Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Sir Walter Scott’s literary reputation rests firmly on his monumental collection of Waverley novels, the final revision of which was issued, in forty-eight volumes, between 1829 and 1833. The novelist produced those classics on a regular basis during the last eighteen years of his life—beginning with the three-volume Waverley: Or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since in 1814 and concluding, shortly before his death, with Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous (under the collective title Tales of My Landlord, fourth series), both in 1831. In addition to the novels, Scott wrote numerous plays, including Halidon Hill (pb. 1822), Macduff’s Cross (pb. 1823), The House of Aspen (pb. 1829), Auchindrane: Or, The Ayrshire Tragedy (pr., pb. 1830), and The Doom of Devorgoil (pb. 1830).
Scott’s nonfiction prose includes Religious Discourses by a Layman (1828), The History of Scotland (1829-1830), and Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830). He also produced three biographies of note: The Life and Works of John Dryden, first published in 1808 as part of his eighteen-volume edition of that poet’s works; The Memoirs of Jonathan Swift (1826; originally included in the nineteen-volume The Life of Jonathan Swift, 1814); and The...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Sir Walter Scott’s literary reputation rests on thirty novels. Few twentieth century readers and scholars have been interested in his poetry or have taken the time to examine the distinct stages of his literary career. With the publication of Waverley in 1814, Scott’s literary life as a novelist began and his period of intense poetic production terminated. At the outset, then, one is tempted to view the poetry only in the context of its effect on the fiction—or, from another perspective, the effect of Scott the poet on Scott the novelist.
Ample reason exists, however, for studying the poetry on its own merits, for the imaginative power to be found in Scott’s metrical romances, lyrics, and ballads. Some contemporary scholars support the claims of their Victorian predecessors, who argued that Scott, among all his “British” contemporaries, emerged as the first writer of the Romantic movement. Indeed, although literary historians correctly offer William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (1798)—and its significant preface—as the key to understanding British Romanticism, Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel, published seven years later, reached a far wider audience (in both England and Scotland) than Wordsworth’s collection and achieved a more noticeable impact among the poet’s contemporaries than did the earlier work. In fact, no previous English poet had managed to produce a work that reaped such large financial...
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Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
A giant of European Romanticism, Sir Walter Scott made important contributions to many literary forms. He wrote the Waverley novels (1814-1831), a series that virtually created the historical novel. Particularly admired are the Scottish novels, including Waverley: Or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since (1814), Old Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), and Redgauntlet (1824). Scott also wrote extremely popular poetry, including The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (1808), and The Lady of the Lake (1810). He also collected ballads in the three-volume Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-1803), published critical editions of the works of John Dryden (1808) and Jonathan Swift (1814), and wrote histories, essays, reviews, criticism, and plays.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Sir Walter Scott’s life was a series of remarkable achievements. In literature, he was a pioneer whose works still stand on their own merits. He collected ballads for the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a milestone in the study of Scottish antiquities. From 1805 to 1810, Scott wrote the most popular poetry in Great Britain, setting unprecedented sales records. In 1813, he was offered the poet laureateship, which he refused. His greatest achievement came in the field of fiction. The Waverley novels virtually created a new genre, the historical novel, and made Scott one of the two most popular novelists of the century. He was knighted in 1819. Scott was also an accomplished writer of short fiction, and three of his six stories are generally acknowledged to be among the best in the genre. Finally, Scott wrote a series of literary prefaces, criticisms, and reviews that made him an important literary theorist.
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Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Sir Walter Scott’s first published work was a translation of two ballads by Gottfried August Bürger, which appeared anonymously in 1796. In 1799, he published a translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1773 drama Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (Goetz of Berlichingen, with the Iron Hand). In 1802, the first two volumes of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border appeared, followed by the third volume in 1803. This was a collection of popular ballads, annotated and often emended and “improved” with a freedom no modern editor would indulge in. A fascination with his country’s past, formed in his early years and lasting all his life, led him to preserve these ballads, the products of a folk culture that was disappearing. In 1805 came The Lay of the Last Minstrel, the first of the series of long narrative poems that made Scott the most widely read poet of the day. It was followed by Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (1808). The Lady of the Lake (1810) brought him to the height of his popularity as a poet.
The later poems were less successful, and Scott was gradually eclipsed by Lord Byron. In 1813, he completed the manuscript of a novel he had laid aside in 1805. This was Waverley, which appeared anonymously in 1814. (Scott did not publicly admit authorship of his novels...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
The central achievement of Sir Walter Scott’s busy career is the series of novels that is conventionally designated by the title of the first of them. The sheer bulk of the Waverley novels is in itself impressive, as is the range of the settings the novels present. For example, Ivanhoe is set in twelfth century England, The Talisman in the Holy Land of the Third Crusade, Quentin Durward in fifteenth century France, The Abbot in the Scotland of Queen Mary, Kenilworth in the reign of Elizabeth I, and The Fortunes of Nigel in that of James I. In spite of his wide reading, tenacious memory, and active imagination, Scott was not able to deal convincingly with so many different periods. Moreover, he worked rapidly and sometimes carelessly, under the pressures of financial necessity and, in later years, failing health. Some of the novels are tedious and wooden, mechanical in their plots and stilted in their dialogue. Scott himself was aware of their flaws, and he sometimes spoke and wrote slightingly of them.
Most readers, however, find that even the weaker novels have good things in them, and the best of them have anarrative sweep and a dramatic vividness that render their flaws unimportant. The best of them, by common consent, are those set in Scotland as far back as the latter part of the reign of Charles II. When Scott attempted to go further back, he was less successful, but in such novels as the four...
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Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Sir Walter Scott was an extraordinarily popular novelist for many decades, but he was much less popular during much of the twentieth century. How do you account for his decline among readers?
It has been argued that Scott was in many respects not a Romantic writer at all; for example, he was distrustful of emotionalism and of revolution. Has he been miscast as a Romantic writer?
Consider why Effie Deans in The Heart of Midlothian is one of Scott’s most outstanding characters.
Scott has often been called the inventor of the historic novel. What historical novelists seem to have owed the most to Scott’s initiative?
Judge Scott’s contribution to the tradition of Scottish ballads.
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Bibliography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Bold, Alan, ed. Sir Walter Scott: The Long-Forgotten Melody. London: Vision Press, 1983. Nine essays cover such subjects in Scott’s works as the image of Scotland, politics, and folk tradition and draw on Scott’s poetry for illustration. The essay by Iain Crichton Smith, “Poetry in Scott’s Narrative Verse,” shows appreciation for the art of the poetry. Includes endnotes and an index.
Crawford, Thomas. Scott. Rev. ed. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1982. A revision and elaboration of Crawford’s widely acclaimed study of Scott. Examines Scott’s work as a poet, balladist, and novelist.
Goslee, Nancy Moore. Scott the Rhymer. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988. Aiming to restore Scott as a poet, this book analyzes in detail his major poems. A discussion of The Lay of the Last Minstrel is followed by examinations of the long poems from Marmion to Harold the Dauntless. These poems are affirmations of romance within self-reflexive frames of irony. Contains ample notes and an index.
Lauber, John. Sir Walter Scott. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A good starting point for a study of Scott. The first three chapters provide an overview of Scott’s career; the rest provide discussions of the novels. Includes a chronology and a select bibliography.
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