The Scottish Studies Research Group at Stirling has settled into a regular fortnightly routine, and the standard of presentations thus far is inspiringly high. At our last meeting on 1 June, Dr Barbara Leonardi presented a compelling paper based on an article that will see publication later this month in Studies in Scottish Literature, entitled ‘James Hogg’s The Brownie of Bodsbeck: An Unconventional National Tale’. On a personal level, having known her for about five years, it was nice to finally see Dr Leonardi present her work!
Barbara is an Early Career Researcher working on the Stirling/South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg, and her presentation argued that Hogg’s thematic choices in the short novel The Brownie of Bodsbeck work to subvert the traditional national tale. As Barbara explained, the conventional national tale follows Edmund Burke’s conception that the bourgeois family should form a neat and instructive representation of the nation, and in this case, the British Empire. In this conception, peasants and women are figured as the infants of Burke’s family-nation. Walter Scott notably employs this marriage plot in Waverley, as an ideological reconciliation of Scotland and England. In Barbara’s reading, Hogg challenges this paradigm through numerous subversive choices of theme, event and character. Brotherhood becomes a central trope in place of romantic love, with Katharine’s Lowland father forming a bond with a Highland soldier. At the same time, Katharine herself doesn’t engage in marriage with the potential ‘hero’ of the novel, and takes no lover, further disrupting the key symbolic relationship of the national tale. Katharine is the agent and moral locus of the text, helping the Covenanters and thus transgressing an unjust law in defence of human rights.
Barbara went on to discuss the dialogue of the text, analysing the apparent dichotomy between Catherine’s faultless English and her peasant background, and the broad Scots of her father. While some reviewers were uncomfortable with this clash of voices, in Barbara’s reading this amounts to a Bakhtinian approach to ‘multivocality’ through which Hogg rejects the centre/periphery division of the imperial ethos and suggests a new, inclusive Britishness based on the validity of working class, rather than bourgeois, ethical values. In this way, Katherine becomes ‘a meritorious symbol for the Scottish nation’, and further exemplifies the way Hogg was thinking ahead of his times. Barbara’s compelling paper will be accessible online after its publication later this month
Typically for these Scottish Studies Research Group meetings, the presentation provoked a lively informal discussion of Hogg, the national tale, covenanting history, publishing and editorial factors in relation to Hogg’s work, and the emasculation of an Episcopalian priest (this latter point occurs in the text)! These discussions have become a real high point of the group’s meetings, often ranging across disciplines (this week literature, publishing, history…) and giving a real sense of interconnectivity between researchers. If you’re working in the field of Scottish studies, no matter the stage of your research, at Stirling or elsewhere, please do come along to the next meeting or get in touch via email; discussions are informal, welcoming, and usually inspiring. The date of the next meeting is to be confirmed, but will be publicised via the Twitter account of the Centre for Scottish Studies (@stirscotstudies). We hope to see you there.