Kiss Me! I'm Scottish!

Hi friends!

I just finished reading Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware, and I have to say it: it's probably one of the best books I have ever read. It's a historical romance about Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon, who is famous in the Scottish history books, though no biography has ever been written about her. I suppose, even though it is a novel, Island of the Swans is as close as one can get.

Jane Maxwell was quite a character. She lived in Scotland, growing up in Edinburgh just before the American Revolution. There's a wonderful amount of historical detail in the book, and it gives the reader a British point of view; more importantly, it reveals the tension between the Scots and the English, which was something I was unaware of until I read this book. The Scottish were (are) intense people, extremely proud and, in the 18th century, what some might call unsophisticated; I prefer to use the term "independent". They fought for no one but themselves, and it was this pride that got Jane, her friend Thomas, and their loved ones in quite a bit of trouble.

Jane was fiercely independent- beautiful, but decidedly non-traditional, and she spent her childhood playing outside, racing pigs in the streets of Hyndford's Close, with her best friend Thomas Fraser. The novel covers more than thirty years of her life, and you can't help but form a deeply emotional attachment to the relationship between the two of them. Jane gets in an accident at a young age, where her right forefinger is cut off, and Thomas takes her home to see that she's taken care of. Unfortunately, Jane's mother wants to see Jane's friendship with Thomas come to an end, as does Thomas' godfather, Simon, who wants to see his young charge reclaim the Fraser lands and, with them, his family's noble titles.

When the American revolution begins, Thomas, who promises to marry Jane upon his return, is sent off to fight in the colonies. Months later, Jane finds out that he's been killed. The Duke of Gordon- Alexander- begins to try and court her, and it's easy to see how they might make a good match. Alex had once loved another girl, who bore him a child and then died, and so he understood Jane's heartache. Just weeks after the wedding, Thomas, whom everyone thought had died at the hands of the American natives, returns home to Scotland and to Jane.

These few scenes were heartwrenching because I had watched Jane mourn and slowly open her heart again, only to realize that Thomas was alive all along while she had married another man. Though much of the book is rooted in fact, I was so happy to discover that this part of the story was actually true (even though I can't imagine experiencing something so difficult). In both the novel and real life, Jane was on her honeymoon tour when she received a letter from Thomas, telling her that he was coming home. She fled, shocked with grief, and Alexander found her on a bench, nearly incoherent. Some even thought she had gone mad. She basically had to mourn for Thomas all over again. Alexander who, unlike so many dukes in other novels of this period, is actually a good man, and he adores Jane. But as much as I rooted for him, even after he falls victim to his insane jealousy, and cheered for Jane when she fought to stay faithful to him, I wanted nothing more than to see her with Thomas.

Over the course of more than three decades, Jane builds a family with Alex, who never gets over his envy of Thomas, and thrives in the arenas of politics, military recruitment, and business, despite being a female in the 18th century. She was a strong woman, and what I loved about Ciji Ware is that she made her characters authentic in the sense that they were multi-faceted. In literature, it can be easy to create flat characters for the sake of using them to propel the plot forward. Jane's marriage to Alexander could have been one-dimensional, the type that readers practically scream for her to leave without ever looking back. But fate threw Jane, Alex, and Thomas together in a way that was cruel and twisted, and I wanted to see each of them happy. Of course, with a story that complicated, we know that happiness is probably not in the cards...especially if you did your research as you read the novel and found out certain facts about Jane's later life (*guilty!). But Ware created a beautiful ending to a beautiful story, and, as I said yesterday, I went back and re-read the entire final chapter just so I wouldn't have to be finished with Jane.

As a bit of a digression (but on a somewhat related note) I'm Scottish and I've been trying to find out more information about my 4th great-grandfather for the last three years. I know a pretty good amount regarding his son, John Gillian Barclay, who was born in 1829 and was the first in my paternal line to come to America. He came to New York and moved to Alabama, where he was married three times (widowed twice; my family comes from his third wife who, I've been told, was the daughter of black woman and a white man and worked as a nurse). He's buried near Rome, GA, and I've been to his grave. Strangely, he isn't buried with any other family, and that strikes me as odd. He had six children! It could be for a variety of different reasons, but there is a great deal of mystery surrounding his life in the States. I've heard he was involved with the mob in NY and fled to Alabama, and I've also heard that he was enlisted in the Union army and captured here in the south, where he stayed after the war. One thing is for sure: John Gillian's father never left Scotland, and I want to find out if he had any other children. If he did, that means I probably have (fairly close) relatives in Scotland. It's a good thing Scots have some of the best genealogical records in the world! I'm desperate to know more about my Scottish heritage. Who knows? Maybe I'm related to Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon!


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