Edwin Muir was born in Deerness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, in May of 1887. He was the youngest of six children was initially raised on a farm before his family moved to the island of Wyre and then later the mainland of Orkney. His parents were farmers and when he was fourteen his father lost the family farm. This forced the Muirs to make another move to Glasgow where they hoped to secure their finances.
The move to Glasgow, from agricultural life to an industrial one, was extremely hard on the family. Within a few years, Muir’s father, mother, and two brothers died. These losses, added to the succession of poor jobs made his youth an unhappy one. He spent time working in factories and offices. The work was psychologically destructive to the young man but helped to inform Muir’s later poetic works. It was in 1913 that he began to write poetry, some of which was soon published in New Age. The passion seemed to drain from this pursuit quickly though and he turned to journalism.
A few years later, in 1919, he married Wilhelmina Anderson who was a teacher and linguist. The two moved to London together. Muir would later speak on his marriage as being the most important thing in his life. He and his wife would work together on a number of translations throughout the coming years, including Kafka, (those for which he is best-known). In the early 1920s, the couple lived in a number of different cities throughout Europe. In 1924 they returned to the UK where Muir began seriously publishing.
The translations that Muir and his wife worked on together became their main source of income. This was particularly helpful during the beginning of the second world war. The two worked on translating the works of Gerhart Hauptmann, Heinrich Mann, Hermann Broch, and more. This time period also saw Muir’s reputation as a critic grow. He wrote Latitudes and The Structure of a Novel. In 1927 Muir published his first novel, The Marionette.
Later Life and Death
The 1930s saw Muir begin a series of projects which included a number of travel and history-related works for Scottish Journey, a biography, and two autobiographical novels. In 1941 he accepted a position with the British Council and moved to Prague and Rome. The following years were highly productive and included his eventual naming as the warden of Newbattle Abbey College. His final collection was published in 1956 and he died in Cambridge in 1959.