Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary, the third in the Waverley series, is the novel most nearly contemporary to the author’s own time. Although it is a love story, it is also a novel of manners. Scott admitted that, when necessary, he sacrificed the plot in order to describe more clearly the manners of the characters, particularly those of the lower social classes. His characterizations of the Scottish peasants are much more vivid than those of the upper classes.
The Antiquary met with unprecedented sales when it first appeared in 1816. Scott remarked that “it has been more fortunate than any of [the other novels] . . . for six thousand went off in the first six days.” It reached a fifth edition within two years and was translated during ensuing years into at least seven languages.
In spite of its being a potpourri of gothic elements—supernatural escapades among abbey ruins at night, scheming tricks of a charlatan magician, romantic rescues up sheer cliffs from a wild and sudden high tide, and the usual genteel and static hero and heroine falling at the end into marriage as well as vast inherited wealth—the novel succeeds for other, more significant reasons. Its lasting value is based on the scenes of Scottish village life and of the lower classes and their colorful dialogue. These scenes have wit and pathos and provide a sane balance to the contrived, unreal plot in which the upper-class characters are involved. The...
(The entire section is 480 words.)