restored him to his proper status as a serious writer and public figure. Everyone who has written subsequently on Buchan is in her debt. Like all her work, the biography was written with a beautiful and authoritative lucidity.

“Though she wrote no major work after Buchan, she remained an industrious literary journalist … She remained intellectually alert and eager to read new work into extreme old age. …

“Based in England throughout her adult life, she nevertheless remained committed to Scotland and Scottish literature. Karl Miller was right in seeing her as being an heir of the Edinburgh Reviewers, for she was one of the last representatives of the Scottish Enlightenment, marrying clear and bold thinking to generous feeling.”

Books by Janet Adam Smith[edit]

  • (ed.) Poems of Tomorrow: An Anthology of Contemporary Verse chosen from The Listener, Chatto & Windus, London, 1935;
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, Duckworth, London, 1937;
  • Mountain Holidays, Dent, London, 1946, 2nd edn., Ernest Press, Glasgow, 1996;
  • Life Among the Scots, Collins, London, 1946;
  • Children's Illustrated Books, Collins, London, 1948;
  • (ed.) Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson: A Record of Friendship and Criticism, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1948;
  • (ed.) Robert Louis Stevenson: Collected Poems, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1950; 2nd edn., 1971;
  • (ed.) Faber Book of Children’s Verse, Faber and Faber, London, 1953;
  • (ed.) Michael Roberts: Collected Poems, Faber and Faber, London, 1958;
  • (ed.) The Looking Glass Book of Verse, Looking Glass Library, Random House, New York, 1959;
  • John Buchan: A Biography, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1965;
  • (ed.) The Living Stream: An Anthology of Twentieth-century Verse, Faber and Faber, London, 1969;
  • John Buchan and his World, Thames and Hudson, London, 1979;
  • An Autobiography, 1905–1926, with preface by Andrew D. Roberts, privately printed, London, 2005.

Translations by Janet Adam Smith[edit]

  • (trans.) R. Frison-Roche, First on the Rope: A Novel, Methuen, London, 1949;
  • (trans. jointly with Nea Morin) R. Frison-Roche, The Last Crevasse, Methuen, London, 1952;
  • (trans. jointly with Nea Morin) Maurice Herzog, , Cape, London, 1952;
  • (trans. jointly with Nea Morin) Bernard Pierre, A Mountain Called Nun Kun, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1955;
  • (trans. jointly with Nea Morin) G. Gervasutti, Gervasutti’s Climbs, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1957.

Other sources[edit]

  • Leonard Miall, "Obituary: Janet Adam Smith", The Independent, London, 13 September 1999.
  • John D. Haigh, entry in the, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition Oct. 2005.
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