Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Romanticism of Sir Walter Scott: WAVERLEY (1814)

The word 'romantic' occurs at least 20 times in this romance, which is how Scott himself refers to it; the word 'romance' is used almost as often. Waverley was Scott's first novel though it is not so much a novel as a historical romance. It is not the sort of book that anyone is likely to read now, for very good reasons: it is too long, too long-winded and its subject is an event--the Stuart rebellion (or insurrection) which ended at Colloden in 1746--which could only be of interest to a Scot, if any. What interests me is Scott's use of the word 'romantic' to make a point about that rebellion: the clans who tried to restore the last of the Stuarts (Prince Charles) to the throne of England were all romantics i.e. as deluded in their way as Don Quixote by the 'romance' of chivalry and the largely mythical trappings and glamor of the ancient feudal world.

As Scott sees it, this 'romantic' rebellion and its defeat was a turning point in the history of Scotland and, by implication, the modern world. Here is what he has to say in his Postcript to the story he has just told: "There is no European nation which, within the course of half a century, or little more, has undergone so complete a change as this kingdom of Scotland. The effects of the insurrection of 1745--the destruction of the patriarchal power of the Highland chiefs, the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions of the Lowland nobility and barons (i.e. legal rights of landowners over their tenants i.e. serfs), the total eradication of the Jacobite party--commenced this innovation. The gradual influx of wealth, and extension of commerce, have since united to render the present people of Scotland a class of beings as different from their grandfathers as the existing English are from those of Queen Elizabeth's time."

1 comment:

  1. I hear that there is now an independence movement in Scotland. Don Quixote lives.