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
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 Scottish-set books?
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?
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?
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.