• Sun. Jul 21st, 2024
Inverness Castle

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Flora Fraser’s talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival was less of a book event and more of a history lesson.  Fraser, who came across as a true and classy expert in her field, spent the hour detailing and narrating historical events, largely about Flora MacDonald’s life and the Jacobite rebellion that surrounded it.  For some attendees, the lesser focus on literature and the process of writing – what this Festival celebrates – may have been disappointing.  Those people would, however, have been a minority, for Fraser’s crowd of fans applauded uproariously as she stood up to make her way to the Book Signing Tent.

Flora MacDonald (1722-1790) is the historical figure after whom Flora Fraser, the bestselling historical biographer, is named.  MacDonald is most famous for helping Charles Edward Stuart evade government troops amid the disastrous aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1746.  “‘No well-behaved woman makes history,’ the saying goes – but this one did,” summarised interviewer Jenny Brown.  MacDonald may not have been a hardcore Jacobite fighter, but she did possess both charm and bravery which, respectively, won her many allies and saw her through many tough times. Fraser, in her new book Pretty Young Rebel, argues that there is so much more to MacDonald than the famous week when she helped Stuart, and that she is a figure deserving of our admiration.

Ironically, the talk did focus mostly on that famous week of MacDonald’s life and the historical context surrounding it despite Fraser’s prior assertion that her life was fascinating beyond that week.  She briefly touched upon MacDonald’s friendship with Dr. Johnson, her marriage, and the fact that she received pensions from people in high places, but most of the talk and the subsequent audience Q&A was (understandably!) focused on the famous part of MacDonald’s life.

To summarise very vaguely, Flora MacDonald was a woman with charm and sophistication who wrote her own story and stood up when she needed to.  Truly, a “pretty young rebel” in every respect.  Those who wish to discover more shall have to read Fraser’s book.  I would have preferred this interview to be focused slightly more on the book itself – e.g. Fraser’s process of writing, her background as a writer, why she loves books, etc. – rather than simply a narration of the book’s historical content, but she did use her platform to raise awareness of an underrated historical figure.  That can only ever be a good thing.

Image “Inverness Castle & Flora MacDonald Statue Inverness Scotland” by conner395 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

By Freddy Lowe

Former Literature Editor Writer and Editor for the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe Writer and Editor for the 2023 Edinburgh International Book Festival