Sir Walter Scott Scott, Sir Walter (Short Story Criticism)

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(Short Story Criticism)

Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832

Scottish novelist, poet, short story writer, biographer, historian, critic, and editor. See also Ivanhoe Criticism, Sir Walter Scott Poetry Criticism, and Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since Criticism.

Scott exerted a profound influence on nineteenth-century European literature. During his lifetime he was immensely popular—first as a poet, then later as a novelist. To modern scholars Scott is both the originator of the historical novel genre and the first best-selling novelist. As the anonymous and enormously prolific "Author of Waverley," Scott not only elevated the novel to a status enjoyed previously by poetry but also influenced the way history was written and understood by subsequent generations of historians. In addition, Scott experimented with short fiction, albeit minimally, which has led some scholars to name Scott the father of the modern short story in English literature. Walter Allen, in a study of the short story form published in the March 28, 1974, issue of The Listener, declared Scott's "The Two Drovers" "the story that I recognise as the first modern short story in English." As Richard D. McGhee has observed, "Scott will be known best for his novels and poems, but he will not be forgotten for his short fiction."

Biographical Information

Born in Edinburgh into a middle-class family, Scott was stricken at age two with polio, which rendered him lame for the rest of his life. In spite of his illness, however, he pursued outdoor activities and developed an appreciation for picturesque scenery, a prominent feature of his literary work. Scott also relished Scottish history and literature as a boy, and he nurtured both his enthusiasm and knowledge by befriending several Scottish antiquaries in his neighborhood. In 1783 Scott enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied history and law, and apprenticed at his father's law firm from 1786 until 1792, when he passed the bar. During his apprenticeship, Scott began to travel extensively in the Scottish Border country and Highlands, delighting in the natural settings and its rural inhabitants. Around 1800 he started to collect Scottish ballads, including many that survived only in the oral tradition, which he later published as Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-03). The positive critical reception of this collection prompted Scott to write The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), which garnered him substantial success. Giving up his law practice, he published several extremely popular and financially lucrative poems with Scottish backgrounds and themes, including his perhaps best-known poem, The Lady of the Lake (1810). His career as a poet proved short-lived, however, as he soon devoted himself to writing novels, which he published anonymously since writing novels commanded less respect than writing poetry. Scott's first novel, Waverley (1814), quickly became the most successful novel ever at the time, bringing huge profits to both Scott and his publishers. Buoyed by his popular success, Scott wrote feverishly, producing over the next seventeen years the more than two dozen novels that comprise what has since become known as the Waverley Novels, most notably The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818) and Ivanhoe (1820). Biographers have speculated that Scott's prolific literary production was motivated in part by a desire for a large income to settle excessive debts largely incurred by his improvements to and maintenance of Abbotsford, a modest farm he had purchased with the profits from his poetry. In 1826, when a publishing house in which he was a silent partner failed, Scott resisted declaring bankruptcy by attempting to produce salable writings in a variety of genres, including the short story collection Chronicles of the Canongate (1827). Beginning in 1830 he suffered a series of strokes as he worked to pay his creditors. After an unsuccessful recuperative trip to the Mediterranean in 1831, Scott suffered further strokes that left him paralyzed until he died at...

(The entire section is 46,869 words.)