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


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 he rejoins the army back in Edinburgh, Edward learns that the rebellion is exhausted and Prince Charles's forces have been handed a final defeat at Culloden. In the aftermath, Fergus is tried and sentenced to execution for treason. An offer by the Highlanders to exchange the lives of a number of their men for that of their chieftain is regarded with disbelief by the English, and Fergus is sent to the gallows. The Baron of Bradwardine, though a Jacobite sympathizer, receives the King's pardon and survives with his life. Later he is able to buy back his confiscated manor, and Edward becomes engaged to the Baron's daughter Rose.

Major Themes

Much of the interest in Waverley focuses on its hero Edward Waverley, whose romantic imagination colors the work, though his illusions are consistently undercut by the situational ironies of Scott's narrative. The sweep of the novel is frequently interpreted as a progress from Edward's fascination with the romanticism of Highland culture to his inevitable disillusionment as the Jacobite rebellion turns from a stimulating adventure into a bloody and ultimately disappointing reality. Edward is naïve, and Fergus uses his infatuation with the beautiful Flora, an emblem of the mythic allure of the Highlands, to initiate Edward into the Jacobite cause. During the course of the novel, Edward's youthful enthusiasm for the rebellion is tempered by the events he witnesses. Likewise, his love for the ethereal Flora gives way to a more practical and sensible attraction to Rose Bradwardine. Overall, the thematic texture of Waverley is generally viewed as a struggle between romance and history, culminating in Edward's rejection of his early imaginative illusions as he comes to accept the harsh realities of life. A parallel movement occurs in the novel's historical plot, as the noble but anachronistic ideals of the Scottish Highlanders yield to modern actualities, represented by the English, and particularly voiced by the pragmatic Colonel Talbot. The novel also illustrates what many critics see as Scott's theory of history, in which the gradual but inevitable process of historical change guides the lives of ordinary individuals who are unable to alter its path, while the motivations of human nature—whether noble or wicked—remain unchanged.

Critical Reception

Waverley proved a popular sensation when first published and quickly became the most successful work of its kind ever to appear. Contemporary critical reaction, though also positive, did cite certain deficiencies in the work, including careless construction and prolixity. Yet most early reviewers quickly acknowledged the strengths of the novel, noting its originality, vivid portrayal of history, and lively characters. Like most of Scott's novels, Waverley has fallen out of favor, although it continues to attract the attention of scholars interested in the view of history it offers. Such studies have been greatly influenced by the criticism of Georg Lukács in The Historical Novel. In this work, Lukàcs examined Scott as a dialectical historian, claiming that he “endeavors to portray the struggles and antagonisms of history by means of characters who, in their psychology and destiny, always represent social trends and historical forces.” Numerous critics have taken up Lukàcs's idea and applied this thinking to Edward Waverley as he represents a significant moment of cultural transition in Scottish and English history. Such analyses have demonstrated Waverley's enormous impact as the prototypical English historical novel, and its status as a pivotal work of nineteenth-century European literature.

Principal Works

The Eve of Saint John (poetry) 1800

Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. 3 vols. [editor and contributor] (poetry) 1802-03

The Lay of the Last Minstrel (poetry) 1805

Ballads and Lyrical Pieces (poetry) 1807

Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (poetry) 1808

The Lady of the Lake (poetry) 1810

The Vision of Don Roderick (poetry) 1811

The Bridal of Triermain; or, the Vale of St. John (poetry) 1813

Rokeby (poetry) 1813

Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since (novel) 1814

The Field of Waterloo (poetry) 1815

Guy Mannering; or, The Astrologer (novel) 1815

The Lord of the Isles (poetry) 1815

The Antiquary (novel) 1816

*The Black Dwarf (novel) 1816

*Old Mortality (novel) 1816

Harold the Dauntless (poetry) 1817

*The Heart of Midlothian (novel) 1818

Rob Roy (novel) 1818

*The Bride of Lammermoor (novel) 1819

*The Legend of Montrose (novel) 1819

The Abbot (novel) 1820

Ivanhoe (novel) 1820

Miscellaneous Poems (poetry) 1820

The Monastery (novel) 1820

Kenilworth (novel) 1821

The Fortunes of Nigel (novel) 1822

Peveril of the Peak (novel) 1822

The Pirate (novel) 1822

Quentin Durward (novel) 1823

Redgauntlet: A Tale of the Eighteenth Century (novel) 1824

St. Ronan's Well (novel) 1824

Tales of the Crusaders (novels) 1825

Woodstock; or, The Cavalier: A Tale of the Year Sixteen Hundred and Fifty-One (novel) 1826

Chronicles of the Canongate (short stories) 1827

Chronicles of the Canongate. Second Series. (novel) 1828

Anne of Geierstein; or, The Maiden of the Mist (novel) 1829

Waverley Novels. 48 vols. (novels) 1829-33

*Castle Dangerous (novel) 1832

*Count Robert of Paris (novel) 1832

The Miscellaneous Works of Sir Walter Scott. 30 vols. (biographies, travel essays, history, and criticism) 1870-71

The Journal of Sir Walter Scott (journal) 1890

The Waverley Novels. 25 vols. (novels) 1892-94

The Complete Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott. 5 vols. (poetry) 1894

The Letters of Sir Walter Scott. 12 vols. (letters) 1932-37

*These works were written under the pseudonym Jedediah Cleishbotham and originally published in the four series of Tales of My Landlord, Collected and Arranged by Jedediah Cleishbotham, Schoolmaster and Parish-Clerk of Gandercleugh.

†Comprised of the novels The Betrothed and The Talisman.

‡The first series of this work consists of the short stories “The Highland Widow,” “The Surgeon's Daughter,” and “The Two Drovers.” The second series contains the novel St. Valentine's Day; or, The Fair Maid of Perth.


Robert C. Gordon (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: Gordon, Robert C. “Waverley.” In Under Which King? A Study of the Scottish Waverley Novels, pp. 11-25. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1969.

[In the following excerpt, Gordon evaluates Waverley as a historical/political novel, focusing on its Jacobite theme and Scott's presentation of character.]

“… the contest between the loyalists and their opponents can never be obsolete …”


The incorporating Union that brought England and Scotland under one government in 1707 was, paradoxically, both a typical example of eighteenth-century political jobbery and a...

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John Henry Raleigh (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: Raleigh, John Henry. “Waverley as History; or, 'Tis One Hundred and Fifty-Six Years Since.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 4, no. 1 (fall 1970): 14-29.

[In the following essay, Raleigh depicts Waverley as a realistic novel written in the satirical mode of the eighteenth century but also concerned with the progress of history and featuring a proto-modern hero.]

It was as history that Waverley and the Waverleys made their great impact, and it is history that they are really about. And like history itself the appeal was and is multifarious and many-layered. What appealed to the nineteenth century was Scott's concrete reconstruction of the past,...

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Mark M. Hennelly (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: Hennelly, Mark M. “Waverley and Romanticism.” Nineteenth Century Fiction 28, no. 2 (September 1973): 194-209.

[In the following essay, Hennelly analyzes Waverley as a romantic novel characterized by Scott's extensive use of myth, dialectic, and romance elements in the narrative.]

Since Morse Peckham's now classic article, “Toward a Theory of Romanticism,”1 published in 1951, Romanticism has been picked to the bone by critical dissection and each of its parts labeled and catalogued. It is now time, I think, to reassemble and enflesh the skeleton by the close scrutiny of a single work that embodies those three elements of Romantic...

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Kenneth M. Sroka (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Sroka, Kenneth M. “Education in Walter Scott's Waverley.Studies in Scottish Literature 15 (1980): 139-64.

[In the following essay, Sroka argues that the theme of education is central to Waverley, especially as it pertains to the tension between reality and imagination in the novel.]

Early in the third chapter of Waverley (titled “Education”), the narrator pauses in his discussion of Edward Waverley's formal education to speak at length about the danger of excessively

rendering instruction agreeable to youth … an age in which children are taught the driest doctrines by the insinuating method...

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Alexander M. Ross (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: Ross, Alexander M. “Waverley and the Picturesque.” In Scott and His Influence: The Papers of the Aberdeen Scott Conference, 1982, edited by J. H. Alexander and David Hewitt, pp. 99-108. Aberdeen: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1983.

[In the following essay, Ross discusses imagery of landscape and character in Waverley, concentrating on Scott's use of picturesque theory and conventions in structuring his novel.]

‘From the splendid yet useless imagery and emblems with which his imagination was stored’, Edward Waverley conjured up, says Scott, ‘visions as brilliant and as fading as those of an evening sky’ (Waverley,...

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Joseph Valente (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Valente, Joseph. “Upon the Braes: History and Hermeneutics in Waverley.Studies in Romanticism 25, no. 2 (summer 1986): 251-76.

[In the following essay, Valente probes Scott's conception of history in Waverley, emphasizing the symbolic and thematic dialectic of romance and history illustrated by opposing characters and geographical locations in the novel.]

Scott's vision of history has become something of a critical chestnut: theses on it have passed through numerous restatements, and disputes have been thoroughly recycled. The same questions Lukacs and even Coleridge thought central are felt to be so today. As a result, the historiographical...

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Louise Z. Smith (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Smith, Louise Z. “Dialectic, Rhetoric, and Anthropology in Scott's Waverley.Studies in Scottish Literature 21 (1986): 43-52.

[In the following essay, Smith contends that Scott synthesized the modern historical novel in Waverley by grafting “dialectical rhetoric” and “anthropological historicism” to the existing elements of eighteenth-century fiction.]

'Tis forty-eight years since Georg Lukács invented in The Historical Novel (1937) the definition of historical fiction for modern readers. Scott invented the “entirely new”1 historical novel, Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since (1814) for Lukács. But who...

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Ina Ferris (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: Ferris, Ina. “Re-Positioning the Novel: Waverley and the Gender of Fiction.” Studies in Romanticism 28, no. 2 (summer 1989): 291-301.

[In the following essay, Ferris observes that the publication of Waverley in 1814 prompted a critical reevaluation of the novel by associating the genre with seriousness, rationality, and the accurate depiction of history and culture.]

When Henry Brougham reviewed The History of the Maroons in the Edinburgh Review in 1803, he emphasized its incompetence as a history by linking it generically to the novel: “The style is thoroughly wretched, and the composition is precisely that of a...

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David Oberhelman (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Oberhelman, David. “Waverley, Genealogy, History: Scott's Romance of Fathers and Sons.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 15, no. 1 (1991): 29-47.

[In the following essay, Oberhelman reorients the debate concerning Scott's historicism in Waverley from a dialectic of history and romance to a thematic opposition of genealogy and teleological history.]

As the first English “historical novel,” Walter Scott's Waverley introduces a set of complicated genre distinctions that affect his entire corpus. “History” and “romance,” the two terms Scott problematizes in his presentation throughout the Waverley Chronicles, become the focal points...

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Marilyn Orr (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Orr, Marilyn. “Real and Narrative Time: Waverley and the Education of Memory.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 31, no. 4 (autumn 1991): 715-34.

[In the following essay, Orr examines Scott's representation of time, imagination, history, and memory in Waverley.]

Beginning in Waverley, Scott the novelist sets himself “the task of tracing the evanescent manners” of the traditional culture of Scotland, for “there is no European nation which, within the course of half a century or little more, has undergone so complete a change as the little kingdom of Scotland.”1 Conscious of the completeness of this change, he writes in...

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Claire Lamont (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Lamont, Claire. “Waverley and the Battle of Culloden.” Essays and Studies 44 (1991): 14-26.

[In the following essay, Lamont investigates thematic inconsistencies between the romantic and historical plots of Waverley, considering Scott's motive for intentionally relegating to the background the devastating defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden.]

Walter Scott's first novel, Waverley, is set in the years 1744-46 and deals with the rising on behalf of the Jacobite claimant to the throne of George II known as ‘the '45’. The decisive battle of those years was that at Culloden in April 1746 where the Jacobites were finally...

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Paul Hamilton (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Hamilton, Paul. “Waverley: Scott's Romantic Narrative and Revolutionary Historiography.” Studies in Romanticism 33, no. 4 (winter 1994): 611-34.

[In the following essay, Hamilton assesses Scott's writing in Waverley as historicist, while illuminating Scott's ironic treatment of romanticism and his philosophical distance from revolutionary ideology in the work.]

More than most romantic novels, Scott's inaugural Waverley places itself within the contemporary scene of writing, reviewing its own possibilities quite openly—Gothic tale, Germanic romance, sentimental or fashionable upper-class yarn—and self-consciously pondering the...

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Saree Makdisi (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Makdisi, Saree. “Colonial Space and the Colonization of Time in Scott's Waverley.Studies in Romanticism 34, no. 2 (summer 1995): 155-87.

[In the following essay, Makdisi explores the mythic geography of the Scottish Highlands in Waverley and the related temporal and spatial conflicts between England and this imagined Scotland. The critic closes by suggesting that Scott's novel contains an implied justification of Highland subjugation by the British.]


It would be only a small exaggeration, I think, to say that the images that many of us associate with the Scottish Highlands have their origins in Walter...

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Wolfram Schmidgen (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Schmidgen, Wolfram. “Picturing Property: Waverley and the Common Law.” Studies in the Novel 29, no. 2 (summer 1997): 191-213.

[In the following essay, Schmidgen studies the theme of property in Waverley, particularly as it relates to the legitimatization of Scotland's absorption by Great Britain.]

In Sir Walter Scott's Waverley (1814), landed property functions as a register of political and cultural change. A number of critics have emphasized property's importance for Waverley. Ian Duncan, for example, persuasively argues that the Bradwardine estate is the “true secret place” of Scott's novel, a point of crystallization for...

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Further Reading


Sutherland, John. “Abbotsford and Waverley (1811-1814).” In The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography, pp. 154-75. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995.

Describes Scott's delayed writing of Waverley and the novel's relationship to the political atmosphere of Europe in 1814.


Beiderwell, Bruce. “The Lesson of Waverley.” In Power and Punishment in Scott's Novels, pp. 11-27. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Concentrates on the theme of social justice and issues raised concerning capital punishment in Waverley.


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