Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Perth. County in the center of Scotland that embraces both highland and lowland regions. It is described by Scott’s notional narrator, Chrystal Croftangry, as the most varied, picturesque, and beautiful of all Scottish counties; in the novel it becomes a microcosm of medieval Scotland. The early chapters of the novel are set within the town of Perth, which is two miles south of the ancient Scottish capital of Scone, and was itself regarded as the capital at the time in which the novel is set.

The most important settings within the town of Perth are Simon Glover’s house in Couvrefew, or Curfew Street, and the Dominican monastery—which had been founded in 1231—at the junction of Blackfriars Wynd and Couvrefew. The architecture of the monastery is Gothic, including secret passages and a council-room, where the political conspiracies underlying the plot are hatched. Glover’s daughter Catherine, the novel’s claimant to the eponymous title, becomes caught up in these convoluted machinations after attending the monastery’s church on Saint Valentine’s Eve, where the rivalry between her two lovers—the armorer Henry Gow, whose smithy is in Mill Wynd on the western side of the town, and Conachar, heir to the chieftainship of Clan Quhele—first flares up. A sharp contrast is drawn between the gloomy monastery and the hill of Kinnoul outside the town, where Catherine takes instruction from a Carthusian white friar. There she observes an oak tree whose precarious situation—in the cleft of a...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Hart, Francis. Scott’s Novels: The Plotting of Historic Survival. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1966. Good introduction analyzes characterization, presenting Henry as a nontraditional hero and noting mythical qualities in both major and minor characters. Discusses theme and symbol.

Johnson, Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1970. Extensively researched biography explores Scott as a man and a writer. Argues that the struggle between courage and cowardice becomes a philosophical discussion of the difficulty of being nonviolent in a violent world; evaluates character and style, paying particular attention to Scott’s imagery. An excellent introductory source.

McMaster, Graham. Scott and Society. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Discusses the novel’s disillusion with many aspects of society, revealed in ironic portrayals of characters. Analyzes character, style, and theme.

Sutherland, John. The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1995. Analyzes Scott’s use of the fourteenth century story to mirror the political situation in his own time, providing detailed chronology. Asserts that theme centers around weak sons who betray their strong father figures.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Sir Walter Scott. New York: Continuum, 1991. Describes this as Scott’s darkest and most violent novel, savagely contrasting the differences between the Highlands and the Lowlands, war and peace, the burghers and the ruling class. Argues that Henry Gow is a wild, at times licentious, hero, often out of control, while Catharine is the most saintly of Scott’s heroines.