Appropriately, perhaps, my first Buchan of the Month for 2020 is John Buchan’s first published novel, Sir Quixote of the Moors. You can find out more about the project and my reading list for 2020 here. What follows is an introduction to Sir Quixote of the Moors. I will be publishing my review of the book later this month.
Sir Quixote of the Moors was published by T Fisher Unwin in the UK and by Henry Holt & Co in the US in October 1895, by which time Buchan was in his first year at Brasenose College, Oxford to which he had won a scholarship. He had started writing the book whilst in his last year at Glasgow University and the book is dedicated to his tutor, Gilbert Murray.
In early signs of the industrious nature which would be his lifelong habit, Janet Adam Smith, Buchan’s first biographer, quotes him recording, “I would do a few sentences in the morning while waiting for breakfast, a few more at the Union, and more at night in the intervals of my College work.”
Janet Adam Smith reports Buchan was annoyed his publisher changed the title from simply Sir Quixote, adding ‘of the Moors’ apparently to fall into line with the fashion in titles at the time. He was even more annoyed when his US publisher changed the ending quite fundamentally!
Although detecting echoes of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Catriona or Kidnapped (Buchan was an ardent admirer of Stevenson), Adam Smith is unimpressed with the book describing its construction as ‘rather clumsy’ and the writing ‘rather precious’. Buchan scholar, David Daniell, is a little more generous, describing it as ‘a little masterpiece’ praising the balance ‘between motion and stillness, between wild and temperate weather, between outdoor and indoor, harsh and beautiful, older and younger, male and female’.
No sales figures are available for the book and at the time Janet Adam Smith’s biography of John Buchan was published in 1965, Sir Quixote of the Moors was one of the few Buchan novels not to have been published in paperback.
Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 )
David Daniell, The Interpreter’s House: A Critical Assessment of John Buchan (Nelson, 1975)
Kenneth Hillier and Michael Ross, The First Editions of John Buchan: A Collector’s Illustrated Biography (Avonworld, 2008)