Susan here. The Word
Wenches are so pleased to welcome Dr. Euan Hague, associate professor of Geography
at DePaul University, to the blog today! Professor Hague has a special interest in
historical romance—-he's currently researching the phenomenon of Scotland-set literature
among the Scottish-American diaspora, focusing on novels written by authors exploring Scotland and Scottish culture in their work—which includes the wide array of Scottish romances.
Euan Hague is not only an
academician—he is a Scotsman transplanted to the U.S. Throughout his career he has closely studied the aspects and expressions of the
Scottish-American diasporic community. And, fancy words aside, it's apparent he’s becoming a proponent of Scottish historical romance.
A few months ago, Professor Hague
contacted me to talk about fiction set in Scotland–and Scottish romance–as part of his research for his essay in an anthology for
Edinburgh University Press regarding the Scottish cultural dispersion. Originally from Edinburgh, he left home to pursue an academic
career and is now Associate Professor of Geography at DePaul University. In addition to lecturing, he has collaborated on two books and is a regular contributor to
academic debates about American perceptions of Scotland. He has appeared
on both NPR and the BBC to discuss Scottish nationalism, identity and the
Scottish-American diaspora. He is on the Board of the St. Andrew's Society of
Illinois and in his spare time he is a keen soccer player and father
to two daughters.
Susan: Welcome to Word Wenches, Euan! We’re delighted that
you are joining us to share your research and your thoughts about Scottish historical romance.
Euan Hague: It’s great
to be here with the Wenches! And that's not a sentence I ever thought that I
would write during my academic career. 🙂 The one piece missing from my
puzzle is more reader input into the discussion. Some of the writers I
interviewed shared a few reader comments with me, which were fascinating, and I look forward to gathering more reader opinion today at Word Wenches.
SK: Tell us something about your project. How did you,
as a professor of Geography, become interested in Scottish historical romance
as an academic research topic?
EH: I moved to the United States to do my Ph.D. at Syracuse
University in 1994. When I arrived, everything seemed very foreign, but pretty
soon everyone was asking me about Scotland, after “Rob Roy” and “Braveheart”
came out in 1995. I remember going to see “Rob Roy” in the Carousel Mall movie
theater in Syracuse while wearing a kilt! As a Ph.D. student back in
the days before Google and iPads, I spent a lot of time in used book stores. As
I was researching my Ph.D. on Scottish-American views and representations of
Scotland, I began noticing romance novels with kilted Highlanders on the covers. I didn’t do any writing on it at that time, but the topic stuck
in my head and I thought that would be something interesting to look at in the future.
When I moved to Chicago to DePaul University, I had published a great
deal of my previous research in academic journals and had become known as the
‘Scots in the USA’ guy. That led Scottish journalist David Stenhouse to contact
me when he was visiting Chicago around 2005 or 2006, and he’d recently
published in the Scottish press about romance novels.
At the same time I was approached by University of
Edinburgh’s Berthold Schoene to write a chapter about Scottish writing in the
United States for The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature.
I decided to go back and look at those plaid-wearing Highlanders. I went to a used book store and picked up Sue-Ellen Welfonder’s
Devil in a Kilt, Julie Garwood’s The Wedding and The Secret, Julie Moffat’s The
Thorn and the Thistle and Janet Bieber’s Highland Bride. The result was a
chapter in Berthold’s book in 2007, but I always thought that there was enough
material for a sequel. When Duncan Sim asked me to contribute to his new
book on the Scottish diaspora, I took up the topic again–and now I’m thinking
of this could be a trilogy! I’m finding out that romance novels are both big business
and are really interesting in how they depict Scotland
People in Scotland
don’t really know about these romances, so it is a great topic to explore.
Why is all this Geography? Well, Geography has
changed a lot since people took it in third grade and learned state capitals!
Today, academic geographers examine how places and landscapes are constructed,
represented and understood. Why do places look like they do, and how are places
similar and different. This can mean conducting digital analysis of satellite
data showing deforestation, exploring urban planning and development policies
and their impacts on housing, learning about mountain and river formation or,
in this case, asking how literature depicts countries. It is a really exciting
field. Geography is a perspective, looking at things through the lens of place.
We do a bit of history, economics, sociology, literary studies, ethnic studies,
science, digital mapping, political science, international relations - a bit of everything!
SK: How are you going about the research? Have
you talked to authors, and are you reading Scottish romances and other
EH: I’ve been reading some of the books. Most recently I
finished Blythe Gifford’s Return of the Border
Warrior and as she lives here
in Chicago, I was able to meet and interview her. She recommended speaking with
Terri Brisbin, who I phoned and then picked up a copy of The Highlander’s
Silent Touch. I spoke with Margaret
Mallory, who kindly sent me a copy of The Warrior. Also, my colleague here at DePaul, Prof. Alec Brownlow, recommended I talk to a
friend of his family, Word Wench Susan Fraser King! So I called Susan too, but first
made sure to read Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland.
SK: (Thank you!) What does your research reveal about Scottish
literature and romance in particular?
EH: Of course, I’m finding that Highlanders are very popular, as
are feisty heroines, but I’m also learning that romance authors know more about
Scottish history than I do! When I was in High School in Edinburgh in the 1980s,
we were taught about Scotland after 1760, and my previous academic studies on
Scottish identity really explored the Jacobite period and the era of Walter
Scott, I’d say 1715-1822. Blythe knows more about Scotland in 1528-29 than
anyone I’ve ever met; and Susan as much about the 11th century!
Another thing I’ve been thinking about are those covers showing
muscle-bound shirtless men wearing a kilt and a strip of plaid over one
shoulder – you’d die of pneumonia wearing that outfit in Scotland! I was there
all last July and it rained every day. I never once saw the sun!
SK: What did you expect to find when you first began
the project — and has any result surprised you?
EH: I think that I expected to find what I’d call “tartanry”
stereotypes of Scotland – kilts, haggis, heather, lochs, castles – stirred into
somewhat formulaic romance plots. I certainly never expected time travel like
in Karen Marie Moning’s The Highlander’s Touch or detailed discussions of
medieval Scotland’s political and religious institutions as in Susan's mainstream historicals. I think the biggest
surprise has been the determination of the authors I’ve talked with to get
Scottish history right.
SK: With all that you're learning about romance — and having the advantage of being a kilted Scottish guy yourself — are you tempted to write your own Scottish romance?
EH: I have been. I wrote a chapter about a woman time travelling
from Chicago to historic Scotland, but now I think I don’t know enough about
Scottish history to be able to finish it!
SK: I think you'd do a great job–and just think how interesting your geography and landscape settings would be! What are some of your favorite places in Scotland?
EH: Well, I still have family and friends in Edinburgh, so I go
there every year and I love it. Seeing Edinburgh Castle, especially on a
late fall afternoon with a sprinkling of snow glistening in the sunset is just
a wonderful view. I like Greyfriar’s Churchyard in Edinburgh with all the
medieval gravestones. And being from Edinburgh means I’m meant to hate Glasgow — but the
Necropolis, People’s Palace and Kelvingrove there are great to visit. I also
went to the Island of Arran for the first time a few years ago and that was
spectacular. Typically when going
to the UK it means flying to London or
Manchester in England, so I love the
moment when the M6 highway crosses the border and becomes the M74, and then the
drive through small towns in the Borders and on up into Edinburgh always makes
me smile nostalgically.
SK: Now that you've looked at the interest in
Scottish-set romance from an academic standpoint — why do you think it is such
a consistently popular sub-genre?
EH: Ha! The million dollar question. The men in kilts? I know
how that works – I’ve worn a kilt! I think Scottish romances allow readers
to experience a different time and place, but one that is not so foreign that
it is difficult to understand. I think that using pre-modern Scottish clans also enables
an emphasis on family relationships and genealogy which I think attracts
readers both as romance fans and Americans. In my experience, genealogy is a
more popular interest here in the U.S. than it is back in Scotland.
SK: What's next for your research in Scottish romance?
EH: I’d love to
hear directly from your readers what they think of Scottish romance! Why do you like it (or not) — what are some of your favorites, and which books should I read next?
SK: Readers, authors, Wenches too — do you love Scottish romance, or do you not love it particularly … and why? Tell Prof. Hague what you think! He may want to use your comments in his chapter (if he does, we will contact you).
EH: Thanks, everyone –this is the most fun I've had writing an academic piece in a while. And thanks for inviting me to Word Wenches!
Tell us what you think about Scottish romance! And there's a prize in it for someone — I'll be sending one of my books to a reader chosen at random from among the commenters today and tomorrow.