Violet Jacob – Flemington (1911)
- Donald Smith
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of All Time
Flemington is a finely wrought historical adventure written by a poet. It belongs to a Scottish tradition reaching from Scott through Stevenson and John Buchan, who described Flemington as 'the best Scots romantic novel since The Master of Ballantrae'. This book is distinctive by being rooted in Angus and its location makes it an important regional novel; Montrose was strongly Jacobite and the House of Balnillo in the book is based on the House of Dun which belonged to Violet Jacob's family. An intimate sense of landscape based on knowledge of place, character and speech pervades the novel.
Jacob combines poetic sensibility with clear structure, action and pace. This makes Flemington an accomplished demonstration of appropriate form, animated by prose of a high quality: 'He was almost in darkness, for the port looked northward, and the pale light barely glimmered through it, but he could just see a spurt of white leap into the air midway across the channel, where a second shot had struck the water. As he rushed on deck a puff of smoke was dispersing above Dial Hill. Then another cloud rolled from the bushes on the nearest point of Inchbrayock Island, and he felt the Venture shiver and move in her moorings.'
Thematically, Flemington reworks the classic conflict of Whig versus Jacobite in religious, political and psychological terms. Humanity is obscured by warring factions, but not lost because Jacob grounds these divisions in rounded and convincing character studies. Flemington himself is a divided yet humane protagonist, moving amidst a subtly portrayed rogues' gallery that includes Skirling Wattie, a dogged local survivor, the formidable plotter Christine Flemington, and the evasive, self-interested landowner David Balnillo. Flemington is a brightly faceted jewel in the literary crown, richly coloured, resonant with poetic depths, and intensely readable.
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