Sir Walter Scott Long Fiction Analysis
Waverley displays, at the start of Sir Walter Scott’s career as a novelist, many of the features that were to prove typical of his best work. In the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, he saw an instance of the conflict between the older feudal and chivalric order, strongly colored with heroic and “romantic” elements, and the newer order of more practical and realistic concerns that had already begun to supplant it. His focus is not on the great public figures whose fates are at stake, and this too is typical. The Pretender, Prince Charles Edward, is not introduced until the novel is more than half over, and most of the major events of this phase of his career are only alluded to, not presented directly. He is shown almost exclusively in his dealings with the fictional character for whom the novel is named, and largely through his eyes.
Edward Waverley, like so many of Scott’s heroes, is a predominantly passive character who finds himself caught between opposing forces and “wavering” between his loyalty to the House of Hanover and the attractions of the Stuart cause. Though his father occupies a post in the Whig ministry, he has been reared by his uncle Sir Everard, a Tory who had supported the earlier Jacobite rebellion of 1715, though not so actively as to incur reprisals when it was put down. His father’s connections procure Edward a commission in King George’s army, and he is posted to Scotland. Shortly after arriving there, he makes an extended visit to his uncle’s Jacobite friend, the Baron of Bradwardine, and his daughter Rose. When a Highland raider, Donald Bean Lean, steals several of the baron’s cows, Waverley goes into the Highlands in the company of a follower of Fergus MacIvor, a chieftain who has the influence to secure the return of the cows. Waverley is impressed by Fergus and infatuated with his sister Flora. They are both confirmed Jacobites preparing to declare for the Pretender upon his arrival in Scotland.
As a result of Waverley’s protracted absence and of a mutiny among the small band of men from his family estate who had followed him into the army, Waverley is declared absent without leave and superseded in his office. By coincidence, his father also loses his government position. Waverley’s resentment at this twofold insult to his family by the Hanoverian government is heightened when, on a journey to Edinburgh to clear himself, he is arrested. Rescued by Donald Bean Lean, he is later brought to Edinburgh (now in the hands of the Jacobites), meets the Pretender, and is won over to his cause. He takes part in the Jacobite victory at Preston, but is separated from Fergus’s troop in a skirmish at Clifton, in which Fergus is captured. After a period in hiding, Waverley is pardoned, through the good offices of Colonel Talbot, whom he had saved from death and taken prisoner at Preston. Fergus is executed for treason.
Objections to Waverley usually center on the character of the hero, whom Scott himself called “a sneaking piece of imbecility.” Certainly it is possible to be impatient with his lack of self-awareness, and the frequency with which he is acted upon rather than acting puts him often in a less than heroic light. Waverley, however, is not intended to be a Romantic hero, and his susceptibility to external influence is necessary to enable Scott to show within a single character the conflict between the two forces that compose the novel’s theme. For most of the book, Scott’s view of the hero is ironic, emphasizing his failings. There is, for example, his vanity. One of the things that reconciles his Jacobite Aunt Rachel to his serving in the Hanoverian army is the fact that he is becoming infatuated with a local girl. Scott mocks Waverley’s feelings, first by giving their object the inelegant name of Cecilia Stubbs, and then by telling the reader that on Waverley’s last Sunday at the parish church he is too preoccupied with his own dashing appearance in his new uniform...
(The entire section is 9,068 words.)