Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

This novel of seventeenth century Scotland has a driving psychological as well as a political, a religious, and a social determinism. The conflict between Presbyterian (Lord Ashton and family) and Episcopalian (Edgar) is influential in the plot. So, to a lesser degree, is the political-social turmoil that involves disintegration of old-order Tory values before the energetic ambitions of the Whigs. Popular superstition thus thrives upon the inevitable confusion, disorder, and decay resulting from these changes. This power of the supernatural—manifest in omens, dreams, hidden fears, prophecies, visions, specters, and other phenomena—directs the thoughts and actions of both major and minor characters.

Sir Walter Scott, however, does not impose such superstitious paraphernalia directly upon the story; he employs them more subtly, so that they seem the result of psychological conflicts within the characters. The young master of Ravenswood, deprived of his castle and hereditary rights, can only, by submerging his proud loyalty, ally himself with the Ashtons, who usurped all he holds significant in life. In his own eyes, his sudden, almost unconscious love for Lucy Ashton, although a solace and partial fulfillment of loss, still demeans him. He knows he cannot betray the values of the past, yet he has within him youth and ardor, which force him into an engagement with Lucy. All the characters in the novel, and the reader as well, know that such an alliance...

(The entire section is 510 words.)