Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Fairport. Fictional town on the eastern coast of Scotland that forms the novel’s central setting. Fairport is based on the real Scottish coastal town of Arbroath. Like its original, Fairport is a lively provincial mercantile town. Throughout The Antiquary, it functions not only as a setting, but also as a symbol for the energetic, if sometimes vulgar, present. In contrast to most of the novel’s main characters, the people of Fairport have little interest in the past. Their modern focus is on making money, gossip, and the threat of invasion at a time when Great Britain was locked in war with France.

St. Ruth’s Priory

St. Ruth’s Priory. Beautiful gothic ruin near Fairport and the scene of many of the novel’s most important episodes. It is here that Lovel and the Highlander Hector duel, that Dousterswivel practices his necromancy, that Sir Arthur Wardour seeks the treasure of Misticot, that the old Countess Glenallen is buried at night, and that Oldbuck explains antiquities to his friends. Although the priory is a peaceful and serene ruin, it functions as the novel’s main symbol for the past and its power. As such, it reveals and represents the antiquated Scottish Highland pride of Hector, the exploitation of the past by Dousterswivel, the aristocratic credulity toward the past of Sir Arthur, the guilty and arrogant past of Countess Glenallen, and the pedantic obsession with the trivialities of the past in Oldbuck.


Monkbarns. Home of Jonathan Oldbuck, the antiquary who gives the novel its title. Oldbuck is a kindly and generous man whose good qualities are often obscured by his crusty manner and his devotion to old books, artifacts, and antiquities in general....

(The entire section is 726 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Daiches, David. “Scott’s Achievement as a Novelist.” In Scott’s Mind and Art, edited by A. Norman Jeffares. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1970. Clear analysis of Scott’s depiction of character in The Antiquary, finding the portrayal of the merchant class more sympathetic than that of the nobility. Discusses the novel’s unusual use of comic atmosphere.

Johnson, Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1970. Extensively researched biography that explores Scott as a man and as a writer. Praises The Antiquary’s rich portrayal of life in Scotland and discusses the need to understand the past to live in the present. An excellent introductory source.

Millgate, Jane. The Making of a Novelist. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984. Good introductory source that analyzes character and theme in The Antiquary and discusses the novel’s structure and the importance of Oldbuck as a central figure. Compares the novel’s treatment of past and present with Guy Mannering (1815).

Sutherland, John. The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995. Interesting literary analysis that characterizes The Antiquary as a middle-aged man’s story, with Oldbuck a fictionalized portrait of Scott himself. Praises plot development in the first two volumes, but asserts that the third demonstrates rushed, conventional plotting.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Sir Walter Scott. New York: Continuum, 1991. Provides clear analysis of setting and character in The Antiquary, finding the novel most effective in its portrayal of the lower classes. Discusses the importance of the character of Elspeth.