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The Three Perils of Woman

Hogg Three Perils Woman title page.jpg

The Three Perils of Woman is a three volume work of one novel and two linked novellas by Scots author and poet James Hogg. Following its original publication in 1823, it was omitted from Victorian editions of Hogg’s ‘’Collected Works’’ and re-published only in 2002.


Plot summaryEdit

The three Perils are Love, Leasing (an old Scots term for Lying) and Jealousy.


This, which takes up the first two volumes, is set in about 1820 and is the story of Agatha (Gatty) Bell, the daughter of Daniel Bell, a sheep farmer in the Scottish Borders (as was Hogg). Gatty meets and falls in love with M’Ion, a Highland aristocrat. Her feelings are reciprocated, but because of both parties’ extreme reticence and distaste for exposing their emotions, each comes to believe that the other detests them.

Gatty, who is in Edinburgh with her old nurse (governess), living in an apartment in the same house as M’Ion, demands that her father take her home. He complies, and M’Ion proposes to and is accepted by Gatty’s friend Cherubina (Cherry) Elliot. By various shifts, Cherry is persuaded to relinquish M’Ion to Gatty, and M’Ion to declare his true love. Gatty and M’Ion are married, but Gatty becomes convinced that she is to die on a certain day. A supernatural element now enters the story. On the appointed day, Gatty falls into a form of suspended animation. She is taken to Edinburgh, where she recovers a degree of consciousness and activity and gives birth to a son, but has no memory of her prior life. She remains in this state for three years and on returning to her former mind, is astonished to find herself the mother of a two-year-old son. M’Ion and her friends gently re-introduce her to the real world, and her story ends happily.

A lengthy comic sub-plot concerns Richard Rickleton, a good-natured but uncouth and impetuous farmer. Brought to Edinburgh as a suitor for Gatty when M’Ion is out of favour, he commits various solecisms, and when M’lon and his friends - incited by the mischievous Joseph, Gatty’s brother - raise subjects of conversation which unwittingly offend him, becomes violent, and ends up in jail. Still enraged, he challenges M’Ion and his two friends to duels, in one of which he wounds M’lon - the others not caring to face his anger. While ostensibly Gatty’s suitor, he also pays court to Katie M’Nab, whose forward manners are in complete contrast to Gatty’s, not to mention to two prostitutes who he does not recognise as such.

After the end of Gatty’s story, Rickleton’s is completed. He marries Katie but three months later she leaves him to visit Edinburgh. He follows her and discovers she has just given birth to a child not his own. After a ludicrous pursuit of Katie’s seducer, involving mistaken identity and other errors, Rickleton decides to divorce Katie. However on one last visit, he forgives her and accepts the child as his own.


This novella is set just before the Battle of Culloden (1746) in which the Jacobite forces were defeated and scattered by forces loyal to the Hanoverian Kings of England. Sally Niven is an attractive and virtuous young woman, servant to the sanctimonious minister of her parish, and in love with Peter Gow the smith. Peter inadvertently shoots dead a man who is conducting an illicit burial in the churchyard, and Sally concocts a lie that he was preventing a grave-robbery, which enables him to escape punishment. She is less successful with another lie: after her master, who has been terrified by being arrested and released, insists that she keep him company all one night, she tells Peter she was visiting elsewhere. But he has eavesdropped on them and so catches her in her lie. Their impending marriage is broken off.

The historical backdrop is the manoeuvres leading up to Culloden. Hogg places the action almost between the lines, in a menacing atmosphere of suspicion, allegations of treason and summary punishment without regard to guilt. In a humorous sub-plot, Gow and a few followers rout a large body of pro-Hanoverian troops who mistake them in the dark for an army, panic and flee.


The final and shortest tale is set after Culloden and again has Sally and Peter as protagonists. Sally has married Alexander (Alaster) M’Kenzie, a noble Highlander who is proscribed by the English. They lose contact and set out to find each other. By mischance, they do so at a place where M’Kenzie’s cousins live, and Sally mistakes his affectionate leave-taking of his cousin for lovemaking, assumes he has taken another lover and flees.

Meanwhile Peter, who has in the interim married an older woman, and is also a fugitive, meets with Sally. Aware that she is married, he does not offer her any familiarity, but escorts and protects her. This is misinterpreted by a witness who tells M’Kenzie that she has gone back to her old lover. M’Kenzie and Peter meet at an isolated cottage, both sure that the other has done them a mortal wrong. They fight and seriously wound each other. While they are recovering, Peter’s wife betrays them to the British, who kill them out of hand as Jacobite traitors. Sally returns to the neighbourhood of Culloden and gives birth to a daughter, but her mind gives way and she wanders off. She and the infant are frozen to death.

Style and ThemesEdit

In spite of the unrelieved tragedy of its third part, ‘’Three Perils’’ contains more comedy than Hogg’s better-known Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. In the first two stories, Hogg introduces buffoons (Rickleton, the minister, Daft Davie Duff the sexton) who provide comic relief. Humour also arises from the attempts of speakers of English, Scots and Gaelic to communicate. Hogg uses the conventions of the time to render the English pronunciation of Gaelic speakers. Hasler and Mack [1] note that some of this is true-to-life (e.g. consonantal shifts so that “By God!” becomes “Py Cot!”) while other conventions have no basis in phonetics.

Gatty's loss of awareness and/or memory is paralleled by that of Robert Wringhim in Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Wringhim discovers that he cannot account for six months of his life, in which by others' accounts he has been living a dissolute and vicious existence. In that case, however, the responsibility is apparently that of his alter ego Gil-Martin.

As a Lowland Scot, Hogg’s attitude to the Jacobite Rebellion is ambivalent. He recognises the virtues of the Highlanders and deplores the brutality of the English reprisals under the Duke of Cumberland, but towards the end of the book suggests that this is Divine retribution for the atrocities committed on the Low Church Covenanters of southern Scotland by Highlanders in the 17th century.

The notorious Highland Clearances were in full swing in the period of action of ‘’Love’’, but are peripheral to its action, set in Edinburgh and the Borders. However Daniel’s comment that he could make Highland estates profitable echoes the Clearances, in which small tenants were evicted to allow large-scale sheep farming.

The work contains many Biblical allusions, which would have been more familiar to its contemporary readers than those of the present day.

Editions and critical receptionEdit

The work was first published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green in London in 1823, in three volumes. The British Magazine declared "we are glad to see that they are considerably better than those which have immediately preceded them."[2]

It appears[1] that Hogg wished it published in four volumes, a format popularized by his more famous contemporary, Sir Walter Scott. The work was subsequently omitted from Hogg’s canon by Victorian editors. A possible reason [1] is censorship, as Hogg dealt in a matter-of-fact way with issues such as prostitution and illegitimacy, which were still widely seen as unsuitable subjects for fiction when Wilkie Collins broached them 40 or more years later. The only clergyman to appear is ridiculed as a sanctimonious hypocrite, and Hogg draws no explicit moral from the vices of his characters. ‘’Confessions’’ was incidentally heavily bowdlerised by its Victorian editors.[3]

The modern (2002) edition was prepared as part of a joint project of the University of Stirling and the University of South Carolina. It is published by Edinburgh University Press, and is available in a scholarly edition and a popular edition with notes and background for the general reader.

Hasler and Mack [1] argue that Three Perils is of high quality and deserves to stand with the author’s Confessions in terms of critical acclaim.

Further readingEdit

  • Leith Davis; Ian Duncan; Janet Sorensen (24 June 2004). Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 130–. ISBN 978-1-139-45413-1.


  1. ^ a b c d Hogg, James ed. Antony Hasler & Douglas S Mack (2002). The Three Perils of Woman. University of Edinburgh Press.
  2. ^ The British Magazine, Or, Miscellany of Polite Literature Comprehending an Analysis of Modern Publications. J. Robins. 1823. pp. 364–.
  3. ^ Hogg, James ed. John Carey (1969). The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Oxford University Press.