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Living in the Past

In history, Reading on June 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm

First off, I must apologize for my sporadic posts. I really don’t follow a set schedule or topic pattern, which means that I write when an idea hits me. I’ll be sitting in the living room and suddenly think of a topic, or I’ll be reading a book and a thought will cross my mind, and I’ll think “that would make an interesting post.” So since my last post nothing’s really hit me. My week has been really uneventful….as usual. I think it’s important to point out that I am so bored that even my brain can’t think of a blog post topic I could write to take up my time. (Okay, so this post has been in my drafts for four years. I’m not quite sure exactly when I began it. But I thought I’d finish it now!)

Tonight, however, I read 300 something pages of An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, finally finishing it after starting it August of last year. Yes, a year ago. I’m never like that, I assure you. It’s just that it’s really hard to read in college! I don’t have any time for it, and so I had three books (One Day and two Gabaldon books) sitting on my adorable yellow Martha Stewart bookshelf in my dorm room all year long. For an avid reader, it made me very sad. But I finally finished it! Even though it’s really hard sometimes to start up on page 457 and expect to remember every little detail, character, and plot written in the previous pages.

This post will simply be a reflection of myself and my tastes in books and history (because I just thought of it and felt like writing about it).

Did any of you read Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction novels when you were a teenager? I believe she published the majority of them in the 80’s and/0r 90’s, but I found the re-printed Harcourt collection at Barnes and Noble when I was in middle school. She wrote stories that centered on the Salem trials, the American Revolution, and the Civil War, among others. Young females were always the protagonist. Her books made a huge impression on me as a young person. She didn’t start my obsession with history; I’m convinced I was born with that. But she wrote about the topics I was totally in love with. I wrote an essay about Rinaldi’s novels for an English class and had it posted on the hall bulletin board for everyone to see (I felt awkward).

I believe every reader has an experience like that– where you you find an author or book and it either transforms you or enhances a specific characteristic in yourself. For my mother, it was Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. For me, it was Ann Rinaldi (and I say it was her and not Jane Austen because early 19th century literature just didn’t affect me as a 14 year old as a contemporary Rinaldi book did…I’ll say it did later, and does, but not when I was 12, 13, 14).  In fact, her novels so made an impression on me that I found myself using antiquated terms spoken by the protagonists in her novels (I didn’t do it on purpose, I promise! At least my friends found it amusing and not creepy….thank goodness for small favors). I’ve never once looked up Rinaldi. I’m not quite sure if she’s still alive or not (is it odd I don’t want to know?). I did, however, print out nearly 100 pages of my mother’s nice printing paper with transcripts of the Salem witch trials for me to read through… I also kept a college-ruled notebook in which I painstakingly copied quotes or passages I found meaningful from Rinaldi’s books. Some of them, if they offered advice, I tried to apply in my own life (that’s sort of difficult for a young teenager, btw).

Anyway. As I was wrapping up An Echo in the Bone and verbally mourning the fact that I don’t have the next book in the series yet, I discovered just how acutely I was feeling for the characters and their present roles in the American Revolution. It’s one of my absolute favorite wars to study and so I naturally flock to any literature which takes place during that time (Rinaldi’s The Fifth of March was my favorite of hers. It takes place in Boston just before the official start of the Revolution). Picking up the Outlander series is like a veritable treasure chest of history since it spans the ’45 Jacobite Rising to the French Revolution to the American Revolution. Whoo!

But I realized tonight (and, sadly, not for the first time) that I longed for the chance to time travel backwards to those times I loved to study about in the present. I would think it’s every history major’s/lover’s dream to experience first hand the events or locations they study. I will be the first to admit it– I live in the past. I hold people accountable based on historic standards. A lot of my sense of morality comes from long established ways. I am in many ways a complete traditionalist, and that is because I live in the past.

It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Wishing so fervently for a chance to live in Charleston during the Revolution or Civil War will only break my heart in the end. I romanticize the past sometimes, and I know that is silly. I nearly attended graduate school to study the 18th-century British-Atlantic world so that I could force myself to fully understand the realities people lived through 300 years ago. Romanticizing and idealizing how people (strangers) lived is not only unfair to their realities but unfair to ourselves. No one should want to live in Charleston in the 18th and 19th centuries. The weather was hideous, life sucked if you weren’t wealthy and accepted in society, and there weren’t many opportunities for women (duh). Wearing pretty dresses would get old after the third day of forcing my stomach into a corset and placing the fourth layering of clothing on my sweating body before stepping out into Charleston’s sweltering, miserable heat (I live here, so I can say that).

Understanding the past allows us to place our own lives and experiences on a continuum. Once we grasp the economic forces that enabled 17th century Holland and its artists like Johannes Vermeer to establish the Dutch Golden Age of painting and trade; once we accept the sociology of post-war American architects who created new and startling architectural styles in houses and high rises as a way of coping with the effects of WWII; once we acknowledge the enormity of the decision for our great-great-grandparents to leave Ireland in the middle of the night with a note to their parents, jump on a ship, and travel the Atlantic to make a new life in New York City (my great-great-grandparents, if you haven’t picked up on that)–only then, do we appreciate our own place in time.

So, I loved Ann Rinaldi’s books as a teenager because I could fantasize living on a plantation in the midst of the Revolutionary War in Camden, South Carolina. Her books pushed me to study the war on my own time, reading chapters of textbooks we never got to in class and secreting away my mother’s research books to my room to memorize. Now, though, about a decade after first picking up one of her stories, I’ve graduated to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Her books are so detailed, descriptive, real, that they served as the perfect outlet for me to both fantasize and realize “life back then.” Until time travel really exists, it is only through extensive research and immersion into history that we can feel the past as tangible as the reality in front of us.

Have any of you had a meaningful experience with a book/author, whether you were young or old? What or who was it?

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Outlander: every girl loves a man in plaid

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2012 at 11:40 am

Last night I watched P.S. I Love You with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. I watched it around a year ago and couldn’t believe how much I cried over it. I really dislike crying during movies. Especially when you’re alone. With food. But I was in a mood all day and when I saw it was on TV, I had to turn it on. And then I cried again. Especially when it plays Flogging Molly’s “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.” The lyrics are so beautiful. But it and the movie reminded me of Jamie Fraser and Claire from the Outlander series from Diana Gabaldon (if you haven’t read it or know much about it, you might not want to read any further because I may give some things away from the series, and you really don’t want me to do that…)

There’s a beautiful quote Jamie tells Claire in one of the novels in which he says, “when the day shall come, that we do part, if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”

What a beautiful sentiment! I mean, come on. How more romantic could a person possibly get? And Jamie Fraser is also a Highlander, speaking in a Scottish brogue, while wearing various plaid clothing items. And strong hands. And an unrivaled heart. So, yeah, when I read that quote, I had to go write it down (I keep a journal of my favorite novel quotes) so I’d always remember it. And when I watched P.S. I Love You  tonight it made me think of him and the story.

So. Outlander. Who’s read it? Who hasn’t? (crazies.) Well, basically, if you need a refresher, Outlander concerns a Brit named Claire Randall who, during the 1940s, goes back in time to Scotland in the 1700s (I’m really not giving anything away, it says it on the back cover). I’m currently on An Echo in the Bone, and a part of me is slowly dying inside because I know as much as us Outlander fans want her to, Gabaldon cannot write the series forever. I mean, Claire and Jamie will have to die. Gabaldon will die, eventually (sorry, did I just get too morbid?). Trust me, I would love it if Jamie could suddenly become immortal and revert to his tweny-five year old self. But that won’t happen, and I have to face it. (WHY do some authors make us fall in love with their characters?? I know that makes them really good authors, but WHY? I want the Outlander series to live forever! Such is the life of a bookworm. Sad face.)

For the people who have read the series and loved it too, why do you think Jamie is such a likable character? Romance stories can be found anywhere, some bad and some good. But there’s something about Claire and Jamie’s that makes me pause every once in a while and think about how lucky and special they really are. The whole time travel aspect may have something to do with it. But only a little, I think! I know I’ve thought several times that if I could meet a real life Jamie (he doesn’t have to be a Highlander, I could survive if he was just a plain ole American….maybe…) I mustn’t let him get away. I think that the two of them are so perfect together, and their love really does transcend centuries. If Austen wrote in the 21st century, I wonder if Elizabeth and Darcy’s love would hold a flame to Claire and Jamie’s (and trust me, I’ve thought of this many times before, and how I’m practically betraying my favorite author in the whole world…I still love you Austen! I promise!)

Gabaldon writes scenes in which I am absolutely blown away at the emotion displayed in the scenes. Her scenes are so gritty at some times, and truly touching in others. They make her stories realistic. She is such a truly, truly talented author. Do I get a second? My mother’s had the good fortune to meet her several times and is always completely awed by her presence (I think it’s a little funny how there’s a hierarchy in the writer world). Honestly, if Gabaldon came out and professed that she knows so much about 18th century Scotland and such because she actually time traveled….I’d believe it. Seriously. Her writing is so descriptive, her images so colorful, that each book blows me away.

Isn’t it amazing how much a reader can feel for a fictional character? Such a cruel fate.

And, look, I’ll be honest. I’ve never been in love. And I don’t plan on being so in the near future. But I do know that if love ever tries to find me, I’ve got raised expectations from this series!

I’ve collected just a few of my favorite Outlander quotes (they’re from all of the series, not just the first book. And I cannot find them all because my journal is still packed away in all of my college belongings, and I know it would be fruitless to search for it now…I’ll probably find it when I’ve returned to my school in January, after the semester in St Andrews.)

“Blood of my blood,” he whispered, “and bone of my bone. You carry me within ye, Claire, and ye canna leave me now, no matter what happens. You are mine, always, if ye will it or no, if ye want me or nay. Mine, and I wilna let ye go.”

“Oh, aye, Sassenach. I am your master . . . and you’re mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.”

“Ye werena the first lass I kissed. But I swear you’ll be the last.”

“You’re tearin’ my guts out, Claire.”

“I stood still, vision blurring, and in that moment, I heard my heart break. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower’s stem.”

“Oh, Claire, ye do break my heart wi’ loving you.”

“Scots have long memories, and they’re not the most forgiving of people.”

“Hodie mihi cras tibi, said the inscription. Sic transit gloria mundi. My turn today, yours tomorrow. And thus passes away the glory of the world.”

 

Word of the Day: Soul— The spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part. The spiritual part of humans regarded in its moral aspect, auras believed to survive death and be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come: arguing the immortality of the soul. The disembodied spirit of a deceased person. The emotional part of human nature; the seat of the feelings or sentiments. A human being; person. (source: Dictionary.com)

Culloden: 1745. Culloden: 2010.

In A History on June 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Point of Information: I know you want to pronounce “Culloden” like cullllllllidin. with the emphasis on ‘Cull.’ It’s not. The Scottish pronounce it as culawden, with the emphasis on ‘oden.’

Also, Culloden is viewed by the Scottish people as a war grave. To my fellow Americans, stepping onto the Culloden battlefield would be like visiting Gettysburg, or Normandy. And since Scotland views it as a grave, you could also liken it to Arlington Cemetery. You don’t simply walk onto any of these places with a light spirit.

My family visited Culloden partially because we were staying in Castle Stuart, which is nearby. We chose Castle Stuart because my parents stayed there 13 years before, when my mother forced my dad to take her on an Outlander tour– I’m not kidding. When we were there in 2010 there were two elderly sisters who were staying at the castle for the same tour! I had never heard of Culloden or any battle, or even Bonnie Prince Charlie, until my mother made us (well, made my brother and father…I was all for it) go. And she didn’t know about it until she read Outlander. And I was extremely glad I visited not only for history purposes, but it also encouraged me to begin reading Diana Gabaldon’s series (I’ll get to that in my next post…this one is already long enough, don’t you think?)

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This photo is one that I took in June/July 2010. That day had strange weather, and my mother, with her proclivity to address anything odd to ghosts or spirits, said that it was because of the souls lost on the battle field of Culloden that we were standing on. To be honest, I had an eerie feeling the entire time we were there. When you first walk onto the Culloden land (which was not very far from our hotel, Castle Stuart), you have to go through the modern structure that serves as the museum. It had the typical museum shop complete with never ending plaid, thistles, and shortbread. Past that was a dark area, lit only by soft lights under the floor and against the walls which shown a dim glow on the timeline of Culloden. They make you read that first, so you know what you’re experiencing when you walk the battleground. It was quite silent inside, and the museum employees were very solemn. It hadn’t been raining that day, but, if you know anything about Scotland, you know that the weather can literally change in seconds. Image

The tour guide called together everyone in a soft but firm voice. He didn’t need to tell us, but he did anyway– he reminded us to be respectful of the tour. The Battle of Culloden resonates so strongly in the hearts of every Scot. It nearly decimated all clans. There was no clan in that battle who did not lose someone. The English soldiers behaved so brutally I almost can’t call myself an anglophile. They chased down survivors, smashing in their heads from the back. They killed and raped the females of the clans, the ones who couldn’t get away fast enough. They buried the Scottish dead, clad in their kilts and blood, in mounds on the battle ground. The mounds still exist, but of course they have grown over and the remains are not far from dust.

The ground looks pretty flat, and in most places it was– it had to be, to be considered a good battlefield. As soon as we stepped outside, it started to downpour. I was stupid and didn’t bring a rain jacket (I actually didn’t have one, but whatever.) And then, it resolved to a fine mist that swirled around us, patterning against my father’s windbreaker I was wearing. It was a weird mist, though. It made both my mother and I feel uneasy before she even voiced her belief that if was the ghosts (she’s not normally that crazy). The tour was quite silent, and the entire mood was very somber.The tour wound its way on a roped path around the battlefield. We listened intently to the story our guide told, and it was a tale of such tragedy and loss it’s hard to even repeat what he said and have it worth as much meaning as it was for me as I stood on the battlefield where so many Scots lost their lives and their hope.

Known as the last and final battle of the “forty-five uprising,” it took place on April 16, 1746 near Inverness, Scotland. The Jacobite followers of the Bonnie Prince Charlie fought British troops commanded by the Duke of Cumberland. It ended the Jacobite attempt to end the House of Hanover and instill the House of Stuart instead. The Jacobite cause was supported by the Kingdom of France. Each side had both Scottish and British troops (which I found interesting). The entire battle took place in under an hour.

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The saddest part about the Battle of Culloden is the fatalities on either side– nearly 2,000 Jacobites werekilled. Only 50 died on the British side. Fifty. The Duke of Cumberland earned the nickname “Butcher” because of this battle.

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The majority of the Jacobite forces were, in fact, Scottish Highlanders whose clans were Catholic or Scottish Episcopalian. Perhaps a point which led to the extreme number of deaths to the Jacobites was the lack of competency on their side. Most of their voices were volunteers, and therefore there were very little trained officers. Their weapons consisted of swords, axes, pitchforks, and scythes. Only a few had pistols. The Young Pretender’s officers wanted a different type of battle featuring guerilla warfare (they believed the Culloden terrain was not acceptable), but he refused. The rain on April 16th was also blowing directly in the faces of the Jacobites. As the British troops pummeled the front lines of the Jacobites, the Scottish morale began to suffer. Eventually, the Jacobite lines began to collapse which led to a definitive British victory.

The Jacobites began to retreat, and Prince Charles told them all was lost and to fend for themselves. He left Scotland and never returned.

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The day after the battle, the Duke of Cumberland issued an order that led to a search over the hills for Jacobite wounded, who were then killed. Jails were emptied of common men and replaced with captured Jacobites. What I remember the tour guide telling us is a bit different than what I could find on the internet, although I do not think he was lying. If I remember correctly, he talked about the brutal search for the retreating Jacobites, sometimes killing the females in the clans when they wouldn’t give their men up. I remember him telling us that some clans were entirely wiped out. After Culloden, kilts were outlawed by the Dress Act in 1746.

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My family stayed at Castle Stuart while we visited Culloden. As it was so close to the battle (and is in the same Stuart family), the castle owners have a story teller come to relate the story of Culloden.

Even today, the battle is still very present in the minds of the Scottish people. It is an amazing story, and three words to describe the Jacobites resonate in my mind– bravery, loyalty, and perhaps most of all, faith– faith in themselves, faith in their fellow clansmen, faith in the Bonnie Prince, faith in Scotland, and faith in the Jacobite cause.

 

Word of the day: Tartan–a woolen or worsted cloth woven with stripes of different colors and widths crossing at right angles, worn chiefly bythe Scottish Highlanders, each clan having its owndistinctive plaid. (Source: Dictionary.com)

A Valiant, if Failed Effort: Scotland and the Fight for the Restored Monarchy

In A History on June 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Currently, I am reading The Winter Sea, a book by Susanna Kearsley. It takes place in Scotland, in the year 1708. The eighteenth century was an incredibly tumultuous time for Scotland. The amount of change it experienced was incredible. In this particular year, a large group of Jacobites comprised of French and Scottish soldiers almost succeeded in saving their exiled king, King James, and restoring the monarchy. They failed, but the Jacobin efforts did not stop. It is a fascinating topic. I am not Scottish, but I’m quite interested in their history (I might as well become familiar with it if I’m supposed to be living there for 4 months.) Why is this topic a source of fascination to me? I promise, it is NOT because of Jamie Fraser, featured in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (although, really now, who could blame me?)

a quick summary of the Scottish resistance:

  • 1296 CE- Edward I of England invades Scotland. Scottish resistance begins.
  • Fighters like William Wallace and Robert the Bruce champion for Scotland’s independence
  • 1314 CE- Battle of Bannockburn
  • Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587, Catholic) descends from the Stewart line (cousin to Queen Elizabeth I. She was also imprisoned by her cousin. And executed. Harsh.)
  • She gives birth to James (1566-1625), heir to the childless Queen Elizabeth I (of England)
  • This James I and VI is now king of Scotland AND England
  • His son Charles I (1600-1649) gets beheaded by Cromwell when he assumes too much power and disbands Parliament
  • This ensues a Civil War that lasts for years in England. Cromwell rules during this
  • England wants their kings back
  • They have Charles I’s son, Charles II (1630-1685, still a Stewart) to rule
  • His brother James II  and VII (1633-1701) ascends the throne when Charles II dies in 1685
  • Point of Information: James is Catholic. The English really don’t like Catholics at this point in time. The English think he’ll use his Catholic powers to be friends with the King of France, also Catholic, who also happens to be the number one enemy of the English
  • King James’s daughter, Mary, is married to William of Orange, who is Protestant
  • But before they can have William and Mary rule, Mary’s father (King James) gives birth to a son (1688-1766, the Old Pretender)with his new wife!
  • Point of Information: Legitimate son=HEIR!
  • This scares the Protestant loving English, so they start a rumor that the child isn’t really James’, and therefore he isn’t a true heir
  • This starts a lot of problems within England that leads to
  • King James, wife, and son fleeing to France
  • 1688- the GLORIOUS REVOLUTION, with (the Protestant) William and Mary ascending the throne
  • Back to Scotland– they’re split between Presbyterians happy with Mary ruling (she is Scottish) and those who agree her half brother, the little heir, is the true ruler (because males are put higher than females in the line of succession)
  • The latter group is the one who wants King James VII back. They become JACOBITES. This means followers of James (Latin for James is Jacobus) 
  • Scotland suffers during the time of William and Mary– their fields produce terrible harvests so Scotland is starving to death. England puts so many laws and tariffs on them that their trade suffers drastically
  • King William, after Mary dies, fears that upon his death Scotland will bring back a Stewart (King James or his new son, also named James)
  • Scotland and England used to be joined as one monarchy way back in the day, so William believes creating an act of Union that will make Scotland and England one, and so he can continue having Protestants ruling on the throne
  • When he dies Mary’s sister and daughter of King James, Anne, becomes Queen. She believes her half brother is really her half brother, but her council persuades her to choose her new successor (she was childless) from the German House of Hanover (does that last name ring a bell?)
  • Scotland refuses to accept this. They have their own parliament at this time, and declare that they won’t accept the Hanoverian claim on the throne unless Scotland is free to ignore foreign policies that don’t agree with Scotland’s interests
  • England retaliates with the ALIEN ACT—unless Scotland discusses the Union with England, every Scottish person living in England would be become an alien, and all Scottish owned estates in England would be taken back.
  • Scotland decided to talk
  • 1707 CE—Act of Union joined the parliaments of England and Scotland and formed the Parliament of Great Britain. It confirmed the Hanoverian (Protestant) succession to the throne
  • 1708 CE—failed Jacobin uprising (Where The Winter Sea takes place) 
  • 1715 CE—another failed Jacobin uprising
  • 1745 CEBonnie Prince Charlie, aka Charles Edward Stuart arrives in Scotland and creates a Jacobin rising. He has some success, but the Jacobin fight was viciously ended as the English brutally murdered nearly all clans in Culloden (where Outlander takes place). My next post will be about the Battle of Culloden (which I have visited) and Outlander.

If I haven’t bored you so much already that you’ve stopped reading my post, you can see that Scottish history is quite complex, bound quite unwillingly to England. When my family visited England and Scotland in 2010 (my choice!), I remember the Customs Guard at Heathrow Airport asking us where we were headed. When I told him Scotland, he looked up and he said, “Ahh! Why in heavens’ name would you want to go there? There’s nothing over there!” He said it jokingly, and my father laughed, but a history as rich as it is is still felt by people today. Perhaps not with the vigor of the Scots and English back in the day, but they are certainly aware of it, and are aware of the feelings of betrayal and loyalty that lived in both England and Scotland for hundreds of years.

Word of the Day: Divine Right of Kings- a doctrine of political and royal legitimacy. A monarch receives his right to rule directly from God and is subject to no authority on earth (meaning the will of the people or the church). Strongly promoted by King James I and VI in England. Mostly associated with the House of Tudor and the House of Stuart. It was abandoned with the Glorious Revolution.