Sir Walter Scott Scott, Sir Walter (1771 - 1832)

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(Gothic Literature)

SIR WALTER SCOTT (1771 - 1832)

(Also wrote under the pseudonym Jedediah Cleishbotham) Scottish novelist, poet, short story writer, biographer, historian, critic, and editor.

An immensely popular writer of both poetry and fiction during his lifetime, Scott exerted a profound influence on early nineteenth-century European literature. Modern scholars consider him both the inventor of the historical novel and the first best-selling novelist. As the anonymous and enormously prolific "Author of Waverley," Scott not only elevated the novel to a status equal to that of poetry but also influenced the way history has been written and understood by subsequent generations of historians and novelists. Despite the unprecedented success of his novels and poetry, Scott's literary reputation and popularity underwent one of the most pronounced reversals in the history of English literature following his death. Today his poetry is largely ignored, although his novels continue to attract the attention of literary historians. Among the many areas of continued scholarly interest in Scott's fiction, substantial notice has been paid to the Gothic qualities his novels and short stories. Even though Scott urged his readers to distinguish Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since (1814) and the subsequent series of Waverley Novels from tales of Gothic horror, modern scholars have observed that these works nevertheless exhibit numerous affinities to the Gothic literary mode. Scott's fiction, which makes broad use of historical and frequently medieval settings, alludes to the mysterious workings of fate and the supernatural, and often depicts violent clashes between romantic and modern sensibilities, is routinely cited for its substantial exploitation of these and other Gothic themes and devices.


Scott was born in Edinburgh to middle-class parents, the fourth surviving child of Walter Scott and Anne Rutherford. At the age of two, he suffered an attack of polio that rendered him lame for the rest of his life. In spite of his illness, however, Scott led an active outdoor life during his childhood and developed an appreciation for the picturesque scenery that later figured so prominently in his writings. He enrolled in Edinburgh High School in 1778 and five years later entered the University of Edinburgh, studying history and law. In 1786, he was apprenticed to his father's legal firm and was called to the bar in 1792. While serving his apprenticeship, Scott traveled extensively in the Scottish Border country and Highlands, where he delighted in the natural settings and rural inhabitants. In 1800 he was able to combine his love for Scottish lore and literature with his ongoing excursions into the countryside as he started collecting and editing ballads for his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802–03). Although the work produced only modest sales when published, the collection enjoyed critical favor. The positive reception of the Minstrelsy and the encouragement of his friends prompted Scott to attempt an original work based on Scottish themes. His efforts resulted in The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805). The success of this work when it appeared was immediate and substantial. Determined to earn a living through his writings, Scott gave up the law as a full-time profession and, beginning in 1808 with Marmion, published a series of highly popular and remunerative poems with Scottish backgrounds and themes, including what is perhaps his best-known long poem, The Lady of the Lake (1810). From this time, Scott's expenditures increased as quickly as his income, and many critics and biographers have tied his enormous output directly to a desire for material gain. Scott had purchased a farm in 1811 and, after renaming the property Abbotsford, began devoting huge sums of money to building, planting, and collecting relics from Scotland's past. Thus, though his income was large, his financial situation was often precarious. By the time Rokeby appeared in 1813,...

(The entire section is 22,533 words.)