Pretty Young Rebel by Flora Fraser

Pretty Young Rebel  The Life of Flora MacDonald by Flora Fraser was published by Bloomsbury recently, I borrowed it from the library. I hadn’t read anything by Flora Fraser before but apparently she is an award winning biographer, and I can see why.

About half of this book is set in the Highlands/Islands of Scotland and I must say that considering everyone knows that ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ did escape to safety the author manages to convey an atmosphere of tension, fear and danger. I don’t think I had realised before that it was Flora MacDonald’s step-father who had volunteered her for the job of helping the prince to escape. A job that no doubt none of the men wanted to do because if caught they would definitely have been executed.

I was impressed by the behaviour of the prince, he seems to have been brave and stoical, despite the hellish weather conditions that had to be endured during his long and hazardous journey before his escape.

I must admit though that it was the second half of the book which I was most interested in reading because it was only a few years ago that I realised that Flora MacDonald had emigrated to North Carolina – but had gone back home again after a few years.

Sadly Flora hadn’t chosen wisely when it came to getting married, her husband Allan was a complete liability, not that she ever seems to have complained about him. In theory he was a good bet, he was well educated  and certainly had good prospects, but his business plans always failed. He ran through all of Flora’s money and ended up being heavily in debt to many people.  With so many people in the Highlands and Islands emigrating to America Flora and Allan decided to join them.  Again Allan wasn’t wise in his business dealings, but what was worse was that the fighting between Crown and ‘rebels’ wasn’t long in arriving at their door and Allan had plumped to support King George. He went around gathering support on that side from other Highland emigrants and when a lot of the men ended up being killed both Allan and Flora were very unpopular with the widows and families.

After that ‘the rebels’ started attacking their farm and stealing anything they fancied including all the farm tools and hpousehold goods. It was time to go home to Scotland, which they did, with almost nothing to their name, and having to rely on the charity of old friends. Still,  Flora seems not to have been bitter about things, but maybe she just kept her thoughts to herself!

Anyway, this was a great read by an author who has in the past won prizes for her biographies.

Midwinter by John Buchan – The Classics Club

Midwinter cover

Midwinter by John Buchan was first published in 1927 and although this is historical fiction, with the setting being 1745 – yes it’s those Jacobites again – the book has a lot in common with Buchan’s ‘contemporary’ adventure fiction books. Alistair Maclean has been based in France with Charles Edward Stuart and his supporters, but he is now in England and is travelling up the country towards the Scottish army which is making its way towards London. On the way he meets up with some aristocratic English Jacobite supporters but not all is as it seems and Maclean realises that there’s some double dealing going on and he ends up being hunted down across the country.

Of course there has to be some romance, and Maclean has fallen for the young Jacobite wife of Norreys, but he’s just pretending to be on the Jacobite side and his wife would be horrified if she knew what her husband is really like. The character of Midwinter keeps a low profile for most of the book.

A young Dr Samuel Johnson appears as a tutor. Apparently Buchan had realised that Johnson was a Jacobite sympathiser and as his biographer Boswell had left a couple of gap years in his book on Samuel Johnson Buchan surmised that this was because Johnson had been busy with the Jacobite cause.

There’s an introduction by the Scottish novelist Allan Massie.

Anyway, I don’t want to say too much about this one as Jack intends to read it soon, when he does I’ll link to his review of the book. I enjoyed it anyway although I’m just about at saturation point as far as Jacobite settings go! This is one of the books which is in my third Classics Club list.