Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Traditional capital of England and capital of all of Great Britain after the union of England and Scotland in 1707. At the time in which Sir Walter Scott’s story is set, much of what is now “Greater London” lay outside London’s city gates. Thus, the Greenwich described here is a park where the king goes hunting, and Enfield Chase is a heath. The River Thames is the story’s principal thoroughfare; most of its settings are distributed along the river’s banks and can be reached by boat. The protagonist, Nigel Olifaunt, goes by river to visit King James’s court at Whitehall Palace, and returns by the same route when the treacherous Lords Huntinglen and Dalgarno try to inveigle him into heavy losses in Beaujeu’s gambling den. On the other hand, George Heriot goes to Whitehall by passing through Temple Bar (here a mere wooden barrier rather than the stone monstrosity it later became), then riding along the Strand and through Charing Cross, both of which are being built up at the time of the novel. Scott observes that Covent Garden is, at this time, still a garden rather than a cultural center.

Other famous London landmarks featured in the novel include St. James’s Park, where Nigel is accosted by Sir Mungo Malagrowther and encounters the diminutive Prince of Wales (the future Charles I) before quarrelling with Dalgarno; the Tower, where Nigel is imprisoned along with the disguised Margaret Ramsay; and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, on the crown of Ludgate Hill, where the climactic wedding takes place. Hyde Park and the Fortune Theatre are briefly encountered as Nigel passes...

(The entire section is 665 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Johnson, Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1970. The fullest biography of Scott. Contains one chapter on The Fortunes of Nigel. Notes, index, and bibliography.

Lauber, John. Sir Walter Scott. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A good starting place for study of Scott. Bibliography and index.

Shaw, Harry E. The Forms of Historical Fiction: Sir Walter Scott and his Successors. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983. Begins with an excellent analysis of historical fiction as a genre. There is a thoughtful discussion of some of Scott’s problems with his characterization. Bibliography and index.

Sutherland, John. The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. Puts Scott’s poetry and fiction in their biographical and historical context. Links The Fortunes of Nigel to Scott’s visit to the coronation of 1821 in London and to Scott’s growing indebtedness. Biography and notes.

Wilt, Judith. Secret Leaves: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Not an easy book, but with genuine insights into the hidden psychological mainsprings to Scott’s fiction. Notes the fondness for changeling stories, and brings out the variety and richness of his emotional portrayals.