Foucault has argued that modern society replaces physical dismemberment and execution with imprisonment and correction. The objective of a prison system is to re-educate the offender and return him/her to society as a productive member. Foucault dates this change as occurring at the turn of the eighteenth century. 

In chapter 70, Waverley leaves Carlisle struck with an 'impression of horror..which..softened by degrees into melancholy'. Scott avoids describing the punishment meted out to the Highlanders through the use of evasive language. It is possible that this avoidance demonstrates the validity of the argument of the critic Lennard Davis, who, in Resisting Novels, refutes the existence of the political novel, suggesting that novels which are politically strident at their beginning and in their middle, often conclude with an erotic relationship, usually marriage, leaving the political issues unresolved. This could arguably be the case in Waverley, as its hero's thoughts inevitably turn to marriage to Rose.

However, In Tales of a Grandfather, Scott himself has no hesitation in discussing punishment, as in his account of the execution of an officer in Manchester: 
Vol. VII, 392 A melancholy and romantic incident took place amid the terrors of the executions. A young lady, of good family and handsome fortune, who had been contracted in marriage to James Dawson, one of the sufferers, had taken the desperate resolution of attending on the horrid ceremonial. She beheld her lover, after having been suspended for a few minutes, but not till death (for such was the barbarous sentence), cut down, embowelled, and mangled by the knife of the executioner. All this she supported with apparent fortitude; but when she saw the last scene finished, by throwing Dawson's heart into fire, she drew her head within the carriage, repeated his name, and expired on the spot. 


English justice is not only barbaric but use forms of punishment more appropriate to the Middle Ages than to the modern state. If confinement is for its own citizens, ritual torture and murder are reserved for those living on the periphery. However advanced England may be economically or socially, as far as law and order is concerned, it is centuries behind. Hanging, drawing and quartering is the punishment dealt out to Wallace, which the camera in Braveheart could not describe, suggesting that thoughts of a life in paradise with his beloved enabled Wallace to overcome pain. If the twentieth century cinema cannot even begin to describe these events, it is reasonable to suppose that neither could Scott publish a novel which might cause respectable readers to expire on the spot.


Lennard J. Davis. Resisting Novels. London and New York: Methuen, 1987.

Scott, Walter. Tales of Grandfather. Edinburgh: Caldell, 1838.

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