Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Guy Mannering is Sir Walter Scott’s second novel, begun immediately after Waverley (1814) and completed in six weeks. On its publication it was compared somewhat unfavorably to his first novel mainly because of its uneven qualities. Certainly, the development and climax of the novel appears to shift from Scott’s initial ideas. Scott quickly downplays the initial astrology, but criticism still fastened onto it as a major demerit.

Later criticism has recognized the novel’s unevenness as proceeding more fundamentally from ambivalences within Scott. He was a conventional middle-class conservative, with a legal background and sense of a class-based society. He was also a romantic visionary whose natural artistic inclination was to the feudal past and to the supernatural. It could be maintained that three different accounts could be given of Guy Mannering: as a romance (or adventure story), as a love-centered, or Romantic fiction, and as a realistic novel.

In terms of the romance, Scott follows closely many of the typical features of the genre. Patterns and motifs are centered upon the romance hero, Harry Bertram. He is the lost heir, orphaned and kidnapped into the lower regions of the smugglers, supposed dead. He forgets his noble past, is given an alter ego (Brown), and seeks to rise again, through gaining favor, trade, and soldiering. The army gives him the means to rise, but his rise is thwarted by the recurring failure of the father figure (Mannering), and a further kidnapping. Such cyclic, repeating structures are common in romance, where rise is interleaved with fall. Such patterns may be found in stories as varied as the Passion and the film Star Wars (1977).

Love typically produces the motivation to quest. Brown’s entry from England into Scotland parallels exactly Mannering’s twenty-one years before at the beginning of novel. His journeying is helped by the wisdom of the lower world, particularly Meg Merrilies, but also Dandy Dinmont, a border farmer, to overcome further obstacles. Finally, memory is restored, inheritance and name recovered, and the prophecy fulfilled.

Unlike in the realistic novel, in romance fate is the overall structuring device, and so the plot becomes more important than the moral choices of...

(The entire section is 944 words.)