James Hogg’s Unconventional National Tale

NEIL SYME

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%27s Picture for Blog.1

Dr Barbara Leonardi

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.

s048Barbara 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.

Stirling PhD student wins prestigious Ross Roy Medal

Barbara Leonardi with medal

Many congratulations to Barbara Leonardi, winner of the 2014 Ross Roy Medal for the top PhD thesis in the field of Scottish Literature during the past year. The award was announced earlier this evening at the Saltire Literary Awards at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh.

Dr Leonardi’s thesis, ‘An Exploration of Gender Stereotypes in the Work of James Hogg’, was completed at Stirling under the supervision of Dr Suzanne Gilbert. Her project employs politeness theory and literary pragmatics to examine Hogg’s linguistic and thematic choices, with particular attention to issues of chastity, marriage and Scottish masculinity. The project casts new light on Hogg’s ‘obstinate’ violation of gendered literary proprieties of the period (which discouraged frank treatment of prostitution, infanticide and the violence of war). A published article derived from the project can be found here.

Barbara Leonardi and Prof Alan Riach, who presented the award

Dr Barbara Leonardi and Professor Alan Riach, who presented the award

The medal is awarded by the Universities Committee on Scottish Literature. Dr Scott Lyall, Chair of the judging panel, commented that ‘Leonardi’s writing is beautiful, and she shows real conceptual and socio-historical nous in opening up Hogg’s writing to a feminist and postmodern analysis’. Dr Leonardi will shortly join the team at Stirling completing the Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg.  An AHRC-funded PhD opportunity attached to this project can be found here. Our warm congratulations to Dr Leonardi for this well-deserved accolade!