Lost Causes

When I’m not reading history essays and biographies, I like a good mystery (I also like a good historical romance, but that’s a story for another time).  Today’s read is by an author who I’ve read before, Sharyn McCrumb, but a series I have not, starring one Elizabeth MacPherson. I’m reading the first in the series, Sick of Shadows (first published 1984).

There is a point fairly early in the book (page 47 in my copy), where Elizabeth is teased by her cousins for  knowing so much about the history of the MacPhearson clan and their participation in the ’45, fighting with “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” Her cousin Geoffrey comments:

“I congratulate you on your originality,” purred Geoffrey. “It seems you have been unable to escape the Southern weakness for lost causes, but at least you managed to avoid the conventional one. I would rather hear you go on about the Scottish Alamo than to hear about the Confederacy.”

This comment, made though it was by a fictional Southern cynic, gave me pause. I am a Southerner, in case I’ve not mentioned that before (North Carolina, in case you were wondering), and yet I have no great fondness for lost causes. Underdogs, certainly, but that can be put down to the influence of Robin Hood and being a geeky child in general. I confess that I don’t view the Confederate cause as a great Romantic story; but then, I also find Lord Byron rather trying and suspect I would be likely to tread on his foot if I’d ever met him at a party.  Likewise, I see nothing ‘bonnie’ about Charles Edward Stuart’s character, although he certainly was handsome and charismatic when campaigning with the elite of Edinburgh.

The men who fought in both armies interest me, and the women who traveled with them. Both armies contained people who had been disenfranchised, and I wonder what they hoped the future would bring if they won. How the wars affected the lives of ordinary people, the long-term impact, interests me far more than the movements of units or the personalities of the figureheads.

Sometimes my lack of passionate interest in the Civil War and the cause of Bonnie Charlie makes me wonder just what kind of Southerner and Scottish-descended-American I am. Perhaps a new generation, one with a different romantic outlook than the past. Or perhaps the kind who has always preferred Robin Hood and Little John to King Richard and his Crusaders. Or simply one who also happens to be a social historian.

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