When Walter Scott was working on Waverley (1805) but left with only the opening chapters written. The grater verve and dash of Byron's narrative poems threatened to oust Scott from his position as supreme purveyor of this kind of literary entertainment, and he was looking for another vein. In the autumn of 1813 he accidentally came across the unfinished manuscript of Waverley, and completed it. It was published anonymously in July 1814 by Constable, with John Ballantyne & Co. doing the printing; Constable got half the profits, Scott the other half. Scott preserved his anonymity because he felt that it was not quite becoming in a clerk of session to write novels, then considered a rather frivolous form of literature. Leaving Edinburh to buzz with excitement and speculation about Waverley, Scott set off at the end of July on a visit to the northern and western islands in the yacht of the lighthhoyuse commissioner. This six-weed trip provided him with Scottish scenes he was later to use in novels.
Waverley was followed by Guy Mannerig (1815), "the work of six weeds at Christmas"; The Antiquary (1816); two series of Tales of My Landlord (1816-19), which included Old Mortality and The Heart of Midlothian; Rob Roy (1818); a third series of Tales of My Landlord included The Bride of Lammermoor and The Legend of Montrose (1819). It was only after writing these novels of Scottish history that Scott, driven by financial need and the need to satisfy the public appetite for historical fiction that he had created, turned to themes from English history with Ivanhoe, The Monastery, and The Abbot (all 1820). ThePirate, set in the Orkneys, and The Fortunes of Nigel were published in 1822. Later novels included Quentin Durward (1823), St. Ronan's Well (1824), and, also in 1824, the last and one of the best of his Scottish novels, Redgauntlet. As a historical novelist dealing with medieval England, or France, or Germany, or the crusaders' Palestine, Scott showed a flair for highly coloured picturesque incident and situation. He also exhibited in varying degrees a sense of the poetry of history and an ability to project in terms of character and action something of the life and manners of the feudal ages. But he becomes a more complex and mature novelist the nearer he comes to his own time and country. Ivanhoe and The Talisman are colourful, somewhat theatrical, novels of rather obviously stylizad period characters and action. Quentin Durward, Kenilworth (1821), and The Fortunes of Nigel, set respectively in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, show a greater awareness of the complexities of the human situation and less disposition to be content with colourful surface action arising from the histrionic attitudes of somewhat cardboard figures who speak an invented antique dialect. Scott was nearly always better with minor and often lowclass figures than with conventional heroes and heroines who had to act out the love story which the reader demanded but which never engaged Scott's real interest. He wrote too fast, and he wrote simply to entertain, and his novels often show a lack of artistic conscience. In dealing with picturesque aspects of the distant past, as well as on the one occasion, in St. Ronan's Well, when he dealt with the surface of life in his own day, Scott's imagination worked perfunctorily and did not draw on its deepest sources of inspiration. His real claim to greatness as a novelist rests on the "Scotch novels."
In dealing with the recent past of his own country Scott was able to find a fictional form to express the deep ambituities of his own feeling about Scotland. One side of him welcomed the union with England and the commercial progress and modernization whith it promised to bring; the other regretted bitterly the loss of Scotland's independence and the steady decline of its national consciousness and traditions.
Scott became a novelist by bringing his antiquarian and romantic feeling for Scotland's past and for a heroic age into relation with his sense that Scotland's interest demanded that she break with the past and look forward to a prudently commercial "British" future. Civilization must be paid for by ghe cessation of the old kind of individual heroic action; the heroic characters in the end become histrionic or even ludicrous, and the humble or the prudent remain: Rob Roy is dismissed as a ranting exhibitionist and Bailie Nicol Jarvie, survives into the future. And in The Heart of Midlothian the obviously heroic actions turn out to be merely criminal and sordid, and true heroism is found in the behaviour of Jeanie Deans.
This information has been extracted to Academic year 2000/2001
British Encyclopedia, Inc. © a.r.e.a./ Dr. Vicente Forés López
© 1973 © Sergio Clavijo Ruiz
Universidad de Valencia Press