Waverley Introduction
by Sir Walter Scott

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since Sir Walter Scott

The following entry presents criticism of Scott's novel Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since (1814). See also, Ivanhoe Criticism.

Generally regarded as the first historical novel, Walter Scott's Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since concerns a young Englishman who travels to Scotland and becomes caught up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Published anonymously in 1814, the work spawned a vogue in historical fiction that not only elevated the novel to a status equal to that of poetry, but also helped shape the way history has been written and understood by subsequent generations. In addition, its unprecedented success prompted Scott to write more than two dozen novels in a similar vein—commonly designated the Waverley Novels—which describe the lives of ordinary individuals who become involved in great historical events and present in lavish detail the speech, manners, and customs of past ages. In Waverley, this past record focuses on the declining feudal culture of the Scottish Highlands prior to Scotland's absorption into Great Britain.

Plot and Major Characters

After informing his readers of those things that Waverley is not, including a tale of sentiment or Gothic horror, Scott goes on to explain how his young hero, Edward Waverley, was left in the care of his uncle, the chivalrous Sir Everard, at the ancestral home of Waverley-Honour, while his opportunistic father busied himself with schemes for accumulating wealth and power in London. Growing up with Everard, Edward receives a haphazard education, preferring instead to indulge his imagination in romantic tales. When the time comes to decide on a profession, Edward chooses the military, quickly rising to the rank of captain in the English dragoons. Assigned to a post in Scotland, Edward visits the village of Tully-Veolan and the nearby manor house belonging to the Baron of Bradwardine. He makes the acquaintance of the somewhat pedantic but hospitable Baron and his daughter, Rose. The Baron introduces Edward to the Mac-Ivors, a highland clan headed by Fergus Mac-Ivor. An ambitious and determined supporter of Jacobism, Fergus wants to see the current Hanoverian king of England, George II, overthrown and the exiled Stuart line restored to power. Later, Edward also meets Flora Mac-Ivor, Fergus's younger sister, and immediately falls in love with her, though pressing political matters hinder the romance. Caught up in the Jacobite cause by his association with the Mac-Ivors, Edward joins the army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the pretender to the throne. Charles has only recently returned from France and mustered a force of sympathetic Highland warriors, whom he intends to lead to London. Meanwhile, visiting the village of Cairnvreckan, Edward is suspected of his involvement with the conspiracy and is arrested. After being interrogated by an English major named Melville, Edward is subsequently rescued by a small group of Highlanders. Soon the army of Prince Charles begins preparations to meet the English forces. The battle occurs at Prestonpans and ends in Jacobite victory. During the conflict Edward saves an English officer from the blow of a Scottish axe. Taken prisoner, the officer reveals himself as Colonel Talbot, a friend of Edward's uncle. An excellent soldier, thoroughgoing realist, and ardent supporter of England, Talbot assures Edward that the rebellion will be quashed. Nevertheless, Prince Charles has taken the city of Edinburgh and installed himself at Holyrood Palace—although Edinburgh Castle, held by forces loyal to King George, proves impenetrable. Lifting their siege of the castle, the Jacobite army marches into England and toward London. Charles and his Highlanders advance as far south as Derby before they are forced to retreat back to Scotland as the tide of the rebellion shifts. In an ensuing skirmish near the town of Clifton, the English capture Fergus Mac-Ivor and Edward is separated from his allies. By the time...

(The entire section is 1,197 words.)