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English and Film Studies


No Mean City (1935) by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long is one of the most influential Glasglow novels of the twentieth century. Christopher Whyte argues that ‘more than perhaps any other novel’, No Mean City has ‘succeeded in imposing itself as a lasting representation of life in the city’.1 Ian Spring agrees: ‘Whatever view we take of No Mean City... it was to introduce a theme [of poverty and crime] that would not go away and, in doing so, perhaps constituted the thirties’ major contribution to the mythology of Glasgow and set an agenda for subsequent discussion of the nature of representations of teh city.’2 Manfred Malzahn sees No Mean City as a legitimate part of the ‘legacy of the 1930s’ which helped to create ‘new possibilities and possible trappings for those who followed.’3 Moira Burgess acknowledges the book as one of the ‘icons’ of Glasgow fiction, and calls for a more serious and sustained investigation of the novel, whose ‘importance has not been widely recognised... by later critics; very few writers on Glasgow fiction mention it at all.’4 She suggests that its ability to merge fact with fiction, and its sensationalistic descriptions of Glaswegian slum life may have something to do with the book’s endurance.5 As she points out, ‘Fact, fiction, sensationalism, sober description: the whole question of No Mean City and its shadow awaits further examination in terms of Glasgow myth.’6

No Mean City’s influence, however, is not limited to Glasgow novels and short stories; its impact on Edinburgh fiction, for instance, extends its significance as novel and cultural icon. This article reconsiders McArthur and Long’s treatment of class and gender ideology, and its effect on the representation of working-class masculinity and femininity in modern Scottish urban fiction.


This article was originally published in Scottish Studies Review, 4(1): 112-125. Reproduced with permission