Revisting Jane Maxwell

June 14, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

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In revisiting something this writer penned two decades earlier, it was invigorating to think about the qualities of my heroine in Island of the Swans– Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon—and the qualities in  her that I so admired…and to evaluate whether my portrayal was truly a close characterization of her.

I think I portrayed her as near reality as a writer could while still remembering to be a “storyteller”—which is the first duty of historical novelists, in my view.  The issue with Jane Maxwell was that she was the subject of a great deal of backbiting and public tittle-tattle in her day due to her unorthodox habit of participating in the politics and policies of her era.  The image on the left is a painting of her recruiting to enlist her fellow countrymen in The Gordon Highlanders regiment—an activity thought to be “forward” and “unladylike.” There were even political cartoons by Whig sympathizers disparaging her character as an overly-ambitious mama, and having multiple lovers, a fact the record simply doesn’t support.  I felt it was partly my duty to set the record straight, and I did this by reading correspondence and documents that had not been taken from the shelves of Scottish and English libraries in more than one hundred years!  So I’m never surprised to hear from critics who either think I unfairly portrayed her “warts and all,” or from those who don’t believe I properly castigated this “uppity female” for being a woman who wanted to chart her own course in life, regardless of the men in her life or the mores of her day.

Kilted SoldierWhat I most admire about Jane, Alex, and Thomas was their courage and steadfastness throughout three decades of tumultuous world events and private upheavals and tragedy.

As for the question of whether  Jane Maxwell and Thomas Fraser were lovers in reality?

In all the accounts of Jane’s love affair with her childhood sweetheart—with many relevant documents most likely destroyed by her family or disposed of after her death—the name of her life-long love could never be pinned down with total certainty. That there was such a person who fought in the Black Watch regiment in America during the French and Indian War and who later joined the 78th Fraser Highlanders to fight in the American War of Independence, there is little doubt.  I combed the records of the Fraser Highlanders and picked out Lt. Thomas Fraser whose biography matched up with the dates, regiments, events, and associations between the Frasers of Struy, Simon Lovat of Fraser, and their rivals, the Dukes of Gordons—all hailing from the Scottish Highlands region.  Luckily, I’m a novelist, not a biographer, so I get to make those choices and my choice was Lt. Thomas Fraser of Struy.


2 Responses to “Revisting Jane Maxwell”
  1. Mary Jane Mccamnt says:

    Dear Ciji,
    How graceful you are in your wonderful story about Jane. The pig race will forever be stuck in my mind and I have gone on to tell the story to my grandchildren who are now in college. It is a gift to tell a story your characters are fresh never boring they make me cry, laugh, and sometimes frustrated and angry they have kept me up late at night turning the page for more. You have inspired many to follow you in writing. I believe it is inherent in the Scot’s to tell a lively colorful story and to pass it on to the next generation. So your books are passed on to my daughters and their daughters who are patient with me when I explain romance. As if I knew anything about it. LOL

  2. Lisa Napier says:

    I love Island of the Swans and Jane Maxwell so much. I have read it dozens of times. It is one of the few books that sucks me in so deep I forget that I’m not in 18th century Scotland. I really hope she had a Thomas Fraser in her life!

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