In a time of far-reaching social changes John MacDougall Hay, a Church of Scotland minister, set out to point a finger at the dangers of the rising spirit of materialism and individualism by portraying a Highland merchant's rise and fall. This was an attack on the long-dominant Kailyard school of fiction and its views of God and mankind. The study begins by examining the major areas of conflict in Victorian Scotland and shows how Hay used the Highlands
v. Lowlands dichotomy to convey the clash between traditional community ways and the newly-emergent materialism. Differences and similarities between
Gillespie, the Kailyard, and George Douglas Brown's
The House with the Green
Shutters are discussed. The detailed analysis of Hay's novel indicates its crucial position in modern Scottish literature, and many of the conflicts it deals with are shown to have reappeared in more recent fiction.