Robert C. Gordon (essay date 1969)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4690

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 gesture of political faith—a premature ratification of things hoped for, if not seen.1 It could only acquire validity when Scotland began to profit as a partner in British commercial, political, and intellectual life. Otherwise Scotland risked becoming what Scott sometimes feared it would become—“a very dangerous North British neighbourhood.”2

For a long time after the passage of the Union there were few visible benefits to the Scots. They had, it seems, lost their independence for nothing, and when in 1736 the Crown pardoned the unpopular Captain Porteous of the Edinburgh City Guard, a man whose unruly authoritarianism had made him a symbol of London's oppression of Scotland, the Edinburgh mob rioted in a mood of nationalistic defiance. What was needed to prevent an endless recurrence of this sort of thing was precisely the development that seemed to take place after mid-century—a lively incursion of Scots into the higher places of English life and an intellectual renaissance in Edinburgh. When the time came for Benjamin Franklin to remark that Jonah had swallowed the whale, the Union was validated.3

Before this could happen, however, the Jacobites were to be heard from. In the eighteenth century Jacobitism existed in a halfway house between activist determination and nostalgic gesture. There were chiefs in Scotland who were prepared to die for the old cause, and there were Tories in London who squeezed oranges in a marked manner, or, if they were like Samuel Johnson on a later occasion, recommended Jacobitism to pretty girls.4 Between these poles were varying degrees of resolution (and a large measure of total indifference); and when Prince Charles misread the evidence and brought an army into the field it soon became clear where the preponderance lay. Nostalgia was one thing, grapeshot quite another.

As David Daiches has indicated, Scott looked back upon Jacobitism with divided feelings.5 He was perfectly well aware that Scotland's commitment to a mercantile, secular, British world was irrevocable, and that such a world had great advantages over that of the Stuarts and the Highland patriarchs. Yet he sympathised with the rebels as the possessors of virtues no longer fashionable—feudal loyalty, personal heroism, chivalric flamboyance—and it would be ridiculous to underestimate the force of this sympathy. Not long before Waverley appeared he wrote to a correspondent, with his customary distaste for punctuation marks:

Seriously I am very glad I did not live in 1745 for though as a lawyer I could not have pleaded Charles's right and as a clergy man I could not have prayed for him yet as a soldier I would I am sure against the conviction of my better reason have fought for him even to the bottom of the gallows.6

His “better reason” could properly judge his Jacobite impulses, but it could never completely contain them, and the consequences for the novel of this failure of containment were enormous.

After Maria Edgeworth had opened his eyes to the possibility of serious fiction exploiting distinct national traits,7 Scott dramatised his conflicting impulses in novels of Scottish history. The result was a new fictional mode—one that has been with us ever since. For wherever novelists present social and political conflicts—France against Russia, America against Europe, North against South, modern Africa against tribal Africa—they are followers of Scott.

Waverley, then, is one of the most distinguished innovations in literary history. It is also a splendid work in its own right. Scott found his solution to the problems of dealing with Jacobitism in the story of an immature, vain, yet fundamentally proper young hero who becomes a warrior of Prince Charles through the interaction of youthful folly and the sheer power of circumstance. The structure of the story, despite some manipulations intended to preserve a sense of Edward Waverley's fundamental innocence, is simple and shapely. The hero begins as a loyal servant of George II, deviates into Jacobitism, is disillusioned, and returns to peace and sanity.

Scott begins the novel dead slow. Edward is to be taken into treason step by step, and every contributing cause is to be laid bare. One of these causes is the character of his father. Sir Richard Waverley is a political opportunist who deserts Toryism for his own profit. He marries for advancement and later gives his son to the boy's childless and thoroughly Tory uncle in hopes of eventually snaring the family estate for himself. Ironically, Edward benefits from his father's greed by gaining a new “father”: but we must not forget that, in effect, Edward is an abandoned child. Sir Richard, a minor Machiavelli seeking profit among the political factions of the day, is the first of Scott's worthless fathers.8

Edward's days on his uncle's estate are lingered over, but the effect of these early chapters is delightful. Scott's style is playful, detached, and discursive. Sir Everard has Jacobite sympathies; what, then, was he doing during the uprising of 1715? Here is Scott's answer:

At the period of the Hanoverian succession he had withdrawn from parliament, and his conduct, in the memorable year 1715, had not been altogether unsuspected. There were reports of private musters of tenants and horses in Waverley-Chase by moonlight, and of cases of carbines and pistols purchased in Holland, and addressed to the Baronet, but intercepted by the vigilance of a riding officer of the excise, who was afterwards tossed in a blanket on a moonless night, by an association of stout yeomen, for his officiousness. Nay, it was even said, that at the arrest of Sir William Wyndham, the leader of the Tory party, a letter from Sir Everard was found in the pocket of his night-gown. But there was no overt act which an attainder could be founded on, and government, contented with suppressing the insurrection of 1715, felt it neither prudent nor safe to push their vengeance farther than against those unfortunate gentlemen who actually took up arms.9

This humorous indirection, with its persistent use of the passive (and its triumphant detail of the nightgown!) may make some readers restless, but it serves very well to illustrate a major characteristic of Jacobitism—its tentative, ambiguous flirtation with death, its half-comic existence in a world of fearful political possibilities. The Jacobitism of Sir Edward and his retinue was strong, but it stopped short of the gallows. When Edward left the family as a soldier, he had imbibed some of the Jacobite ideology from those who were by temperament or circumstance unable to act—the ageing Sir Everard, his ancient sister Rachel, the harmless High Anglican tutor Pembroke. In the light of subsequent events the opening chapters, with their relaxed and affectionate presentation of these characters, appear deeply ironic, for we see that these early associates were in effect gently and persistently leading Edward toward a possible death by hanging.

When Edward leaves his uncle's estate as an officer, he begins a journey northward, and Scott brings him closer to the geographical centre of Jacobitism. Again the narrative manner is relaxed. There is an increase in excitement, but the tempo remains nearly the same. How could it be otherwise when the Baron of Bradwardine is brought forward? He is a Jacobite whose loyalty to the past is very much like Uncle Toby's hobby-horse—an amiable obsession that grows by devouring every topic in view. Such men require room, and the Baron is given all he needs:

“It represents … the chosen crest of our family, a bear, as ye observe, and rampant; because a good herald will depict every animal in its noblest posture, as a horse salient, a greyhound currant, and, as may be inferred, a ravenous animal in actu ferociori, or in a voracious, lacerating, and devouring posture. Now, sir, we hold this most honourable achievement by the wappen-brief, or concession of arms, of Frederick Red-beard, Emperor of Germany, to my predecessor, Godmund Bradwardine. …”10

The Baron, however, is an eccentric with a difference. He rides his hobby-horse on to the battlefield for the Pretender, even though he sees the height of his glory, not in combat, but in the ancient ceremony of pulling off the Prince's shoe after the victory at Prestonpans.11 Moreover, it is through the Baron's efforts that Edward meets the MacIvors, and when he does, Edward's journey into another world is emotionally, at least, complete, for he becomes a friend of Fergus and falls in love with his sister Flora.

Fergus's character is stretched taut between two worlds—that of the French aristocracy, where he was reared as the son of an exiled rebel of 1715, and that of primitive Highland loyalties and superstitions. In the end the Highlands will win, and he will go down to his death nobly, but visited by strange rages and ghostly visions.

His sister, on the other hand, represents Jacobitism with the utmost purity and unity of spirit. Flora may well be the most important character Scott ever drew. There is no question, however, that she is a partial failure as a figure in a novel. She is too stagy as she poses by a waterfall, harp in hand, and sings bad verses about Scotland's lost glory.12 And her dialogues with her brother show Scott at his worst, trying with the clumsiness of a schoolboy to imitate the language of Europeanised sophisticates:

“A truce, dear Fergus! spare us those most tedious and insipid persons of all Arcadia. Do not, for Heaven's sake, bring down Coridon and Lindor upon us.”

“Nay, if you cannot relish la houlette et le chalumeau, have with you in heroic strains.”

“Dear Fergus, you have certainly partaken of the inspiration of Mac-Murrough's cup rather than of mine.”

“I disclaim it, ma belle demoiselle. …”13

The importance of Flora is certainly not to be found in scenes like this, but in the intensity of her dedication to the Pretender's cause. She is, in truth, a celibate for political ends:

“For myself, from my infancy to this day, I have had but one wish—the restoration of my royal benefactors to their rightful throne. It is impossible to express to you the devotion of my feelings to this single subject; and I will frankly confess, that it has so occupied my mind as to exclude every thought respecting what is called my settlement in life.”14

In other words, Flora's grand passion is the Pretender and all he stands for. What is startling here is the thoroughness with which the power of Eros has been diverted into a political channel. This sense of energy transferred is strongly reinforced by that very weakness in the handling of ordinary courtship for which Scott is famous—a weakness exemplified in Edward's hopelessly stilted addresses:

“Nay, dear Flora, trifle with me no longer; you cannot mistake the meaning of those feelings which I have almost involuntarily expressed; and since I have broken the barrier of silence, let me profit by my audacity.”15

The truth is that a personal erotic attachment is too gratuitous and isolated a feeling to interest Scott. It is an emotion without a referent in history—a passion in the abstract. Flora easily tosses young Edward aside, but when the Jacobites are defeated she indeed becomes a woman “disappointed in love.” For such women fictional tradition endorses a convent overseas, and that is precisely where Flora goes. She thus illustrates an important truth about Scott—that he was the father of the political novel primarily because he was seriously concerned with the passional and psychological consequences of our group-identifications as they are affected by the processes of history. We are close to the strange world of Jacobite minstrelsy, where legitimist sentiment adopts the language of the love-lyric. In Scott those feelings usually associated with intense erotic attachment—passionate obsession, fear of loss, nostalgic wretchedness in the event of failure—are most intensely displayed in areas of regional or ideological commitment. It is as though his conventional young lovers had been drained of their blood in order to give vitality to a vast drama of social love and hate.

Edward's affection for the MacIvors and for the Baron and his family, his past upbringing among English Jacobites, the intrigues of interested Highlanders—these will contribute to his eventual decision to join the Pretender's army. The progression is gradual, carefully thought out, and ultimately convincing. Although the MacIvors do not make a completely committed rebel out of him, by the time he leaves for Edinburgh to report to the authorities and clear himself of the suspicion of supporting the enemies of the State he is in no mood to regard his Highland friends as traitors deserving the gallows. And his first experiences among the Scottish Lowlanders complete the process of political transformation.

Edward's Lowland adventures illustrate Scott's mastery of the ironies of social and regional conflict. Since Scott is capable of introducing major themes in quiet ways, one of these ironies may pass unnoticed. It lies in the fact that Edward, brought up in England, travels into a Presbyterian country on a Sunday.16 At once, and without being aware of it, he becomes an object of disapproval. This theme of the conflict of cultures, implicit in much that has gone before, is here sharpened by Scott's emphasis on Edward's danger. Later, however, Edward will be favourably misunderstood when his care of a dying man, bestowed largely as an act of “general philanthropy,” will be seen by his Highland allies as the protective action of a chieftain toward a follower.17 Such visions of the gulfs of ignorance separating different regions achieve their greatest clarity in that late and bitter masterpiece “The Two Drovers.” The awareness that human divisions can operate as absolutes not to be overcome by cosmopolitan or liberal attitudes was one of the most significant results of Scott's understandable interest in all dichotomies. In Edward's difficulties among the Scots the chastening conclusion of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India is unmistakably foreshadowed.

Further ironies await Edward in the village of Cairnvreckan, where he stops for the services of a blacksmith. The smith's wife is a prancing old termagant, who, having heard of the outbreak of the rebellion, declares for the Pretender and sings “Charlie is my Darling” for the principal purpose of bedevilling her husband. Because this uninhibited lower-class parody of Flora takes Edward's part so vigorously as a subject for a row, Edward is soon under arrest. She brings matters to a head by hinting broadly that her husband is not the sole master of her body. Her words have an incidental interest in that they reveal Scott as less of a proto-Victorian than some critics have found him:

“Gae hame, gudewife,” quoth the farmer aforesaid; “it wad better set you to be nursing the gudeman's bairns than to be deaving us here.”

His bairns?” retorted the Amazon, regarding her husband with a grin of ineffable contempt—“His bairns!”

“O gin ye were dead, gudeman,
And a green turf on your head, gudeman!
Then I would ware my widowhood
Upon a ranting Highlandman.”(18)

Her words bring a suppressed titter from the crowd, but for Edward the results are disastrous. He becomes suspected of rebellion precisely because this woman takes his part, and he shortly finds himself under inquisition for defending himself against mob action with a pistol.

His inquisitor is Major Melville—very loyal, and very stuffy. Since Edward is on the defensive, the exchange between them is stiff with the rhetoric of gentlemen discussing questions of honour. But the scene contains one of Scott's clearest insights into the dangers of half-realised political gestures, for among the items of evidence cited against Edward is his possession of poor Pembroke's long-winded High-Church tracts and a letter from the most explicitly traitorous of his correspondents—Aunt Rachel! Edward, confronted with the prospect of the gallows partly because of the automatically rebellious maunderings of an ineffectual tutor and a comical spinster, may well feel “alone, unfriended, and in a strange land.”19 His is the same ironic dilemma as that of many American liberals of the McCarthy era, damned because of their friendships with men whose rebelliousness seemed very alarming indeed, because it existed, not as action, but as gesture.

From the time of his arrest all that is necessary to turn the angry and desperate Edward into an actual rebel is his rescue from the Government's hands, and this is soon accomplished. What follows is a time of excited fulfilment before and after the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans. Edward, now a Jacobite officer, becomes a social lion. He also becomes rather appealingly vain and silly. A sense of pleasant anticipation tinged with fear is conveyed in the conversation between Fergus's follower Evan Dhu and the Edinburgh widow Mrs Flockhart, who likes a pretty uniform as much as Edward himself. The scene gains charm from Scott's approximation of ballad rhythm:

“But will ye fight wi' Sir John Cope, the morn, Ensign Maccombich?” demanded Mrs. Flockhart of her guest.

“Troth, I'se insure him, an he'll abide us, Mrs. Flockhart,” replied the Gael.

“And will ye face thae tearing chields, the dragoons, Ensign Maccombich?” again inquired the landlady.

“Claw for claw, as Conan said to Satan, Mrs. Flockhart, and the deevil tak the shortest nails.”

“And will the colonel venture on the bagganets himsell?”

“Ye may swear it, Mrs. Flockhart; the very first man will he be, by Saint Phedar.”

“Merciful goodness! and if he's killed amang the red-coats!” exclaimed the soft-hearted widow.

“Troth, if it should sae befall, Mrs. Flockhart, I ken ane that will no be living to weep for him. But we maun a' live the day, and have our dinner; and there's Vich Ian Vohr has packed his dorlach, and Mr Waverley's wearied wi' majoring yonder afore the muckle pier-glass; and that grey auld stoor carle, the Baron o' Bradwardine, that shot young Ronald of Ballenkeiroch, he's coming down the close wi' that droghling coghling bailie body they ca' Macwhupple, just like the Laird o' Kittlegab's French cook, wi' his turnspit doggie trindling ahint him, and I am as hungry as a gled, my bonny dow; sae bid Kate set on the broo', and do ye put on your pinners, for ye ken Vich Ian Vohr winna sit down till ye be at the head o' the table;—and dinna forget the pint bottle o' brandy, my woman.”20

After Prestonpans, of course, the Jacobites confront the reality of external hostility and internal dissension. The cause disintegrates before our eyes, and Edward must be separated from it. It is after a miserable little skirmish in the North of England that the lost Edward, sheltered by a family of peaceful Cumberland farmers, realises “that the romance of his life was ended, and that its real history had now commenced.”21

What follows this climax of self-understanding is curious. Edward, having gone out on a very long limb, must be inched back to safety again. Scott moves him about considerably in order to lead him to the inevitable marriage with the domestic Rose Bradwardine. But an important agent of salvation is Colonel Talbot, a Loyalist officer whose life Edward had saved at Prestonpans. Talbot's attitude toward Edward is partly paternalistic, for he is older, wiser, and more powerful. Yet he is not another father-substitute like Sir Everard or, later, the Baron of Bradwardine. Edward and Talbot often speak as equals, as though they were the ambassadors of two hostile nations, and their relationship is founded upon a balance of indebtedness, for each has saved the other's life. This element of reciprocity quietly anticipates similar relationships in later novels—Morton and Evandale in Old Mortality, Halbert and Edward Glendinning in The Monastery and The Abbot, and, most obviously, Darsie Latimer and Alan Fairford in Redgauntlet. What Scott seems to be working towards is the separation of a character type—“the hero”—into two persons, just as Flora MacIvor and Rose Bradwardine are symbolically divergent images of “the heroine.” To do this, of course, is to carry dualism about as far as it will go. This is one more reason why a monistic view of Scott—that he was “really” a sentimental feudalist, or that he was “really” a rational son of the Enlightenment—can never be more than a half-truth.

The final chapters of Waverley deserve full attention, not only because of their merits as literature, but also because they offer an interesting compromise for Edward. First, however, the fates of the most active Jacobites must be made clear, and Scott, with an admirable sense of the relevant, barely mentions Culloden. What interests him, apart from the dilemma of his hero, is the destiny of the leading Jacobites—Fergus, Flora, and the Baron. The emotions aroused are elegiac and sometimes tragic, and they are intense. E. M. W. Tillyard has warned us all against the hand-me-down opinion that Scott lacks passion;22 and he has ample support in these last scenes. Bradwardine's reception of Edward's appeal for permission to marry his daughter is an example:

The Baron seemed collecting all his dignity to make a suitable reply to what, at another time, he would have treated as the propounding a treaty of alliance between the houses of Bradwardine and Waverley. But his efforts were in vain; the father was too mighty for the Baron; the pride of birth and rank were swept away; in the joyful surprise, a slight convulsion passed rapidly over his features, as he gave way to the feelings of nature, threw his arms around Waverley's neck, and sobbed out—“My son, my son! if I had been to search the world, I would have made my choice here.”23

The intensity of this moment seems all the more marked when we consider Edward's previous observation that his real parent “never showed the affection of a father while he lived.”24 We may also remember Scott's identification of Edward with himself in his General Preface. Surely the abandoned Edward's quest for a father was a response to urgings from the depths of Scott's personality.

But Scott reserves his finest writing for the trial and execution of Fergus. The final judgment on the Laird of Glennaquoich by Edward's servant Alick Polworth is superb by any conceivable standard:

The next morning ere day-light he [Edward] took leave of the town of Carlisle, promising to himself never again to enter its walls. He dared hardly look back towards the Gothic battlements of the fortified gate under which he passed, for the place is surrounded with an old wall. “They're no there,” said Alick Polworth, who guessed the cause of the dubious look which Waverley cast backward, and who, with the vulgar appetite for the horrible, was master of each detail of the butchery,—“The heads are ower the Scotch yate, as they ca' it. It's a great pity of Evan Dhu, who was a very weel-meaning, good-natured man, to be a Hielandman; and indeed so was the Laird o' Glennaquoich too, for that matter, when he wasna in ane o' his tirrivies.”25

Some of Scott's admiring critics, who often seem to assume that their readers are familiar with his every paragraph, quote Alick's words in isolation. This is fatal, for the words require their context. My inclusion of the entire paragraph is little better, however, for the context really begins with the first chapter. Alick is offering an apolitical Sancho's comment on the follies of the great. Samuel Johnson insisted that “When a butcher tells you that his heart bleeds for his country, he has, in fact, no uneasy feeling.”26 Political excitement, in other words, is an upper-class privilege. To a large extent Scott agreed, but the use he made of the idea would have surprised Johnson. For what Scott often finds among his low characters is an enviable and impertinent indifference to the high-principled idiocies of the Ferguses and Floras. After Scott's solemn account of the trial and execution of Fergus, Alick's words cut like a knife. We can almost imagine him, his judgment delivered, spitting on the ground and going forward with his saner business.

Still, Scott is not Alick. History in the grand sense, with its impossible alternatives, existed for him. Flora's utopian fantasy of an organic, independent society meant something—it pressed hard upon his mind:

“But let us hope a brighter day is approaching, when a Scottish country gentleman may be a scholar without the pedantry of our friend the Baron, a sportsman without the low habits of Mr Falconer, a judicious improver of his property without becoming a boorish two-legged steer like Killancureit.”27

In the light of this vision of wholeness, we observe something unusual about Scott's conclusion. Edward returns to sanity after his bout of high adventure, but he does not come full circle. The truth is that Edward's renunciation of “the romance of his life” does not quite mean what it says, for it is softened at the end by Scott's desire that it should not be too absolute. Isn't there some safe compromise? There is. Edward not only marries the Baron's daughter, he also marries his estate, where he may breathe the air of the Highlands and participate in a life that preserves feudal virtues and pleasures without the physical and moral perils of feudal violence. Before the novel concludes, he has already begun to tell “tales of old Scottish manners” for the amusement of his friends, and the dead Fergus MacIvor lives on in an elegant oil-painting by “an eminent London artist.”28 Edward's settling into such a world prefigures Abbotsford.

All this seems a little suburban, and that is exactly the problem. Edward's fate did not really satisfy Scott. He had yet to exorcise the backward devils.

But if Waverley's compromise conclusion is not completely satisfying, this makes little difference to our evaluation of the novel as a whole. The reputation of Waverley has suffered far too much from its being the first of a long line. This position was actually an advantage, for the novel was a début, written under a sense of occasion and before Scott discovered what he could get away with in front of an adoring public. Its theme, moreover, is serious and new, its presentation of the ironies of history is precise and subtle, its structure shapely and well-ordered. There are some weaknesses in the presentation of Fergus and Flora, but there is not, with the exception of a stagy burlesque of a French officer,29 a cheap or opportunistic note from beginning to end. And Edward remains one of Scott's most engaging heroes—a young man who understandably finds the real world not to his taste, but whose confrontation with “romance” is something that his nature cannot support. These virtues, along with hundreds of lesser delights, offer reasonable grounds for considering Waverley Scott's finest novel. Certainly it must be ranked as high as any of the others.


  1. W. Ferguson, “The Making of the Treaty of Union of 1707,” The Scottish Historical Review, xliii (1964), pp. 89-110.

  2. Journal [The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, ed. J. G. Tait, 3 vols., Edinburgh, 1939-46],i. 133.

  3. Quoted in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Library Edition, 20 vols., Washington, D.C. 1903-4, xviii. 167.

  4. Boswell's Life of Johnson, London 1946, i. 288.

  5. “Scott's Achievement as a Novelist,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vi (1951), pp. 84-5. (Reprinted in Literary Essays, Edinburgh 1965.)

  6. Letters [The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. H. J. C. Grierson, 12 vols., London, 1932-7], III. 302.

  7. See the “General Preface” in Waverley [Dryburgh Edition, London, 1892-5].

  8. W. [Waverley], ch. 2.

  9. W., ch. 5.

  10. W., ch. 11.

  11. W., ch. 50.

  12. W., ch. 22.

  13. W., ch. 23.

  14. W., ch. 27.

  15. W., ch. 26.

  16. W., ch. 30.

  17. W., ch. 48.

  18. W., ch. 30.

  19. W., ch. 31.

  20. W., ch. 42.

  21. W., ch. 60.

  22. The Epic Strain in the English Novel, London 1958, p. 69.

  23. W., ch. 67.

  24. W., ch. 61.

  25. W., ch. 69.

  26. Boswell's Life, i. 263.

  27. W., ch. 23.

  28. W., ch. 71.

  29. W., ch. 58.

John Henry Raleigh (essay date 1970)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8284

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, the “what” of history. This was not only a question of the feelings of patriotic Scotchmen and nostalgic Englishmen but of the most serious and profound European minds brooding on the rapidly disappearing past and the rapidly expanding future and the enigmas of man's history. Not only French historians, like Thierry, but sociologists of the future, like Tocqueville. Thus Tocqueville in England:

This picture of Gothic feudalism in decay appears to have struck a rare romantic chord in Tocqueville, or at least awakened some ambition of youth. He traveled northward to see the castle of Warwick and rode one night amid the ruins of Kenilworth. In a vibrant letter he shared the experience with his English-born bride-to-be, Mary (Marie) Motley.

He evoked for her the moon-bathed castle, which he peopled with characters from Sir Walter Scott. “Was I not in the realm of the dead? There I sat on a stone and fell into a kind of trance, while it seemed that my soul was drawn toward the past with indescribable force.”

(Seymour Drescher, Tocqueville and England [Cambridge, Mass. 1964], p. 38. The letter was written from Warwick on Aug. 26, 1833.)

Then there was Scott's magnificent evocation of the death-pangs of a distinctive but doomed culture, a phenomenon that Scotland was not alone, in the European community, in experiencing. Indeed Waverley was the first great artistic bodying forth of the condition of all-encompassing cultural transition that the whole world, both the most advanced sectors and the most primitive, is undergoing today. And thus for the twentieth century it is probably the “how” of the Waverley world that is most interesting and instructive, the Waverleys as “models” of historical processes, of the ways of men and events and how they mutually shape and form one another under the slow and continuous pressure of the passage of time, and, especially, in the context of high historical crisis. Thus the most interesting of Scott criticism, from first to last, has been that which has attempted to seek out and identify the primary “model,” that is, the human types and the particular historical configuration that recur so often as to constitute the basic scaffolding or skeleton for all the novels.1

But, strangely enough, what has not been examined with any great care or specificity are Scott's historical attitudes toward his subjects and towards the processes of history. These subjects turn out to be quite complex, even if the discussion is kept to one document, Waverley, as will be the case in the essay that follows. What I propose is to discuss Waverley as a historical novel and to progress from Scott's conscious attitudes and intentions to his unconscious, and perhaps more revealing, assumptions about men and history. Thus the discussion moves from Scott's explicit utterances to the inferences that can be drawn from such implicit considerations as the structure of the book, the grouping of characters, the way the novel looks to someone one hundred and fifty-plus years after its publication and who can see how historical tendencies, of which Scott himself could not have been consciously aware, were incipient in the novel.


Considered as a conscious and explicit document, Waverley strikes one as something that could have been written in the eighteenth century.2 It is in great part satiric and even when not satiric it minimizes the importance of its own subject matter. Like Voltaire deflating Europeans by putting them in the context of world civilization, Scott constantly reminds the reader that the story he is telling in Waverley is about miniscule matters. And whatever contemporaries may have thought, Waverley has a peculiarly, almost aggressively, unexalted tone.

Part of this results from Scott's allegiance to and connection with his great eighteenth century predecessors, Sterne, Fielding, Pope and Swift, whose satiric and ironic outlook encompassed not only the human species but also the very literary form that they were using as a vehicle for their satire. Thus in Waverley, the voice of Swift is heard when a supposed Jacobite who has managed to avoid any difficulty with the Hanoverian government is described as having a “very quiet and peaceful conscience, that never did him any harm” (ch. 11); that of Fielding and Pope when in the Highlands a hunting party awaiting the approach of a herd of deer is described in Miltonic terms—“Others apart sate on a hill retired” (ch. 24); that of Sterne when Scott, quite rightly, dismisses or deprecates his own plot or when he begins a chapter with the rhetorical question, “Shall this be a long or a short chapter?” and answers his own question with the indubitable assertion that in this matter the “gentle reader” has no vote. There are also touches of a belated eighteenth century voice, that of Jane Austen, especially in the opening section where hereditary life at Waverley Honour is being described. Sir Everard had not always wanted to remain a bachelor and once upon a time had paid court to the youngest of six daughters of a neighboring family. Upon the rejection, the Earl pronounced “grave eulogiums” on the “prudence and good sense, and admirable dispositions, of his first, second, third, fourth, and fifth daughters” (ch. 2). More potently, the voice of Dr. Johnson is heard as well through the anonymous narrator, who in this novel is not given a definitive character or persona, and through the character of Colonel Talbot, the voice of Reason in the novel. Thus the narrator at one point announces that flattery was in fashion sixty years since and will be in fashion six hundred years hence, “if this admirable compound of folly and knavery, called the world, shall be then in existence” (ch. 13). Colonel Talbot's speech has the authentic Johnsonian ring both in the form and in the content. Thus on the convicted MacIvor, he pronounces justly-earned doom:

That he [MacIvor] was brave, generous, and possessed many good qualities, only rendered him the more dangerous; that he was enlightened and accomplished, made his crime the less excusable; that he was an enthusiast in a wrong cause, only made him the more fit to be its martyr.

(ch. 67)

Talbot also clears all minds of cant about what the Highlanders are really like:

Let them stay in their own barren mountains, and puff and swell, and hang their bonnets on the horns of the moon, if they have a mind; but what business have they to come where people wear breeches, and speak an intelligible language?

(ch. 56)

The whole first section of the novel, dealing with England, is in the eighteenth century mode, a satiric anatomy of a complex, hierarchical, and varied society whose chief preoccupations are politics and religion, and whose modus vivendi is either resting on hereditary honors or getting ahead with any means at hand. Of the two Waverley brothers, the father and the uncle of the hero, the uncle is a decent but silly old Tory who talks of almost nothing but ancestry and its minutiae and of “the jargon of heraldry, its griffins, its moldwarps, its unycorns, and its dragons” (ch. 4). His younger brother, a political opportunist who has married for money and turned Whig for advancement, had early decided that “to succeed in the race of life, it was necessary he should carry as little weight as possible” (ch. 2). But he is not only despicable: he is a failure as well, even in the fraudulent world in which he operates.

English High Church religion is embodied in Mr. Pembroke, Waverley's good-natured, learned but old and indulgent tutor, who has two massive manuscripts, one entitled “Right Hereditary righted,” and the other, “A Dissent from Dissenters, or the Comprehension confuted; showing the Impossibility of any Composition between Church and Puritans, Presbyterians, or Sectaries of any Description; illustrated from the Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, and the soundest Controversial Diaries.” Pembroke suffers from the last infirmity of the clerical mind, the desire to have these monsters published. There is a masterly little dramatic vignette describing his encounter with a London bookseller in Little Britain, a supposed Jacobite who speaks like Dickens's Alfred Jingle, in fast-moving, disjointed phrases, and who, with much secrecy, and signs and nods and smiles, mistakenly welcomes Pembroke as an emissary from the Pretender or from Rome, and then refuses to publish either manuscript. He has, he says, a family to think about, but he recommends to Pembroke another bookseller: “… he is a bachelor, and leaving off business, so a voyage in a western barge would not inconvenience him” (ch. 6).

It is not always remembered that this same very unromantic, realistic, satirical tone is sustained in many important ways throughout much of the whole novel. The opening chapter, which ticks off the various current sillinesses of fiction, the Gothic novel, the German novel, the “High-Life” novel, and so on, points a direction which in great part Waverley faithfully follows. In Chapter 5 Scott says “Mine [novel-vehicle] is a humble English post-chaise, drawn upon four wheels, and keeping his majesty's highway.” Such aberrations as the novel does deal with will not be great and glorious follies, like those Cervantes described, but “that more common aberration from sound judgement, which apprehends occurrences indeed in their own reality, but communicates to them a tincture of its own romantic tone and colouring” (ch. 5). Even at avowedly romantic points in the novel, the ever-presence of a humdrum or even silly reality is always mentioned. Waverley's historical musings by the solitary tower, called Strength of Waverley, with its memories of the Wars of the Roses and the seventeenth century religious wars, are described as analogous to

a child among his toys, culled and arranged, from the splendid but useless imagery and emblems with which his imagination was stored, visions as brilliant and as fading as those of an evening sky.

(ch. 4)

Even the first great romantic moment, so beloved by contemporary readers, when Waverley finds himself at night in the Highlands by a remote lake under the guidance of a wild native is undercut by the reminder that he is there because Baron Bradwarden's milch cows had been stolen by some thieving Highlanders—“The degrading incident be kept in the background!” (ch. 16)

The rebellion itself is a rather shabby affair, hopeless from the start, its leaders torn by petty bickerings and jealousies, the bulk of its Highland army, “half naked, stinted in growth and miserable in aspect; sparingly fed, ill-dressed, and worse armed” (ch. 44). The actual battles Colonel Talbot dismisses as minor skirmishes; as he says to Waverley:

Fighting! pooh, what have you seen but a skirmish or two?—Ah! if you saw war on the grand scale—sixty or a hundred thousand men in the field on each side!

(ch. 62)

And Waverley himself reflects that while he had imagined war would be all plumed troops, it has turned out to be night marches, vigils, and couches under a wintry sky. What one would have expected to be one of the climactic moments of the novel, the council of war at Derby on Dec. 5, 1745, when the rebellious invaders decided to give up their preposterous invasion of England, is never described but dismissed as something of which the reader is fully aware and needs hardly to be reminded. The battle of Culloden, which was historically of some importance, is only referred to in passing. “It is not my purpose,” says Scott, “to intrude upon the province of history” (ch. 57).

It can hardly be said, either, that the Scotch, Highlanders or Lowlanders, are romanticized. Of the two Highland leaders described in detail, MacIvor, although quite courageous and noble in the face of death, is a political adventurer, and Donald Beam is a treacherous thief. The Highlanders are colorful, courteous, and, according to their lights, honorable, but treachery is also a salient Highland characteristic. Waverley himself is almost a victim of it when a follower of MacIvor attempts to assassinate him, imagining, as does his leader, that Waverley has been remiss in a point of conduct with the MacIvors. Once more the most vivid description of irresponsible Highland murderousness is given to Colonel Talbot:

And they learn their trade so early. There is a kind of subaltern imp, for example, a sort of sucking devil, whom your friend Glena-Glenamuck there, has sometimes in his train. To look at him, he is about fifteen years; but he is a century old in mischief and villany. He was playing at quoits the other day in the court; a gentleman, a decent-looking person enough, came past, and as a quoit hit his shin, he lifted his cane: But my young bravo whips out his pistol, like Bean Clincher in the Trip to Jubilee, and had not a scream of Gardez l'eau, from an upper window, set all parties a scampering for fear of inevitable consequences, the poor gentleman would have lost his life by the hands of that little cockatrice.

(ch. 56)

Highland superstition in the person of the ghost of Bodach Glas which appears to MacIvor as a premonition of his fall and which might be expected to add a touch of antique grandeur to his life and fate, is dismissed as the fiction of “an exhausted frame and depressed spirits” (ch. 59), for minds that do not think deeply or accurately have a “reserve of superstition” (ch. 24).

Lowland life is by definition less romantic, and is in fact dull, provincial, and stagnant. Thus the hamlet of Tully-Veolan, which constitutes Waverley's introduction to the amenities of this civilization: miserable houses with black stacks of turf on one side of the door and the family dunghill on the other; naked children sprawling in the streets; idle, useless, snarling curs snapping at horses' hoofs; an apathetic and incurious citizenry, strangers to soap—“The whole scene was depressing.” It was true that the marks of intelligence and gravity could be seen lurking in the physiognomies of these Arcadians, but:

It seemed, upon the whole, as if poverty, and indolence, its too frequent companion, were combining to depress the natural genius and acquired information of a hardy, intelligent, and reflecting peasantry.

(ch. 8)

The Baron of Bradwardine is a kind of lovable old bore—much like Sir Everard—whose interminable monologues are a compound of ancient and modern anecdotes; curious, if not valuable, information; prejudice and pedantry; plus liberal besprinklements of Latin and French phrases. As Scott had explained earlier in the novel, Scotch learning tended to be diffuse rather than accurate and its possessors to be readers rather than grammarians. The Baron is likewise a man of good sense, honorable feelings and stoical courage. But his neighbors, who attend a party for Waverley, which erupts, after much drinking, into a brawl, have hardly anything honorable to be said of them: the Laird of Balmawhapple, who tries to start a duel with Waverley, and the Laird of Killancureit, who has passed out on the floor by the time the argument begins. Later in the novel Flora MacIvor refers to the pedantry of the Baron, the “low habits” of Balmawhapple, and calls Killancureit a “bullish two-legged steer.” (She predicts a transformation, and Scott, writing in 1813, adds that the transformation has occurred, but without the revolution Flora is working for.)

The four Scotch characters who are meant in some senses to be likable and/or admirable are the Baron, MacIvor, Flora MacIvor, and the Baron's daughter, Rose. But even these do not escape the remorseless intellect and the Johnsonian finality of the inevitable Colonel Talbot who finally ticks off them too (ch. 52):

The Baron:

“… the most intolerable formal pedant he had ever had the misfortune to meet with …”


“… a Frenchified Scotchman, possessing all the cunning and plausibility of the nation where he was educated, with the proud, vindictive and turbulent humour of that of his birth. If the devil,he said,had sought out an agent expressly for the purpose of embroiling this miserable country, I do not think he could find a better than such a fellow as this, whose temper seems equally active, supple, and mischievous, and who is followed, and implicitly obeyed, by a gang of such cut-throats as those whom you are pleased to admire so much.

As for the two young women:

He allowed that Flora Mac-Ivor was a fine woman, and Rose Bradwardine a pretty girl. But he alleged that the former destroyed the effect of her beauty by an affectation of the grand airs which she had probably seen practiced in the mock court of St. Germains. As for Rose Bradwardine, he said it was impossible for any mortal to admire such a little uninformed thing whose small portion of education was as ill-adapted to her sex or youth, as if she had appeared with one of her father's old campaign-coats upon her person for her sole garment.

The sharpness of these judgments is mitigated by the explanation that Talbot is, like his model, Dr. Johnson, inveterately anti-Scotch. However, in this same chapter Waverley himself has already set off Talbot as a superior soldier to three Scotch militarists: the Baron whose art of war is marked by pedantry; Major Melville—who had interrogated Waverley earlier in the novel,—whose concern with minutiae makes him a martinet; and MacIvor whose martial strategies were inseparable from, and dominated by, his personal ambitions. Talbot, on the other hand, is the complete English soldier, devoted to King and Country, and devoid of pride of theory, over-preoccupation with detail, or personal ambition.

Nor does Scotch religion escape the general critique of crudeness, imbalance, incoherence, and eccentricity that have been remarked on in all the other spheres already touched upon above. The exception here is Mr. Morton, whom Waverley meets during his incarceration in the village of Cairnvrecken. Like George Eliot's Farebrother, Morton is completely nondoctrinaire, and the narrator declares that he has never been able to ascertain whether Morton was an evangelical or a moderate in the kirk. In some senses he is the Scotch equivalent to Talbot although his chief characteristic is not intelligence but rather simple goodness. However, played off against him are two religious extremists: the sour, puritanical, hypocritical, mercenary Ebenezer Cruickshanks and the energetic, grim, militant, fanatical, Cameronian, Gifted Gilfillan. Hypocrisy and fanaticism—the two historic vices of Northern European Protestantism—and the well deserved target of many an eighteenth century satirical rationalist. Thus the novel as a whole is certainly in the eighteenth century mode. One of its ideals is a moral expressed repeatedly in eighteenth century literature, that solitude and solitariness are what lead to imbalance and extravagance and that civilized society (i.e. English society), the collective force of other mature examples, alone make man a reasonable being: “Society and example … more than any other motives, master and sway the natural bent of our passions, …” (ch. 4).

Such romance, or romanticism, as there is exists largely in the imagination of the hero, but even here it is most clearly minimized or undercut. It should be said first that Scott is at his worst with a character like Waverley who is described internally, undergoes a supposed development and is inclined in some degree to abstraction or cerebration. In a letter Scott himself called his chief character a “botch.” He was, said his creator, a “sneaking piece of imbecility” and further remarked that if he had married Flora she would have set him up on the mantle-piece, as it was said the wife of the Polish dwarf did with her husband. To further confuse things Waverley has two identities: one a sterling young man of action who engages in battles; the other a Werther-like soul who shrinks from reality or, more accurately, does not know what reality is. And despite the fact that Waverley is supposed to have been educated out of his youthful illusions by experience, much of it harsh, into the nature of reality—by the end of Chapter 60 he says to himself that the romance of his life is ended—he will finally lapse back into his youthful, withdrawn romanticism, as Flora MacIvor predicts in her vision of what life will be like at Waverley-Honour, when Waverley, married to Rose, finally settles there for life: old books, grottoes, moon-lit nights, colonnades, oak trees, deer, and greensward (ch. 52).

In so far as the characterization of Waverley has any coherence, it is a picture of the bad effects—this was Scott's view of his own education—of a haphazard and hazy education on an indolent and romantic mind of which “fancy takes the helm, and the soul rather drifts passively along with the rapid and confused tide of reflections, than exerts itself to encounter, systematize, or examine them” (ch. 23). Thus as the Scotch represent one kind of imbalance, Waverley represents another; the former are colorful and the latter is weak: neither are viewed with anything except reason and common sense. In other words, the major impulse behind the novel is realistic and satirical rather than romantic: the Highlander's posturings and Waverley's musings are two kinds of moonshine. Through the dicta of Talbot or Flora MacIvor, almost everything gets deflated, even the highest virtue of this world, or of Scott's own imagination: courage, about which Flora says, anent men in danger, that it probably takes more courage to run away, and that all men like strife, in a kind of instinctual way like dogs and bulls, which makes its pursuit no great virtue (ch. 52).

What Scott seems to be saying in all this is that life is a rather prosaic affair; that dreams are only dreams; that it may once have been possible for men to see ghosts in the forest or signs in the sky or that the events of 1745 may once have appeared to be dashing and romantic; but that if you look closely and reasonably and clearly at things, like a philosophe, like a modern man of the Enlightenment, the ghosts disappear and the romance of history evaporates.


Considered as conscious philosophy of history, Waverley is in the best liberal, progressivist, optimistic style, identical in substance and spirit to Macaulay's “Third Chapter.” In fact the Postscript, “which should have been a Preface,” to Waverley is precisely a miniature “Third Chapter.” Like Macaulay, Scott takes a span of time, only fifty years rather than Macaulay's century and a half, and briefly describes the vast changes that have occurred in Scotland during that time, remarking that no other European nation has within the course of a half-century undergone so complete a change. The existing generations of Scotland are as different from their grandparents as existing English are from those of Queen Elizabeth's time. As his authority for the political and economic effects of these changes Scott cites Lord Selkirk, and it is important to understand what this assent signified.

Thomas Douglas (1771-1820), Fifth Earl of Selkirk, was the author of Observations on the Present State of the Highlands of Scotland, with a View of the Causes and Probable Consequences of Emigration (1805). (Actually Selkirk cited a sixty-year period, 1745 to 1805, as the years of the great changes.) The Observations addresses itself to the problem of the de-population, largely by emigration to America, of the Highlands. The more vociferous Scots patriots objected to this, and in 1803, largely because of the efforts of the Highland Society, a bill restricting emigration was passed. Selkirk, who himself had led a group of Highlanders emigrating to Prince Edward's Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1803, was a proponent of emigration and pointed out that given the post-1745 economy of the Highlands there was no alternative. Sheep-farming and the aggregation of farms had made it impossible for the Highlands to support its people, and it would be cruel, remembering Malthus, to force them to stay there. Anyway, the Highlander hated regularity and sedentary labor, and he simply would not become a laborer in the Lowlands. In America he could get land, something unobtainable for him in Scotland. While his departure was a great loss to the army, whose backbone he was, the whole process was sound and progressive from an economic point of view:

the produce of the country, instead of being consumed by a set of intrepid but indolent military retainers, is applied to the support of peacable and industrious manufacturers.

(ch. 77)

The emigration, which was really lamented only by the Highland gentry, was thus both inevitable and desirable. In other words it was Progress, as Macaulay would have understood the term.

In 1830 in a letter to Maria Edgeworth, in which he advised her to look at Selkirk, Scott said about the emigration:

It is vain to abuse the gentlemen [who converted to sheep-walks] this which is the inevitable consequence of a great change of things.

(Letters, ed. Sir Herbert Grierson [New York, 1932-38], XI, 380)

In other words Scott acquiesced in the extinction of his beloved Highland culture and way of life, and Waverley is one of its memorials and obituaries.

The extinction of the Highlands was but an extreme manifestation of a more sweeping transition that was transforming all of Scotland and involved the eradication of the Scottish past, including the language dialect, the amalgamation of Scotch and English, and the modernization and enrichment of Scotland. The signal characteristic of this change, in addition to its rapidity, was its silent unobtrusiveness. Except for the Highlands, it was not cataclysmic or even obvious; in fact it was almost imperceptible. As he puts it at the end of Waverley:

the change, though steadily and rapidly progressive, has nevertheless been gradual; and like those who drift down the stream of a deep and smooth river, we are not aware of the progress we have made until we fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have drifted.

(ch. 72)

He does add that there have been losses: “folks of the old leaven,” who were living embodiments of loyalty, faith, hospitality, and honor. History then is omnipotent, in wiping out what is irrelevant, although perhaps lovable, and ‘slowly’ drifting the mass of mankind down the river of progress.

The next question is: what does this do to human character? The relationship between history and human character is spelled out in the opening chapter: that human nature is always the same; but that it is affected by the historical period in which it finds itself; and that the modern age is more civilized than former ones in which men could give in to their bent for fury and violence. Modern man is thus repressed: “Our malignant feelings … must seek gratification through more indirect channels and undermine the obstacles which they cannot openly bear down, …” (ch. 1). In other words, modern man cannot kill other men, except in war.

Cutting across these long-term historical drifts of collective progress and individual repression are two rear-guard counter-tendencies. First there is simple atavism or hereditary instincts which are attenuated by but nevertheless resist the flow of history, and which are ascribed both to families (the Waverleys) and to cultural and/or ethnic groups (the Highlanders). Second, there is biological sport or chance by which the right historical moment and the right character for that moment happen to coincide, producing a unique anomaly, as with the character of MacIvor. The MacIvors go back three centuries, and Fergus is the eleventh in descent from John of the Tower, the founder of the clan. Fergus' father, involved in the insurrection of 1715, had fled to France where he married a lady of rank and by her had two children, Fergus and Flora. Fergus' innate character, combined with his situation, produced a unique ego of “a mixed and peculiar tone, that could only have been acquired sixty years since” (ch. 19). Thus he could only have been what he was by virtue of the particular moment in which he was born: sixty years before he would have lacked polish and the knowledge of the world that he possesses; sixty years later his ambition and love of power would have found no proper outlet.3 When he dies, a historical possibility dies with him. As the present and the future represent the generalizing and standardizing of men and culture, the past is full of non-repeatable uniquenesses. And despite Scott's statement that human nature is a constant, particular configurations of human character can and do actually disappear, that is, a realizable human potential is wiped out. As Flora says of the Baron: “It is a character, Captain Waverley, which is fast disappearing” (ch. 23).


Thus there is, along with the conscious philosophy of history in Waverley, a less conscious one as well which is both more complicated and more interesting. In the first place, there is a disjunction between the fictional plot, Waverley's story, and the historical narrative to which that plot is joined. The fictional plot is involved, hasty, disjointed, full of mysteries, and uncertain in its temporal pace: sometimes leisurely; at other moments fast-moving. Scott himself said he had let the first volume (which concludes with Chapter 23, with Waverley listening to Flora sing) flag and that he tried to introduce more hustle and bustle in volumes two and three. (To J. B. Morritt, 28 July, 1814, Letters, III, 477.) The close of the plot proper is hurried, summary and apologetic. In Chapter 70, it is compared to a stone rolling down a hill:

The earlier events are studiously dwelt upon, that you, kind reader, may be introduced to the character rather by narrative, than by the duller medium of direct description; but when the story draws to its close, we hurry over the circumstances, however important, which your imagination must have forestalled, and leave you suppose those things which it would be abusing your patience to relate at length.

In this story there is much guilt on Waverley's part, not only cultural, as he changes from the English army to the Scotch, but personal as well: to Colonel Gardiner, to Colonel Talbot, to his uncle, and so on. Much of the plot is a tissue of piled-up guilts, as he imagines himself the betrayer of all those closest to him or the cause of disaster to them. But all the guilts turn out to be either imaginary or about something that can be and is remedied. Thus when Colonel Talbot grants him the King's pardon at the end, he has already disburdened himself of all his other guilts.

But in history proper doom is dark and guilt is real, and inexpiable. History proper, unlike fiction, moves slowly, steadily, inexorably, and clearly to its foregone tragic conclusion. There are no mysteries to it: Bonnie Prince Charley's efforts, and the ambitions of the MacIvors, are doomed from the start. And whereas Waverley's guilt is imaginary or unfounded, Flora MacIvor's is genuine, deep, and unforgivable. As she says to Waverley, “…—that the strength of mind on which Flora prided herself has murdered her brother!” (ch. 68). And her brother's death is the peculiarly horrid one accorded to convicted traitors under the English laws of the day. Thus the end of the novel alternates back and forth between the light and the dark: the gradual disentanglement of Waverley from his mistakes and troubles and his marriage to the light-haired Rose, out into the sunlight of the future, but the MacIvors sink down into the darkness of guilt, despair, and a bloody death:

The place of Fergus's confinement was a gloomy and vaulted apartment in the central part of the Castle—a huge old tower, supposed to be of great antiquity,

(ch. 69)

Then there is the black sledge, drawn by the white horse; the “horrid-looking” executioner; “the deep and dark Gothic archway” through which moves the procession of death and affords Waverley his last glimpse of MacIvor. A dark, old, blood-stained place of immurement, with men torturing other men: this is the real conclusion of a crucial historical event. Even the humor of history is grisly and smacks of the gallows. The Baron, for example, had been involved in the uprising of 1715, was captured, made his escape, but returned—and was recaptured—in order to get his copy of Livy which he had forgotten. The Baron was pardoned but his historical antecedent, a real man, had not been so fortunate. As Scott explained it in a footnote:

The attachment to this classic was, it is said, actually displayed in the manner mentioned in the text by an unfortunate Jacobite in that unhappy period. He escaped from the jail in which he was confined for a hasty trial and certain condemnation, and was retaken as he hovered around the place in which he had been imprisoned, for which he could give no better reason than the hope of recovering his favourite Titus Livius. I am sorry to add, that the simplicity of such a character was found to form no apology for his guilt as a rebel, and that he was condemned and executed.

(ch. 6)4

Moreover, if real history is dark, it is also concretely complex, tangled in innumerable details and quite the opposite in its tenor from that metaphor of the quiet, smooth-flowing river of progress, and the future, the modernity that abstracts man so rapidly into a vaguely roseate future. The past is Gothic, ornate, irrational, thick: it is, as has been said of Scott's world in general, full of “things.” For example, the golden goblet, known as the Blessed Bear of Bradwardine, introduced in Chapter 11, is an object of great intricacy and formidable history, which is explained at some length, and in the vocabulary of heraldry, by the Baron.

Above all, the past was slow-moving, in contrast to the frenetic present. Thus at Waverley-Honour in the 1740's, national news was slow in arriving and came through only one channel, unlike the present day of “those mail-coaches, by means of which every mechanic at his six-penny club may nightly learn from twenty contradictory channels the yesterday's news of the capital” (ch. 2). Again, letters, we are told (ch. 30), are shorter in these “degenerate days,” and most things are more expensive, as the price of horses, for example (ch. 28). People were more credulous, unlike “this critical generation” and things in general in ordinary life were duller: “the hum-drum details of a courtship Sixty-Years since” (ch. 67).

The past contrasted to the present was more exciting in some ways: wars, rebellions, and killings and fiercer, more passionate. The Baron is a kind of good-natured eccentric, but an ancestor whose portrait (ca. 1642) hangs in his hall “glared grimly out of a huge bush of hair, part of which descended from his head to his shoulders, and part from his chin and upper-lip to his breast-plate” (ch. 15). In other respects, especially in the normal routines of living, the past tended to be more prosaic, less exciting than the more expansive present. If it was simpler, it was in some spheres more solid morally. Thus in Chapter 3 Scott attacks the modern penchant for making learning “interesting”: “The history of England is now reduced to a game of cards, the problems of mathematics, to puzzles and riddles, …”

History then is a scale of existence, the well-known “stages-of-civilization” idea, of which Scott, as a pupil of Dugald Stewart, was a proponent, but passage from one stage to another, while it was Progress, was not necessarily all gain. For example, the decline or disappearance of the chivalric spirit in the nineteenth century was not lamented only by the conservatives and the Tories. No less a champion of reason and progress than John Stuart Mill felt this loss every bit as strongly:

The chivalrous spirit has almost disappeared from books of education; the popular novels of the day teach nothing but (what is already too soon learnt from actual life) lessons of worldliness, with at most those huckstering virtues which conduce to getting on in the world; and for the first time perhaps in history, the youth of both sexes are universally growing up unromantic.

and greatly is the book to be valued, which in this age, and in a form suited to it, does its part towards keeping alive the chivalrous spirit.

From the heroic character of ancient literature, “not only the noblest minds in modern Europe derived much of what made them noble, but even the common spirits what made them understand and respond to nobleness.” (“A Prophecy,” Dissertations and Discussions [New York, 1874], I, 285.)

But all losses and gains are subsumed under the great inner historical subject of Waverley which is a comparison and contrast between two scales of civilization, Scotch and English, and a description of the various degrees of human consciousness that can be found in each scale. Roughly speaking, England is advanced and organically whole, while Scotland is retarded and unbalanced. The ideal for which England stands and for which the author speaks, is a secular civilization that continuously advances but has the virtues of wholeness, balance, sanity, and a general adherence to the Reality-principle: no mysticism in religion and nothing but stoicism in morals. Its mind does not go whoring after multiple causes-and-effects or the multiplicity of consequences that follow in the train of human actions. As Colonel Talbot, its spokesman, says:

It is a responsibility, Heaven knows sufficiently heavy for mortality that we must answer for the foreseen and direct result of our actions,—for their indirect and consequential operation, the great and good Being who alone can foresee the dependence of human events on each other, hath not pronounced his frail creatures liable.

(ch. 55)

Nevertheless, not all members of a culture have the same degree of awareness or consciousness of what is happening to them and their culture, and this internal scale of consciousness is temporal too. For example, in Scotland the MacIvors and the Highlanders stand for the remote past, which is dead although they do not know it, and thus they represent the tragedy of historical transition. The Baron and the rest of the Lowlanders stand for the recent past, but now in process of transformation in which their anachronisms, about to disappear, are amusing and lovable. They thus represent the comedy of historical transition. The author or narrator who says after MacIvor has been condemned for treason:—

Let us devoutly hope that, in this respect at least, we shall never see the scenes or hold the sentiments that were general in Britain Sixty Years since.

(ch. 67)

—is the voice of the present and the future. The scale of awareness of cause-and-effect in human actions is analogous. The Highlanders believe in fate, ancestral curses, charismatic powers, signs in the sky, and so on; while the narrator believes simply that history makes man what he is and that the more advanced stage of civilization will always overcome the less advanced.

The scale of temporal awareness for the principal English characters is both wider and, as a whole, is more advanced on the universal historical scale than that of the Scots. In England an attachment to the past is merely a harmless and amusing eccentricity, an amateur hobby that signifies only that its practitioner has departed from the mainstream of history and harmlessly idles in a backwater. Thus Sir Everard. On the other hand, one who single-mindedly and materialistically pursues the main chance in the hurly-burly of the present is contemptible and, what is even worse, defeatable. Thus Sir Richard, Waverley's father.

The two most interesting and significant consciousnesses on the English scale are those of Waverley and Colonel Talbot. Despite the fact that he is preoccupied with the past, Waverley is one of the first crude, intuitive sketches of “modern man” with distinct affinities to the artist-hero who first came to the surface in the Romantic period and who was to loom so large in the literary imagination of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. First of all, Waverley's fixation on the past is not indicative of a direct connection to it: it is a device to dream with and has little attachment to literal reality. In a sense it is atemporal, unanchored, hazy. Scott makes this point very clear in the comparison between the Baron's factual sense of history, history as a series of concrete events stored in memory, and Waverley's vaguely romantic notions about historical high points (ch. 12). For Waverley's “history” is “as brilliant and fading as … an evening sky” (ch. 4). He is in short a transformer of reality by the artistry of imagination. His is the modern, free-floating consciousness, not really rooted in anything and completely unhindered in its imaginary travels up and down the scale of time.

“Modern” Waverley is in other ways as well. First, he is a victim, the pawn rather than the master of events. Second, he suffers from the three modern curses: doubts of identity; anxiety (much of it nameless); and guilt (much of it imaginary). These are all problems that arise out of his own consciousness, turned in on itself. For in the early part of the novel he also suffers from isolation, and his character has been formed in solitude. As such, he is one of the first representatives in literature of the distinguishing and distinctive property of the modern mind first pointed out by Hegel (who was Scott's almost exact contemporary) and termed by him “alienation.” This same phenomenon was described succinctly by John Stuart Mill in his St. Andrews Inaugural Lecture:

The modern mind is, what the ancient mind was not, brooding and self-conscious; and its meditative self-consciousness has discovered depths in the human soul which the Greeks and Romans did not dream of, and would not have understood.

Like modern man, too, Waverley is “international,” one of the first of the expatriates and genuinely-bemused by the clash of competing cultures in which he is involved. The happy ending of the conventional plot subdues all his problems, but not before Scott's “world-historical” consciousness had dimly perceived some of the basic problems of the modern consciousness.

No better summation of his character has been written than Lukács' description (in Die Seele und die Formen) of the every-day experience of ordinary modern consciousness:

Daily life is a confused and many-coloured anarchy, where nothing attains its perfect essence, and no clear dividing line separates the pure and the impure. Everything flows, everything is broken and destroyed, and nothing attains authenticity. For men love everything which is hazy and uncertain in life, and adore the soothing monotony of the Grand Perhaps. Everything clear and unambiguous makes them afraid, and their weakness and cowardice lead them to embrace every obstacle set up by the world and every gate to bar their path. For what lies behind each rock too steep for them to climb is the unsuspected and ever unattainable paradise of their dreams. Their life is made up of hopes and desires, and everything which prevents them from fulfilling their destiny is easily and cheaply transformed into an internal richness of the soul.

(Quoted by Lucien Goldmann, The Hidden God, trans. Philip Thody [London, 1964], p. 39.)

But there is also a mind above time, that of Colonel Talbot, or, more properly, a mind that refuses to recognize history and which maintains that what can be known, about men and events, can be known clearly and unambiguously, for human nature never changes. To this mind the past, the sky, dreams, the wilderness, romantic yearnings, the admitted intricacy of human events are best left to God, Who alone can comprehend them. The only thing worth talking about is what one can actually know.

In the first edition of Waverley there were three volumes. Roughly, the three divisions were: first, Waverley's education and introduction to the Highlands; second, Waverley's involvement with the MacIvors and the beginnings of the rebellion; and third, the denouement. Waverley runs throughout the entire narrative, but each section tends to have dominant and theme-bearing secondary characters: in Vol. I: Sir Everard; in Vol. II: Fergus, Flora, and the Pretender; in Vol. III: Colonel Talbot (who does not appear until Vol. III). Thus the first volume might be entitled: “Dream and History”; the second, “The Myth of the Highlands”; and the third, “The Reality of the Present.” Thus whatever happens to Waverley, the novel as a whole progresses from Dream through Myth to Reality, from History as private dream, to History as tragic myth, to History as the unambiguous present. And thus the great evoker of the past, the man who according to Carlyle taught us what history meant, turns out to be a classic apostle of progress.


  1. To give some examples:

    a. J. A. Adolphus saw always at the center of things a passive hero, who usually gets his second choice of women but who escapes fate and gains happiness. Contrasted to him is the wild, strong, uncivilized “hero” who meets his death. Letters to Richard Heber, Esq. (London, 1821), Letter VII.

    b. Nassau Senior saw the period as always a great crisis or turning point in history and the standard cast of characters as: a virtuous passive hero who marries; a fierce active hero who dies violently; and a fool or bore. Essays in Fiction (London, 1864).

    c. Alexander Welsh sees, among other things: a light and dark hero and a light and dark heroine; a concern for property and paternity; and an evocation of guilt and anxiety. The Hero of Waverley Novels (New Haven, 1963).

    d. Coleman O. Parsons sees three basic ingredients in all the plots: civil strife; the problem of the hero's identity; and the problem of honor. The hero is a moderate who is caught in a conflict between mighty opposites; he gets debits and credits on both sides but is usually thrown on the side of the rebels by some act of severity on the part of authority. Sub-themes are sister-contrast (as in Heart of Midlothian) and the wages of sin. Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott's Fiction (Edinburgh and London, 1964), pp. 265ff.

    e. Thomas Crawford sees the novels as dramatizations of history that have superficial themes and inner themes. Thus conventionally Woodstock is a Romeo and Juliet story; an anti-Puritan document; and is Toryish in its outlook. The real or inner themes are: (1) contrasts of Cavalier and Puritan; (2) relationship between Hegel's “maintaining personalities” (ordinary citizens) and “world-historical personalities” (in this case Cromwell). Again Woodstock is a “model” of a revolution, and Ivanhoe is a “model” of how nations are formed out of tribes. Scott (Edinburgh and London, 1965), pp. 47-63.

    f. Francis R. Hart investigates many of the complexities of man and history in his Scott's Novels: The Plottings of Historic Survival (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 1966).

    g. The great claim for the Waverleys as a model for some of the major courses of Western history has of course been made by Georg Lukács, particularly in “The Classical Form of the Historical Novel,” The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell, (Boston, 1963), pp. 19-88.

  2. It has, of course, often been remarked that Scott was really an eighteenth century man. The most sweeping claim for Scott as an unqualified eighteenth century rationalist of which I am aware is that of A. W. Benn in The History of English Rationalism in the Nineteenth Century (London & New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1906).

    Duncan Forbes in The Liberal Anglican Idea of History (Cambridge, 1952), pp. 8-9; and 132; makes a similar claim that as an historian Scott is in the eighteenth-century rationalist tradition.

  3. The character of MacIvor has often been criticized as unreal or mythical. History, however, shows that the peculiar combination of high civility and barbarism that MacIvor embodies was a phenomenon among the Highland chieftains of the time. They were civilized savages who could speak both Gaelic and English and were often conversant with French, Latin and Greek. They drank French claret, wore lace, and sent their sons abroad to be educated. John Prebble, Culloden (London, 1961), p. 38. At the same time it should be remarked that Prebble calls Sir Walter's picture of the Highlands “Gothic” (p. 330).

  4. Grisly anecdotes of a similar kind always crop up in Scotch history, the most famous or often-repeated being the one about the Highland retainer who had been condemned to death by his chieftain. There are various versions of the story. One version has it that the man was put in the “pit” until the hanging. Somehow he procured a sword and vowed he would kill the first man who touched him. But his wife said, “Come up quietly and be hanged and do not anger the laird.” And the man submits to his fate. Wallace Notestein, The Scot in History (New Haven, 1946) p. 197f. Another version has it that the man is inside his cottage on the morning of his hanging and his wife is outside. As the laird approaches, she cries out “Come awa', Jaimie, Come awa' to your hangin' and dinna vex the laird.” James Fergusson, Lowland Lairds (London, 1959). This anecdote is, of course, supposed to illustrate the fanatical loyalty of retainers (although it seems to me that the power of wives is certainly part of the picture). Either way, it is gallows humor of a high and literal order. Its equivalent in Waverley is Evan Dhu's offer to give his own life and his fellows in exchange for MacIvor's to the English tribunal. The court, initially, laughs at what they regard as a preposterous proposition. But, of course, it is meant seriously.

Mark M. Hennelly (essay date 1973)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6321

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 vision and methodology which have most prompted recent scholarly investigation, that is, the Romance, myth, and dialectic. Although there is obvious critical overlapping here since any perceptive student of the movement must adopt a somewhat holistic approach, still the respective work of Harold Bloom, Northrop Frye, and Albert Gérard most representatively isolates these problems.2 In his lengthy paper on “The Romantic Myth” Frye comes closest to the needed synthesis; but his provocative overview must yet be grounded in a detailed study of one example, which can subsequently act as a basis for the identification of common epistemological strains in Romantic poetry and prose fiction. This, as I see it, is one of the most important, and inevitable conclusions of such a query.3 The present article proposes to nominate and validate Sir Walter Scott's Waverley (1814) as an acceptable example.

Initially, however, the Romantic adoption of Romance, myth, and dialectic needs briefly to be elaborated. Wisely, at least for the critical time being, Bloom and his visionary company of scholars have been reluctant to specify and thereby limit which particular ingredients of the Romance are blended into the Romantic recipe. Following this lead, although it would prove interesting and perhaps valuable to see Waverley as Galahad and the Baron as the Fisher King, we are better off accepting, up to a point, Frye's (again note the overlapping) general Romance-Romantic formula:

In Romanticism this [rejection of history and social reality] romance form revives, so significantly as to give its name to the whole movement, but in Romanticism the hero himself is the hero of the quest, and his turning away from society is to be connected with what we have been discussing, the demoting of the conception of man as primarily a social being living primarily in cities.4

The myth which Frye partially locates in the Romance and which Joseph Campbell has more amply and universally defined as the “monomyth”5 dramatizes, of course, the archetype of the scapegoat-quester who in passing through a series of rites de passage (here Frye terminates the Romantic version) not only indicates and completes his own growth from innocence, through experience, to wisdom, but also either like Odysseus therapeutically saves the sick kingdom by bringing back the prize, even if it is only his now-mature self, or else like Aeneas establishes a new kingdom, reconciling the old values with the new ones learned during the journey. My quibble with Frye is that he does not see the return or the establishment of a new society as central to the specifically Romantic quest, while I uphold their centrality.6 In the above notion of myth, dialectic is of course implicit in the oscillation between ideological extremes, i.e., the old domestic codes and the alien new ones, as it is in the mental shifts through joy, sorrow, and acceptance in the romantic lyrics and odes such as “Resolution and Independence” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”7 Simply stated, the lyric and ode internalize the narrative dialectic, usually a journey, into a meditatio, a long night of the soul, an agonizing but therapeutic self-analysis in which landscape becomes psychoscape. The narrative poem or here fiction, conversely, reifies and objectifies the interior growth-through-debate into external odysseys and confrontations with a concomitant rehabilitation of the quester, or sometimes his downfall. This brings us to Waverley whose symmetry and mediating vision provide an expressive form which neatly synthesizes the Romance, myth, and dialectic.8

When Scott wrote his friend Morritt that Waverley was “a sneaking bit of imbecility,”9 it was certainly an accurate description of the hero of seven-eighths of his novel—a hero whose, as his name suggests, “mind wavered between … plans.”10 However, at the end of chapter 60, this dialectical vacillation is dramatically eclipsed by the other two elements of our Romantic triad: “… he acquired a more complete mastery of a spirit tamed by adversity, than his former experience had given him; and … he felt himself entitled to say firmly, though perhaps with a sigh, that the romance of his life was ended, and that its real history had now commenced” (420; italics mine). Until this final stage, Waverley's apparent meanderings have been, though on a far more intricate scale, identical to those of the Ancient Mariner, Lucy Gray, and the whole lonely crowd of Romantic isolatos. However we anticipate ourselves and must return to the basic facts of the novel.

In outline form, first, Waverley's problem is this: he begins life bereft of a mother and for all intents and purposes abandoned by his father and consequently lacking the normal paternal-maternal guidelines and sympathies which help to form an integrated personality. Furthermore, he is born into two worlds—one of which he must learn is all but dead and the other powerless to be born without the most potent of progenitors. These are not separate problems as too many critics have taken them to be; nor must the novel be one either of character or of plot.11 Rather personality and history are intimately related through Romance, myth and dialectic. Thus it is Waverley's task as pariah and consequently messiah to undertake a mythic quest for his self (i.e., the fully integrated personality), thereby testing different male identifications for their ability to endure and survive and female identifications for their ability to love unselfishly so that once he has learned enough and matured enough from these confrontations, and moreover once he has empirically validated the best and worst of the Tory and Whig positions, he will have earned the right to reconcile symbolically the rival factions and restore communal harmony. The geographic center both for Waverley's psychological and for his historical journey is Tully Veolan. He not only returns here after each flirtation with Highland—Tory or British—Whig value systems but also views the landscaping and architecture from a different moral viewpoint after each return. Thus it is as an untested neophyte, the young “knight of romance,” that Waverley initially sees the manor after his journey from England; following the Highland interlude and symbolic wounding by Gillfillian's men, he does not even recognize Janet's cottage or his “angel of mercy”; after the more sobering experiences of war and the dissipation of the Chevalier's (and his own) delusions of grandeur, he finds the structure physically scarred as he is psychically; and finally at the conclusion of the dialectic, Edward, like his prototype, as Scott tells the reader, has become a “sadder and a wiser man” (436) when he returns to Tully to find it and himself renovated. Throughout the crisscrossing odyssey, the keeper of this stronghold, the Baron of Bradwardine, has endured, and Edward's attitude toward him has significantly altered; thus as we shall see, it is the Baron's value system which the hero must ultimately both adopt and adapt. Specifically, though, the most unified way to encounter Waverley's male and female acquaintances and his inevitable returns to Tully is to track him, step by step, along the journey itself.

After outlining his ideas on fiction in chapter 1, Scott with unrelieved narration provides the background to his hero's early formation. In chapters 2-6, the reader hears a rehearsal of the main themes of the consequent adventures. We see the Whig-Tory split dramatized in Waverley's father, Richard, a political opportunist who “had married a young woman of rank, by whose family interest and private fortune he hoped to advance his career” (78) and in the boy's uncle, Sir Everard, who had a demoralizing albeit chivalrous and self-sacrificing love experience, the outcome of which was his friendship with Lady Emily and Colonel Talbot. “The prospect of succession” (73) motivated Richard to all but completely turn over the education of Edward to his brother, and this symbolic abandonment initiates the neophyte's search for paternal strength. Thus, Waverley is confronted at an early age with crass and selfish expediency (which is repeated in Fergus' attitude toward Rose) and maudlin, self-effacing sensitivity (which is repeated in his own attitude toward Flora) in affairs of the heart. In only a very general way do these tendencies follow party lines, and neither partisan is all right or all wrong, but simply too extreme. Mr. Pembroke, Waverley's pedantic and irresponsible tutor, is the final British, male influence on the boy; and his “indolence as a tutor” (103) is magnified in his pupil's “losing for ever the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application, of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the power of his mind for earnest investigation” (81). Moreover, the female characters at Waverley-Honour, the mothering Aunt Rachel and the angelic Miss Cecilia Stubbs—“at … a level with the saint her namesake” (90)—are both unable to curb their would-be prize's “deep and increasing sensibility” and concomitant “dislike of society” (85).

Assuming the polar symbols which will follow him throughout his adventures, Waverley in these early English episodes sets off for the hills with “gun” and “book” (88), the former an excuse for the latter: “like a child among his toys, [he] culled and arranged, from the splendid yet useless imagery and emblems with which his imagination was stored, visions as brilliant and as fading as those of an evening sky” (89). It is this negatively Romantic hobbyhorse12 which carries Waverley to Scotland, and it is also this palfrey which he must learn is anachronistic and should be traded in for a more viable steed. However, such wisdom for the Romantic is hard won and can be merited only by that very escape from the temporal world and the pursuance of the timeless Romantic quest.13 When Waverley rides out of the gates of Waverley-Honour toward Scotland and the Chevalier, he begins this second stage of the dialectic.

Once in Scotland, “he now entered upon a new world, where, for a time, all was beautiful because all was new” (104). This inability to distinguish between appearances and reality, symptomatic of the ingenue, characterizes Waverley throughout his early sojourn. Initially he finds, for all the wrong reasons, that “Colonel Gardiner, the commanding officer of the regiment, was himself a study for the romantic … youth” (104). Gardiner, a model of disciplined yet sensitive conduct, soon reproves this “romantic” strain, thus setting a precedent for realistic reprimand which many other paternal substitutes echo against Waverley. Dividing the male-identification characters into father figures and peer-foils or Doppels, we find Davie Gellately, whom Edward next encounters, to be in the second category. As the butler suggests: “He is an innocent, sir … we ca' him Davie Do-little; indeed we might ca' him Davie Do-naething, for since he got that gay clothing, … he has done naething but dance up and down about the toun!” (116). During his first visit to Tully Veolan, Waverley encounters another foil, Balmawhapple, who adopts the opposite symbolic extreme of the gun rather than the book. Balmawhapple, like the more significant Hotspur, Fergus, is also a rival for the hand of Rose (148); he challenges Waverley to a duel (129) and later in the rebellion dies due to his impetuosity. Although at the outset Edward does not realize the true value of the Baron of Bradwardine, his intervention in the duel establishes his evolving role as father-norm: “I am in loco parentis to you, and bound to see you scathless” (129; Scott's italics). Thus in following the development of Waverley, we must necessarily follow his gradual approach, both literally and symbolically, to the life-style of the Baron who (in the maturing vision of Edward) changes from the stock miles gloriosus of comedy to the pater sapiens of tragedy.

In this initial encounter our hero also misjudges the merits of Rose. Although they share a “kindred taste” (148), Rose “had not precisely the sort of beauty or merit, which captivates a romantic imagination in early youth. She was too frank, too confiding, too kind; amiable qualities, undoubtedly, but destructive of the marvellous with which a youth of imagination delights to dress the empress of his affections” (149). Scott's litotes which depicts Rose as actually the model spouse for Waverley becomes all the more keen and telling during her recital of the history of Flora and Fergus, after which he “could not help starting at a story which bore so much resemblance to one of his own daydreams” (157). Directly, these visions are objectified in the sudden “martial apparition” (159) of Evan Dhu Maccombich, Fergus' dependable lieutenant. Evan, a peer-foil to Edward's inconstancy and later a lifesaver for the youth (400), promises to guide him to the Highlands: “If it be as I suppose, you never saw such a place in your life, nor ever will unless you go with the likes of me” (161).

Off on the next stage of the Romantic dialectic, Waverley (throughout chapters 16 and 17) imagines the landscape metamorphosing into dreamscape (as we have previously suggested is the case with the Romantic ode and lyric)—its “dusky barrier of mountains had already excited his wish to penetrate beyond them” (159). Although “he was anxious … to remove the opinion which Evan seemed to entertain of the effeminacy of the lowlanders, and particularly of the English” (163-64), Edward in this phase of his development is unable to cope with the realistic ardors of Highland travel and begins “to find the exercise, to which he was unaccustomed, more fatiguing than he expected” (164). Still, during times of rest, this outsider in an alien world hopes to meet “a second Robin Hood” and to give “himself up to the full romance of his situation” (165) while “wrapt in these dreams of imagination” (166). After crossing a Stygian-like lake, the mythic threshold to the otherworld, the band arrives at the cavern stronghold of Donald Bean Lean, whose followers “appeared like demons” (167). Here Edward meets an example of the male and female gemination which will confront him throughout his odyssey, Donald and his daughter Alice. This “damsal of the cavern,” like other females in the novel, feeds and cares for the hero while later even more significantly abetting his progress by smuggling Colonel Gardiner's long-lost letters to him and appropriately returning the family seal when his identity has been solidly shaped and tempered by adversity (340). Her parting kiss anticipates others he will receive, i.e., Cicely (418), and symbolizes his reception of unselfish love. Donald, on the other hand, like Balmawhapple, is a negative foil whose deceptions effect many of the turns of the action and who now steals the family seal his daughter will later return, thus prefiguring the identity crisis Edward undergoes in the Highlands.14

This crisis is, of course, brought on by his confronting the next and most influential (“deepest influence upon his character, actions, and prospects”) male and female pairing, Fergus and Flora (180). The latter's dreams are as lofty and idealistic as the former's ambitions are crass and materialistic: “Her love of her clan, an attachment which was almost hereditary in her bosom, was, like her loyalty, a more pure passion than that of her brother. He was too thorough a politician, regarded his patriarchal influence too much as the means of accomplishing his own aggrandisement, that we should term him the model of a Highland Chieftain” (194). While Flora sublimates all of her passion into the Cause, Fergus, like Richard, channels his into his own ego structure; and both such tendencies conflate in Waverley's split personality. However the pair also play messianic roles as far as Edward is concerned. Thus, although in the rococo waterfall tableau Edward, “the knight of romance” (199), finds that “the wild beauty of the retreat, bursting upon him as if by magic, augmented the mingled feeling of delight and awe with which he approached her, like a fairy enchantress of Boiardo or Ariosto, by whose nod the scenery around seemed to have been created, an Eden in the wilderness” (201), still the fairy enchantress is pragmatic enough to enumerate the domestic virtues of Rose and to later add, implicitly, that these are just the virtues which Edward desperately needs to ground his Romantic sparks. Flora initially counsels: “That man … will find an inestimable treasure in the affections of Rose Bradwardine, who shall be fortunate as to become her object. Her very soul is in home, and in the discharge of all those quiet virtues of which home is the centre” (206-7). Days later, partly to squelch her own attractions and partly to recall her earlier allusions to Rose, she advises Waverley to redirect his suit: “Because you seek, or ought to seek, in the object of your attachment, a heart whose principal delight should be in augmenting your domestic felicity, and returning your affection, even to the height of romance … you, Mr. Waverley, would forever refer to the idea of domestic happiness which your imagination is capable of painting, and whatever fell short of that ideal representation would be construed into coolness and indifference. …” (234-35).15

Fergus, on the other hand, while remaining self-centered can pointedly chide his young protégé with “speakest thou of nothing but ladies” (231) and even saves his life (212) when Waverley is in the path of a stampeding herd of deer. Significantly, his failure to hear the general alarm was due to his “ignorance of the ancient language [Gaelic] in which it was communicated” (212), again implying that he had not yet become seasoned to the Highland lifestyle. His ensuing wound thus seems to signify the debilitating effects of “that not unpleasing state of mind in which fancy takes the helm, and the soul rather drifts passively along with the rapid and confused tide of reflections, than exerts itself to encounter, systematize, or examine them” (208).16 During his subsequent convalescence, Waverley's gradual conversion to Fergus' cause is more fully suggested: “to be whirled along by him, the partaker of his desperate and impetuous motions, renouncing almost the power of judging, or deciding upon the rectitude or prudence of his actions—this was no pleasing prospect for the secret pride of Waverley to stoop to” (233).

When Edward gets back on his feet (horizontal and vertical positioning are metaphoric throughout the novel) and begins his return to the Lowlands to clear himself of charges of treason, he appropriately also begins to relinquish the Highland penchant for passion and nostalgia: “Reason asked, was it worth while to disturb a government so long settled and established, and to plunge a kingdom into all the miseries of civil war, for the purpose of replacing upon the throne the descendants of a monarch by whom it had been willfully forfeited?” (241). Such passages, which punctuate the entire novel, link the analogous extremes of Whig-Tory, Present-Past, England-Highlands, Reason (Realism)-Passion (Romance), and Action-Reverie into an interrelated thematic pattern. It is vacillation, however, rather than the wrong choice, or even better, acceptance of both extremes, which plagues the hero until his resolution of the dialectic. As we have already heard and as his surname suggests: “His mind wavered between these plans. …” (292).

At any rate, on his return journey Reason is still no clear victor as his confrontation with the appropriately named Mucklewrath husband-and-wife team indicates. After his wounding of Mr. Mucklewrath and incarceration for this extreme action, Waverley again finds himself a marginal man, “alone, unfriended, and in a strange land” (265). Here other parallels present themselves, and the polar personalities of his jailers both recall and anticipate other such antitheses in paternal and peer roles. Major Melville, on the one hand, like the fatherly figures of Gardiner and later Talbot, upbraids Edward for “the inexperience of youth” (266). He himself had been “versed in camps and cities; he was vigilant by profession, and cautious from experience, had met with much evil in the world, and therefore, though himself an upright magistrate and honorable man, his opinions of others were always strict, and sometimes unjustly severe” (268). Mr. Morton, on the other hand, much like Waverley himself and later Frank Stanley, had “passed from the literary pursuits of a college … to the ease and simplicity of his present charge, where his opportunities of witnessing evil were few.” Moreover, “a love of letters … had tinged his mind in earlier days with a slight feeling of romance”; and “the early loss of an amiable young woman [cf. Sir Everard] had also served … to soften a disposition naturally mild and contemplative” (268). After Waverley, “whose life was a dream” (279) during the escape, receives a second symbolic wound from one of Gillfillian's extremists, he returns to the Baron's manor. Again lying flat on his back in convalescence, this time at Jane's cottage, he is still too intoxicated with Flora and Highland ardor to recognize Tully Veolan (and the restorative influence of Rose). Each of these returns to Tully is accompanied by a consequent death and rebirth in the stages of Waverley's growth; and this mythic rebirth features apropos obstetric suggestions. It is presided over by a midwife, the “old Highland sibyl,” and takes place in a womblike structure where “the fire was in the center and filled the whole wigwam with smoke, which escaped as much by the door as by means of a circular aperture in the roof” (289). Finally, the visitations of at least two other veiled female figures imbue Edward with the feminine curiosity of “our grandmother Eve” (291) and suggest the therapeutic value of the Jungian anima-archetype (the repressed female leanings of the masculine psyche) as the youth is symbolically reborn into a world of love: “Was Alice his unknown warden, and was this maiden of the cavern the tutelar genius that watched his bed during his sickness?” (293).17

The following, lengthy center section of the book provides the testing ground for Waverley's ambiguous ethical system, further reinforces the peer, paternal, and feminine foil patterns, and finally prepares for the winding down of the dialectic into its resolution. After a lengthy journey, Waverley at last comes face to face with Prince Charles, “the royal Adventurer” (308), who “answered his ideas of a hero of romance” (308). Thus, after abandoning “all prudential motives” (308), this knight-errant “kneeling to Charles Edward, devoted his heart and sword to the vindication of his rights” (308). Although the Chevalier does feel a genuine affection for his newest subaltern, he nevertheless, like both Richard and Fergus, is not above selfish motives: “nothing could be more seasonable for the Chevalier than the open declaration in his favor of the representative of the house of Waverley-Honour, so long known as cavaliers and royalists” (309).18 Like most of the paternal figures, Charles also chides Edward for his naïve emotionalism: “you must put a more severe restraint upon your feelings” (326). On the other hand, the Baron of Bradwardine in this section begins to firmly establish himself as the true father figure and regards Edward “as his own son” (315). Moreover, in his light banter with Fergus, the Baron not only reveals his adaptability in playfully abandoning classical rhetoric, “ferociores in aspectu, mitiores in actu,” for the Highland patois, “And wha the deil doubts it” (317), but also displays the ability to laugh at himself, a quality that Waverley must learn and one which Fergus sadly lacks.19 Finally, the Baron himself suggests a basic similarity in their personalities: “the lad can sometimes be as dowff as a sexagenary like myself” (329).

The ensuing battle of Prestonpans is epiphanic in Edward's development because it not only brings him face to face with his own guilt and the Romance trial-by-combat but also introduces him to lacrimae rerum, the inherent elegiac quality of mythic cyclicism. It is from this central episode onward that he begins to exercise more masterful control over his fate: “the whole circumstance of time, place, and incident, combined at once to awaken his imagination, and to call upon him for a manly and decisive tone of conduct, leaving to fate to dispose of the issue” (328). Here, especially with the death of his follower Houghton, Waverley not only realizes that his irresponsibility has sacrificed his own retinue, but also “the final agonies of mortality, [he] now witnesse[s] for the first time” (340). Even this dying retainer berates him: “the repeated expostulation of Houghton,—‘Ah, squire, why did you leave us?’ rung like a knell in his ears” (341-42). During the battle itself, his actions are salvific rather than aggressive as he prevents Callum Beg from killing Gardiner (344) (though he cannot prevent a second attempt) and he only actively joins the fray to save an English officer's life (349). The full impact of his past indiscretions, however, strikes Waverley after the capture of Talbot when the prisoner relates that Sir Everard has been imprisoned “in consequence of a suspicion brought upon him by your conduct” (359) and that he himself has come to find Edward out of filial duty to his oldest friend and benefactor. Talbot, “a mixture of pride and manly sorrow” (360), becomes the last in a line of father figures for Waverley as both his “paternal remonstrance” (368) and the Baron's reverent and risible affair with the royal boot (364) gradually make this “proselyte” concede a hard-won truth: “Well, after all, everything has its fair, as well as its seamy side” (365). Still, since Talbot, at least in stubbornness and prejudice though not perhaps in personal ambition, is too much like Fergus, it is the Baron's influence that is finally most effective. That Scott explicitly intends Waverley to be faced with a parade of ego ideals is made quite clear:

As a specimen of the military character, he differed from all whom Waverley had as yet seen. The soldiership of the Baron of Bradwardine was marked by pedantry; that of Major Melville by a sort of martinet attention to the minutiae and technicalities of discipline … ; the military spirit of Fergus was so much warped and blended with his plans and political views, that it was less that of a soldier than of a petty sovereign. But Colonel Talbot was in every point the English soldier. … Added to this he was a man of extended knowledge and cultivated taste, although strongly tinged, as we have already observed, with those prejudices which are peculiarly English.


The remainder of this section reinforces the now-familiar patterns as Waverley gradually becomes disenchanted with Highland values. For example, even the “simple Edinburgh swain” whom Edward hires to replace Callum Beg “had mounted the white cockade in a fit of spleen and jealousy because Jenny Job had danced a whole night with Corporal Bullock of the Fusileers” (372) and he thus mirrors the hero's own early infatuation with Flora and prefigures his future jealousy of Fergus' designs on Rose (382-83). Waverley is also confronted here with another important male and female pairing, Talbot, whom we have just discussed, and his Lady Emily, whose illness and loss of child is described in Lucy Talbot's letter (389-90). He finally meets this model of feminine love and symbolically older Rose later in London (425 ff.). Energized by Lucy's missive and Talbot's mild reproof, “We must answer for the foreseen and direct result of our actions” (389), Edward decides to restore domestic tranquility and to help Talbot either escape or gain pardon. By this time Waverley's experience and maturation have significantly allowed him to overcome past (cf. 164 and 212) deficiencies so that he “now equalled any Highlander in the endurance of fatigue, and was become somewhat acquainted with their language” (394). Thus, geared with the best of Highland virtues but divorced from Fergus, he appropriately switches allegiance to the Baron's company, whose Lowlanders “formed a high opinion of Waverley's skill, and a great attachment to his person” (399). As Fergus' influence wanes, there is also a “change in his appearance. His eye had lost much of its fire; his cheek was hollow, his voice was languid, even his gait seemed less firm and elastic than it was wont” (408). Thus the fall of the house of Stuart, its leaders and Romance values, has begun.

After Waverley is separated from the Pretender's forces during the night “Skirmish” (ch. 59), he discovers he must clear his name or Sir Everard will be tried (421); and consequently he decides to return, incognito, to England. Scott makes much of the various disguises and aliases he assumes on the journey, and these seem to emphasize in condensed form the many identity crises he has undergone throughout the swings of the dialectic and accompanying rites de passage. As Talbot later indicates (although he neglects some of the disguises): “This youngster, Edward Waverley, alias William, alias Captain Butler, must continue to pass by his fourth alias of Francis Stanley, my nephew” (431; Scott's italics). He is first aided by the paternal Jacob Jopson, an “honest farmer,” his daughter Cicely, and her beau, Ned Williams. As from Alice, Waverley takes the symbolic departing kiss from Cicely; while from Ned, unlike the thieving Donald, Waverley takes both clothes and name (the whole episode in chapter 60 seems to be contrasted with the earlier one in chapter 18 at the cavern stronghold). It is at this point, as we have already heard, that “he acquired a more complete mastery of a spirit tamed by adversity, than by former experience had given him; and that he felt himself entitled to say firmly, though perhaps with a sigh, that the romance of his life was ended, and that its real history has now commenced” (420). After masquerading as a young churchman at Fasthwaite for two months, Waverley takes the coach to London and the Talbots; and during this journey he becomes Captain Butler to forestall the inquisition of Mrs. Nosebag and preserve the innocence of Corporal Bridoon (423-24), the least successful of the pairings. At the Talbot's, Edward learns of the death of his father who had first, with characteristic unconcern, left his son in the charge of the Colonel. Here he is also introduced to the new neophyte, Frank Stanley, whose name he appropriates and whom he must now instruct in the ways of the Highlands (432).

The remainder of Waverley's adventure oscillates between England and the Lowlands. He first returns to Tully which like himself—“how changed! how saddened, yet how elevated was his character, within the course of a very few months”—is now war-ravaged: “A single glance announced that great changes had taken place” (436). However, the fortunate fall of this second Ancient Mariner-Wedding Guest also implies the eventual restoration of the manor: “‘A sadder and a wiser man,’ he felt, in internal confidence and mental dignity, a compensation for the gay dreams which, in his case, experience had so rapidly dissolved” (436). With his final identity now secure and stable, both Davie and the dogs recognize Edward (442); and he himself finally recognizes the true worth of the Baron who has also been chastened by the war: “His absurdities, which had appeared grotesquely ludicrous during his prosperity, seemed, in the sunset of his fortune, to be harmonized and assimilated with the noble features of his character, so as to add peculiarity without exciting ridicule” (453).20 Edward now assumes the mature management of his fate, himself chiding the garrulous Bailie with “Mr. Macwheeble, let us proceed to business” (455). He thus earns the Baron's epithet when asking for the hand of Rose: “My son, my son! If I had been to search the world, I would have made my choice here” (461). After bidding farewell, before the Carlisle executions, to Fergus and all the dissipated dreams he represents and seeing Flora off to a convent in France (473 ff.) and after briefly revisiting Rachael and the freed Everard at Waverley-Honour where his “athletic and hardy character … surprised and delighted all the inhabitants” (479), Waverley finally returns once and for all to the Lowlands, Rose, and the Baron. Here through his reunion with Morton, Melville, and the Talbots, and even Fergus in the portrait (apparently the only place for dreams), and the reclamation of Tully Veolan, symbolized in the recovery of the “cup of Saint Duthac, the Blessed Bear of Bradwardine” (489), Waverley's own resolution is effected. The dialectic has wound down to a single focal point; Romance and Realism have coalesced; and the pariah has become messiah and rehabilitated the ravaged kingdom. He thus settles down to enjoy in this middleground the best of both England and the Highlands, of Whig and Tory life-styles, and to preside over the education of new initiates like Frank Stanley “who has been seized with a tartan fever” (490) and will soon venture to the Highlands.

In the preceding pages, we have traced Scott's use of the Romance, myth, and dialectic in Waverley. We have also suggested that these three interrelated criteria for Romantic poetry might be applied to the identification of a parallel and equally definable genre, the Romantic novel. The task for the future, it seems to me, is to identify more particularly and precisely the special Romantic features of the triad. Of what significance, for example, is the notion of courtly love to Romanticism? Or, how and why is it that so often in the nineteenth century the scapegoat-quester of myth becomes a surrogate-artist figure? Or, in Romanticism are there quantitative and qualitative differences in dialectical movements and their resolutions? We have seen that Waverley provides a clear example of Romantic logic and belief. One hopes it will also prompt investigations of similar examples which may answer our question.21


  1. PMLA, [Publications of the Modern Language Association of America] 66 (1951), 5-23.

  2. Cf. Harold Bloom, “The Internalization of Quest-Romance,” Yale Review, 58 (1969), 526-36, reprinted as chapter 2 in Bloom's The Ringers in the Tower (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971); Northrop Frye, “The Romantic Myth,” in A Study of English Romanticism (New York: Random House, 1968); and Albert S. Gérard, English Romantic Poetry (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1968), esp. chapters 1 and 11.

  3. There have, of course, been studies devoted to tracing isolated Romantic motifs in prose fiction; e.g., see the chapters on Frankenstein and Marius the Epicurean in Bloom's The Ringers.

  4. Frye, p. 37.

  5. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1956), pp. 244-45; this lengthy definition is easily applicable to Waverley, but such an application would carry us too far afield.

  6. Frye's notions of “Conservative Romanticism,” pp. 26-27, and the “prose romance” in Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), pp. 304 ff., introduce further distinctions and may suggest (one still cannot dismiss the cited quotation) that our differences are more semantic than real.

  7. For a discussion of the problems and confusion in labeling the lyric and other Romantic genres, see M. H. Abrams, “Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric,” in From Sensibility to Romanticism: Essays Presented to Frederick A. Pottle, ed. Frederick W. Hilles and Harold Bloom (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 527-60.

  8. Critical appraisal is only now coming to grips with the underlying themes of the novel. The interested reader should consult particularly Francis R. Hart, Scott's Novels: The Plotting of Historic Survival (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 1966), pp. 14-31, which discusses Waverley's search for identity through escaping history, and A. O. J. Cockshut, “Waverley” in The Achievement of Walter Scott (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1969), which treats the hero as the “man between” who attempts to come to grips with mixed political loyalties. Both excellent studies neglect, however, the patterned repetition of Waverley's star-crossed allegiances and their relationship to the Romantic dilemma.

  9. As quoted in Hart, p. 14.

  10. Sir Walter Scott, Waverley (1814; rpt. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, Premier World Classic, 1965), p. 292. All subsequent quotations are from this edition and are incorporated within the text.

  11. For an explanation of this problem see Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (New York: Humanities Press, 1965), pp. 30-63, passim.

  12. For a discussion of this more escapist brand of Romanticism, see Peckham.

  13. For a complete discussion of mythic escapes from time to eternity and back again, see, Mircea Eliade, esp. “The Terror of History” in The Myth of the Eternal Return (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965).

  14. Concerning the essential differences between Highlands and Lowlands, Scott later tells us: “So little was the condition of the Highlands known at that late period, that the character and appearance of their population, while thus sallying forth as military adventurers, conveyed to the south-country Lowlanders as much surprise as if an invasion of African Negroes, or Esquimaux Indians, had issued forth from the northern mountains of their own native country” (335).

  15. For more of Flora's telling criticism of Waverley, see p. 329 and especially p. 377 where she predicts that he will end his days as a Gothic antiquarian.

  16. For a similar admonishment of the youth's passivity, see Fergus' jibe on p. 361.

  17. The natal imagery here, which may appear to be tenuous, is later repeated and confirmed in the description of the Baron's Patmos: “… two or three bushes concealed the mouth of a hole, resembling an oven, into which the Baron insinuated, first his head and shoulders, and then, by slow gradation, the rest of his long body; his legs and feet finally disappearing, coiled up like a huge snake entering his retreat, or a long pedigree introduced with care and difficulty into the narrow pigeon-hold of an old cabinet” (446). He, too, is eventually reborn.

  18. See the conclusion of this paragraph for the similar opportunistic and exploitative motives of Fergus.

  19. On p. 316 Scott defines a brae as “the frontier betwixt the mountains and plain,” perhaps implying an etymological relationship between the word and Bradwardine which would point to the mediating power of the Baron and the geographic centrality of Tully Veolan; both fuse England and the Highlands.

  20. See n. 17 for a discussion of the Baron's rebirth.

  21. The following related studies appeared too late to be considered in the original writing of this article, but they should be consulted by those interested in the topic: M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1971); Patrick Cruttwell, “Scott Rehabilitated?” NCF [Nineteenth-Century Literature], 27 (1972), 95-102; and Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1972), esp. Introd., and ch. 7.

Kenneth M. Sroka (essay date 1980)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9396

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 of instructive games, has little reason to dread the consequences of study being rendered too serious or severe. The history of England is now reduced to a game at cards,—the problems of mathematics to puzzles and riddles,—and the doctrines of arithmetic may, we are assured, be sufficiently acquired, by spending a few hours a-week at a new and complicated edition of the Royal Game of the Goose. … It may … be subject of serious consideration, whether those who are accustomed only to acquire instruction through the medium of amusement, may not be brought to reject that which approaches under the aspect of study. …1

The passage has been called “simply irrelevant and distracting,” and because of it Scott has been charged with indulging “himself with a long diatribe against modern education.”2 However, the passage becomes more than relevant if we consider that education—in the broad sense of the education process, its components, and the effect varying proportions of those components have on individuals—is a central theme in Waverley. The passage deserves further attention because it curiously stresses the seriousness and importance of “practical” studies—history, mathematics—and warns against “amusement” as a sole means of instruction. Ironically, Waverley (itself a novel) instructs by amusing and asserts the importance of fiction in the formation of character. In effect, Waverley urges a balance in education between “useful” studies and “useless” ones (useful studies including not only the practical subjects one learns from books, but also the practical experiences one learns from “the book of life” itself [Ch. 5]).

In the tradition of the Bildungsroman (a relatively young tradition in 1814), Waverley deals with the development of its young hero as he grows up. But its concern with balanced education extends beyond the protagonist to include two narrators and several major and minor characters. The final 1829 edition of Waverley offers two complementary narrators whose educations can be inferred from their voices in the novel: one is the anonymous storyteller of the 1814 edition, himself a fictional character whose voice is mainly literary; the other is the historical Walter Scott of the 1829 edition who is separate in time from the fictional narrator and who speaks to his readers chiefly in the historian's voice from the footnotes of that later edition.3 The novel also develops several major and minor characters partly by examining their formal educations—the books they read or fail to read, their attitudes toward book knowledge generally—and by demonstrating how their studies or lack of them impinge on their response to real life experience.

The first narrator of Waverley is himself a definite fictional character whose education the reader becomes aware of in the course of reading the novel. The characters of the novel have sprung from the narrator's imagination—almost, it seems, simultaneously with our reading—yet he too is a creature of the imagination and places himself in their world. Speaking of Aunt Rachel's “common-place book” which contained “choice receipts for cookery and medicine, favourite texts, and portions from High-Church divines, and a few songs … with other authentic records of the Waverley family,” the narrator informs the reader that these imaginary records were all “exposed to the inspection of the unworthy editor of this memorable history” (Ch. 5). Continuing the convention of the eighteenth-century story-teller, the fictional narrator presents himself, his characters, and the sources of his tale as “real.”

Both the worldly experience and the literary background of the narrator characterize him as a gentleman who can draw upon a fund of various knowledge to enrich his story. For example, he can describe Waverley's growing military ability by comparing it to a type of social confidence he himself has met in real life:

Waverley had but very little of a captain of horse's spirit within him—I mean of that sort of spirit which I have been obliged to when I happened, in a mailcoach or diligence, to meet some military man who was kindly taken upon him the disciplining of the waiters, and the taxing of reckonings. Some of this useful talent our hero had … acquired during his military service.

(Ch. 29)

To complement his first-hand knowledge of the world, the narrator draws upon literary allusions and similes from a broad range of fictional works which enable him to present his scenes more vividly to his reader.4 When at one point the narrator catches himself displaying, like Baron Bradwardine, his learning for its own sake, he turns his comment into self-parody:

But without further tyranny over my readers, or display of the extent of my own reading, I shall content myself with borrowing a single incident from the memorable hunting at Lude, commemorated in the ingenious Mr. Gunn's Essay on the Caledonian Harp, and so proceed in my story with all the brevity that my natural style of composition, partaking of what scholars call the pariphrastic and ambagitory, and the vulgar the circumbendibus, will permit me.

(Ch. 24)

While evidence of the narrator's literary background is abundant, his borrowings from historical materials are minimal.

The narrator refuses to choose the name of his novel from English history:

What could my readers have expected from the chivalrous epithets of Howard, Mordaunt, Mortimer, or Stanley, or from the softer and more sentimental sounds of Belmour, Belville, Belfield and Belgrave, but pages of inanity, similar to those which have been so christened for half a century past?

(Ch. 1)

He admits using Lindsay of Pitscottie, however, as a source “ready at my elbow” for describing Scotch manners and even quotes a lengthy list of items of Highland hospitality from him.5 At best, such historical laundry-listing is boring and pales beside the fictional portrait of the feast at Glennaquoich which the narrator had earlier painted. The fictional accounts take such dry, historical bones and put flesh on them. Furthermore, the narrator explicitly states that “It is not our purpose to intrude upon the province of history” (Ch. 57), and most of the history in the novel's text is presented in the form of summary reminders to the reader which are, at most, one paragraph long.

Despite such subordination of fact to fiction, the real and the imaginary remain complementary. Consider the narrator's description of Flora MacIvor's close resemblance to her brother Fergus:

Flora MacIvor bore a most striking resemblance to her brother Fergus; so much so, that they might have played Viola and Sebastian with the same exquisite effect produced by the appearance of Mrs. Henry Siddons and her brother, Mr. William Murray, in these characters.

(Ch. 21)

Recognizing Shakespeare's fictional twins helps the reader to understand the likeness between the fictional MacIvors. However, when the narrator extends his description to a third look-alike pair, the real Mrs. Siddons and Mr. Murray in the roles of Viola and Sebastian, the fictional and the real merge. To have seen a flesh and blood portrayal enables one to better imagine both fictional pairs of brother-sister look-alikes. The real and the imaginative reciprocally elucidate each other. The narrator subordinates the real rather than eliminates it.

The narrator is primarily a story-teller, not an historian. He tells us that his topic is not “history,” neither is it purely “fiction.” Fiction that is wholly divorced from reality clearly is eliminated from the narrator's intent:

I beg pardon, once and for all, of those readers who take up novels merely for amusement, for plaguing them so long with old-fashioned politics, and Whig and Tory, and Hanoverians and Jacobites. The truth is, I cannot promise them that this story shall be intelligible, without it. … I do not invite my fair readers … into a flying chariot drawn by hippogriffs, or moved by enchantment. Mine is a humble English post-chaise, drawn upon four wheels, and keeping his majesty's highway.

(Ch. 5)

Though the flying chariot is set aside in favor of the post-chaise, the post-chaise is fictional. The narrator continually reminds us that we are reading a work of fiction and repeatedly calls our attention to the writing process he is involved in. In the last chapter of the novel—a chapter which is also a preface, a conclusion, and a dedication—the narrator praises the historian, Lord Selkirk, who has traced the “political and economic effects” of the changes in Scotland since 1745 “with great precision and accuracy” (Ch. 72). But the narrator emphasizes that less noticeable changes have occurred as well, changes involving the emotions of individual men which are not included in Lord Selkirk's history. Waverley does give an account of those changes, and because the emotions of men are not confined to one time or one place, the narrator's fictional achievement appears the more significant and the more valuable of the two.

The reader of Waverley is kept conscious of the fact that he is reading a novel made up of chapters whose form and content are subject to the decisions of the narrator:

Shall this be a long or a short chapter?—This is a question in which you, gentle reader, have no vote, however much you may be interested in the consequences. … [T]hough it lies within my arbitrary power to extend my materials as I think proper, I cannot call you into Exchequer if you do not think proper to read my narrative.

(Ch. 24)

The narrator asserts that he wishes to please both himself and the reader by the variety and economy of his composition. As long as his pen “can speedily change from grave to gay, and from description and dialogue to narrative and character,” he will be satisfied and the reader, his “worthy friend, will have no occasion for discontent” (Ch. 19). He explains his economy in omitting Evan Dhu's Highland narratives which might be “more perhaps to the amusement of Waverley than that of our readers” (Ch. 18). Likewise, he abruptly ceases tracing one of Waverley's daydreams with: “but why pursue such a description?” (Ch. 4). Yet, like the capable storyteller that he is, he can insist that letters from Waverley's family “were not such as required any particular notice in this narrative” (Ch. 25) and then devote an entire chapter to those letters without diminishing our interest.

The narrator fills Waverley with internal allusions, references to its own parts and literary techniques. For example, the narrator takes the time to explain his use of suspense: “These circumstances will serve to explain such points of our narrative, as, according to the custom of story-tellers, we deemed to fit to leave unexplained, for the purpose of exciting the reader's curiosity” (Ch. 65). He refers to “hints we noticed at the end of the fourteenth chapter” (Ch. 25), or offers “a clue to all the intricacies and obscurities of the narrative previous to Waverley's leaving Glennaquoich” (Ch. 51). He intrudes so far as to insert parenthetical reminders to the reader into phrases of dialogue: “(Remember, Reader, it was Sixty years since)” (Ch. 28).

When the narrator is pleased with the originality of his writing, he tells the reader about it. Having compared Waverley's progressive sociability at a ball to a horse getting “warm in harness,” he says:

This simile so much corresponds with the state of Waverley's feelings in the course of this memorable evening, that I prefer it (especially as being, I trust, wholly original) to any more splendid illustration, with which Byshe's Art of Poetry might supply me.

(Ch. 43).

In general, the narrator's conception of the relation of fiction and history and their individual importance reveals an attractive broadmindedness that is related to his willingness to admit his limitations while we become more aware of his capacity to sympathize. He humbly admits that he cannot explain why Waverley should be upset at Fergus's interest in Rose Bradwardine: “This is one of the inexplicabilities of human nature, which we leave without comment” (Ch. 23). Nor does he presume “to describe his [Waverley's] sensations” (Ch. 69) after Fergus's execution. Finally, the narrator censures Colonel Talbot's refusal to acknowledge that even Fergus might deserve mercy, the Colonel's over-rational acquiescence in the belief that in the time immediately following the rebellion punishment will be greatest, and the lightness with which he expresses the manner of choosing those to be punished—“‘First come, first served’” (Ch. 62)—because Talbot's lack of feeling is contrary to the narrator's own sympathetic outlook:

Such was the reasoning of those times, held even by brave and humane men towards a vanquished enemy. Let us devoutly hope, that, in this respect at least, we shall never see the scenes, or hold the sentiments, that were general in Britain Sixty Years since.

(Ch. 67)

The narrator of Waverley is the first of two speakers in the novel. The second speaker, the historical voice of Walter Scott, speaks from the footnotes of the 1829 edition.

The content of the footnotes characterizes the second speaker as someone very different from his fictional narrator-double. This second speaker is an historical narrator portrayed as a reader of history, and not a reader of literature as his fictional counterpart is. Instead of the copious fictional allusions we find in the narrative, the allusions of the historical Scott are taken from such works as the non-fictional biographical sketches in Lord Chesterfield's Characters Reviewed (Ch. 6), the Memoirs of Chevalier Johnstone, P. Doddridge's Some remarkable passages in the Life of Colonel James Gardiner (Ch. 47), and the Travels of Fynes Morrison (Ch. 20). Only a few references are made to authors of fictional literature, and then only to confirm some historical fact. For example, Ben Jonson's verse is offered as evidence that the Scotch disliked pork (Ch. 20); some Highland customs are pointed out in the lyrics of a song (Ch. 44); and in two instances, lines of poetry that occur in the text are simply identified as being Burns's (Ch. 28). The Scott in the footnotes, an older man than the narrator of the novel, has lived beyond the lifetime of the narrator and now stands outside the novel commenting as he looks back on it. The distance between him and the narrator resembles that between the narrator and his topic:

Alas! that attire, respectable and gentleman-like in 1805, or thereabouts, is now as antiquated as the Author of Waverley has himself become since that period.

(Ch. 1)

In three instances, the historical Scott resembles the narrator of Waverley in his discussion of the complex relationship of fiction to history. In the first he stresses the difference between them:

The author has been sometimes accused of confounding fiction with reality. He therefore thinks it necessary to state that the circumstances of the hunting described in the text as preparatory to the insurrection of 1745, is, so far as he knows, entirely imaginary. But it is well known such a great hunting was held in the Forest of Braemar, under the auspices of the Earl of Mar, as preparatory to the Rebellion of 1715; and most of the Highland Chieftans who afterwards engaged in that civil commotion were present on this occasion.

(Ch. 24)

In another instance, the nearness of fiction to fact is illustrated in a story he relates about an escape from Doune Castle, the “actual scene of a romantic escape” (Ch. 38). Finally, he uses historical evidence to support the fictional characterization of Prince Charles (Ch. 58).

Of the two speakers, the fictional narrator with his broad education and his capacity for feeling is more attractive than the historical Scott in the footnotes. Often the reader of Waverley feels he is reading two documents in the same book, one mainly fictional, one mainly historical. Part of the reading experience involved with a novel filled with notes includes the distracting but unavoidable urge to lower one's eyes from the asterisk to the footnote. Not only does the reader satisfy his curiosity, but he becomes more continually aware of the fact that there are two different speakers of different educational backgrounds addressing him and interweaving their voices into the single reading experience. The revelation, then, of the education of the two speakers in Waverley provides a frame for Scott's thematic development of education more generally in the novel and underscores a major concern of the novel mentioned earlier—the interpenetration of “useful” and “useless” knowledge. The important but secondary (perhaps “footnoted”) role of the historical knowledge in Waverley as illustrated by the second speaker offers the reader an example of an observation by an avid appreciator if not an accurate critic of literature, Sigmund Freud: “The meagre satisfaction that man can extract from reality leaves him starving.”6 The human appetite for balanced education which Waverley illustrates extends beyond the novel's two narrators to its major and minor characters as well.

The story of Edward Waverley's wavering affection for Rose Bradwardine and Flora MacIvor contributes more to the novel than a love interest and still more than a symbolic rendering of Waverley's struggle to choose between domesticity and heroism.7 The members of this triangle form a small but varied spectrum of examples illustrating some effects of book-education applied to real life. Waverley begins his education mainly among books and progresses to maturity through experience.8 Rose Bradwardine enjoys a mature capacity for human sympathy sooner because she experiences some of life's harsh realities earlier than Waverley, and therefore her formal education realizes a more timely complement. Unlike Waverley and Rose, Flora MacIvor allows the romance of her literary knowledge to pervade so thoroughly her dreams of social change that her education goes untempered.

Waverley devotes much of his isolated youth to reading fiction in his uncle's library. As a result, “he knew little of what adds dignity to man, and qualifies him to support and adorn an elevated situation in society.” When he finally approached real life, Waverley had a vast store of literary knowledge “which long continued to influence his character, happiness, and utility” (Ch. 3); but the long delay in the arrival of that moment and the lack of contact with a world other than that of books left Waverley a child, even as he began to grow into young manhood:

Edward loved to 'chew the cud of sweet and bitter fancy, and, like a child among his toys, culled and arranged, from the splendid yet useless imagery and emblems with which his imagination was stored, visions as brilliant and as fading as those of an evening sky.

(Ch. 4)

He had formed no friendships and grew more irritable at interruptions in his castle-building. Eventually, such excessive isolation fostered in Edward a dislike for the unknown society he had not yet entered.

Edward's commission in the army as an officer responsible for his men hurled him into the second part of his education, the world of experience. So “sudden [a] page being turned up to him in the book of life” (Ch. 5), the immediate effects of his predominantly literary education began to show. Just as he renounced study “as soon as curiosity … [was] gratified” and the “novelty of pursuit [was] at an end” (Ch. 3), he loses interest in the army “when his first ardour was past” (Ch. 7). Edward's inadequate reaction to this first encounter with reality is not surprising. As his experiences increase, they become progressively more serious, while his response to them becomes generally more mature.

The novice drinker who wakes up with a painful awareness that he may have to fight a duel scarcely resembles the Edward Waverley who is twice wounded, accused of treason and suffers the unjust loss of his commission and the public scorn that follows; who witnesses the death of Sgt. Houghton and feels the burden of responsibility for his death as well as those of Col. Gardiner and Col. Talbot's still-born child; and who suffers the indescribable agony which follows the execution of a friend. Throughout these experiences, Waverley's romantic education is more and more tempered into practical wisdom. It is not the rejection of his earlier education but rather its gradual incorporation into his real life experience that constitutes Waverley's slow but certain progress. Such progress in Waverley's development should temper our hastiness to label him a thorough romantic fool.

Frequently, Edward draws on his literary background to aid his understanding. He is better able to respond to a new person or situation because he has already encountered such a person or experience in the world of fiction.9 Even before he enters the army, Waverley possesses a raw wisdom evident in a poem he composes. The first stanza of the poem depicts the attractive world of imagination in a landscape reflected in a lake:

Each drooping tree, each fairy flower,
So true, so soft, the mirror gave
As if there lay beneath the wave,
Secure from trouble, toil, and care,
A world than earthly world more fair.

The stanzas that follow indicate Waverley's awareness of and willingness to leave such a reflected world for the real one. The “idle dreams of youth”—his excursions into imaginary worlds—give way to “the loud trumpet-call of truth”—the real world that awaits him. But the wisdom here remains “raw”: the last two lines of the poem reflect a half-laughable naiveté, only half laughable because they suggest romantic versions of what will become part of Waverley's real experience:

While dreams of love and lady's charms
Give place to honour and to arms.

(Ch. 5)

Waverley's dreams of love materialize into his real attractions to Rose and Flora, and his pride in appearing at church in military dress belies his later discovery of the seriousness of military conflict.

Edward's love-life as part of his entire educational development deserves special attention because of the important role of literature in it and because it expresses particularly well that final mature blending of a life of books and the book of life that constitutes a full education. Waverley's early romantic attraction for Miss Cecilia Stubbs, an attempt to “compare the creatures of his own imagination with the females of actual life,” is ridiculed by the narrator who remarks that a romantic lover “cares not out of what log he frames the object of his adoration” (Ch. 5).10 Ironically, another pair of lovers, also named Cicely and Ned (Cicely Jopson and Ned Williams), eventually marry. During Waverley's lengthy stay at the Williamses, he contemplates his experiences with the Highland army and becomes aware that his “real history” has begun. Ned and Cicely subtly remind the reader of the earlier Waverley who apothesized Miss Stubbs and, by contrast, of the change he has undergone.

Waverley's relationship with Rose Bradwardine is far wiser than that with Miss Stubbs: “since mixing more freely with the world, [he] had learned to think with great shame and confusion upon his mental legend of Saint Cecelia, and the vexation of these reflections was likely, for some time at least, to counterbalance the natural susceptibility of his disposition.” Besides, we learn that Rose, “beautiful and amiable as we have described her, had not precisely the sort of beauty or merit which captivates a romantic imagination in early youth.” Not physical attraction, but a mutual love of literature accounts for a large part of Waverley's early interest in Rose. Edward readily poured out his knowledge while Rose “listened with eagerness to his remarks upon literature, and showed great justness of taste in her answers.” Eventually, Edward sends for more of his books, which

… opened to her sources of delight of which she had hitherto had no idea. The best English poets, of every description, and other words on belles lettres, made a part of this precious cargo. … These new pleasures became gradually enhanced by sharing them with one of kindred taste. Edward's readiness to comment, to recite, to explain difficult passages, rendered his assistance invaluable. …

(Ch. 14)

Rose's youth makes her susceptible to the wild romance of Waverley's spirit, though relative to him her education is more complete for it more fully combines life experience with book knowledge. Baron Bradwardine had taught Rose French and Italian “and a few of the ordinary authors in those languages ornamented her shelves” (Ch. 13), but at the age of ten Rose had also witnessed the horror of a real military skirmish in which three Highlanders were killed. She relates the incident to Waverley with the same sympathy she had earlier felt for the fallen men and their mourning wives and daughters. Edward is fascinated by Rose's actually having experienced what for him was only imaginary: “Here was a girl scarce seventeen … who had witnessed with her own eyes such a scene as he had used to conjure up in his imagination” (Ch. 15). Waverley and Rose educate each other: whereas Waverley teaches Rose more about books, Rose sparks his enthusiasm for experience.

Flora MacIvor's beauty and accomplishments are obstacles to Waverley's education. What progress he has made in tempering his youthful zeal is seriously threatened by this new girl of his dreams. Because of Flora, Waverley lapses back into a dream world,

… that not unpleasing state of mind in which fancy takes the helm, and the soul rather drifts passively along with the rapid and confused tide of reflections, than exerts itself to encounter, systematize, or examine them. At a late hour he fell asleep, and dreamed of Flora MacIvor.

(Ch. 23)

Waverley's misjudgment of Flora and his infatuation with her involves his blindness to the true nature of Flora's education, which, though highly literary, she has used only to foster her political fanaticism, her obsession with a dream which Flora fervently hopes will materialize. Flora's early education was highly political and her study of literature lacks the “feeling” that must accompany it if its true value is to be realized: “She was highly accomplished … yet she had not learned to substitute the gloss of politeness for the reality of feeling.” The pleasure she feels in pursuing literature is basically practical, not literary:

Early education had impressed upon her mind, as well as on that of the Chieftain, the most devoted attachment to the exiled family of Stewart. She believed it the duty of her brother, of his clan, of every man in Britain, at whatever personal hazard, to contribute to that restoration which the partizans of the Chevalier de St. George had not ceased to hope for. For this she was prepared to do all, to suffer all, to sacrifice all … [I]n order to fill up the vacant time, she bestowed a part of it upon the music and poetical traditions of the Highlanders, and began really to feel the pleasure in the pursuit. …

(Ch. 21)

At Glennaquoich, the gardens and waterfalls providing a highly romantic setting, Flora sings to Waverley Celtic songs whose verses encourage the reunion of Highland warriors in the spirit of past revolutionary times: “For honour, for freedom, for vengeance awake!” (Ch. 22). Flora's practicality extends to her censure of Waverley's “uselessness.” She cannot understand why he allows his “talents and genius” for social reform to go unused:

‘All men of the highest education … why will he not stoop like them to be alive and useful? … He would never have been his celebrated ancestor Sir Nigel, but only Sir Nigel's eulogist and poet.’

(Ch. 52)

While Flora herself chases political rainbows, she condemns the poet who could have been a man of practical affairs as a failure. Basically Flora's dream of Stuart rule, like the eventually successful dream of her Irish counterpart, Constance Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz), is not beyond realization if we view it from the perspective of the 1740's. However, the historical perspective from which Scott writes in 1814 recognizes the need to accept the demise of an old in the evolution of a new social order. This historical vantage point exposes Flora's specific dream as futile, for the Stuart cause in the Waverley Novels, however touched with attractiveness, is a hopeless one.11

Though Flora does not bring common sense to her political beliefs, she manages to use it in rejecting Waverley's advances as a lover. She is sensible enough to realize that the woman who marries Edward must resemble him in her “studies”: “The woman whom you marry ought to have affections and opinions moulded upon yours. Her studies ought to be your studies;—her wishes, her feelings, her hopes, her fears, should all mingle with yours” (Ch. 27). Waverley's initial acceptance of the early hints of Flora's rejection is painful because at the time he misreads Flora's true character: “This, then, is an end of my daydream!” (Ch. 43), he says: “an” end but not “the” end. Before Waverley can fully accept the loss of his dream girl, he must be educated in Rose's real worth and Flora's real shortcomings. On a larger scale, between Waverley's initial and final acceptance of Flora's rejection, he must witness Sgt. Houghton's death and, the night before the Battle of Preston Pans, experience the self-realization that begins his “real history.”

Only after this initial moment in Waverley's development does his maturity in love become evident. He begins to notice in Rose “a certain dignity of feeling and expression, which he had not formerly observed; and that she omitted no opportunity within her reach to extend her knowledge and refine her taste” (Ch. 52). Waverley also better understands his own feelings toward Rose when he realizes that Fergus would not make a suitable husband for her. Edward blames his own blindness for not having seen this sooner:

“And such a catastrophe of the most gentle creature on earth might have been prevented, if Mr. Edward Waverley had had his eyes!—Upon my word, I cannot understand how I thought Flora so much, that is, so very much, handsomer than Rose.”

(Ch. 54)

Waverley regains his sight during the literary discussion at a tea attended by both Rose and Flora.

The critical moment of Waverley's full awakening occurs when he is asked to read some scenes from Romeo and Juliet. A lively discussion follows the reading during which Flora's critical analysis of the play leads to Edward's decision to abandon his hopes of being her lover. This is one of the rare moments when Flora's use of literature is non-political. Flora uses the literary triangle of Romeo, Juliet, and Rosalind to resolve the real-life triangle of Waverley, Rose, and Flora:

“Romeo is described,” said she [Flora], “as a young man, peculiarly susceptible of the softer passions; his love is at first fixed upon a woman who could afford it no return; this he repeatedly tells you,—

From love's weak childish bow she lives unharmed;

and again,—

She hath forsworn to love.

… I can scarce conceive a situation more calculated to enhance the ardour of Romeo's affection for Juliet, than his being at once raised by her from the state of drooping melancholy. …”

Flora's message has its effect in Edward's resolving his future course of action: “I will love my Rosalind no more” (Ch. 54).

Waverley's education in love is a miniature of his over-all education. His second visit to the once beautiful but now devastated estate of Tully-Veolan impresses him with a sense of the changes he himself has undergone:

Then, life was so new to him, that a dull or disagreeable day was one of the greatest misfortunes which his imagination anticipated, and it seemed to him that his time ought only to be consecrated to elegant or amusing study. …—Now, how changed! how saddened, yet how elevated was his character, within the course of a very few months! Danger and misfortune are rapid, though severe teachers.

(Ch. 63)

Francis R. Hart maintains that of all the characters in the novel, “Waverley's experience is the broadest, his humanity the most attractive and fruitful, in the book.” Such high praise is due in large part to the high capacity for sympathy Waverley achieves, what Hart calls his “fuller humanity.”12 Waverley's new humanity is the result of his matured education. Though none of the minor characters in Waverley measure up to Edward's new humanity, the relative degree of their success or failure is related to the nature of their “educations”—their ability to appreciate fiction and to incorporate that knowledge into their practical studies and life experience.

Very often when the narrator of Waverley describes a particular minor character, he takes the time to tell us what that character likes to read and what he has read in the past. Books and readers of books abound in Waverley. The minor characters who are “readers” are either pedants who have not progressed beyond the stage exemplified by Edward Waverley's youth and view books as life's agreeable but useless ornaments; or they are men of practical affairs who, in varying degrees, use books mainly to further their real-life purposes. Among the pedants are Sir Everard Waverley, Colonel Talbot, and, in a more qualified way than he is usually given credit for, Baron Bradwardine. The practical readers include Bailie Mac Wheeble (Baron Bradwardine's accountant), Mr. Pembroke (Edward Waverley's tutor), Richard Waverley (Edward's father), and Fergus MacIvor.13

Sir Everard Waverley and Colonel Talbot are pedants educated in belles lettres, but literature to them is no more than another trait of “the gentleman.” Though Sir Everard owns the vast library where his nephew spends so much of his youth, he himself is merely a “skimmer”:

… [He] had never been himself a student, and … held the common doctrine, that idleness is incompatible with reading of any kind, and that the mere tracing the alphabetical characters with the eye, is in itself a useful and meritorious task, without scrupulously considering what ideas or doctrines they may happen to convey.

(Ch. 3)

Books, to Sir Everard, are primarily a source of knowledge separate from real life experience:

Edward was a little bookish, he admitted; but youth, he had always heard, was the season for learning, and, no doubt, when his rage for letters was abated, and his head fully stocked with knowledge, his nephew would take to field-sports and country business.

(Ch. 5)

Like Sir Everard, Colonel Talbot is “a man of extended knowledge and cultivated taste.” Talbot is a man of experience as well—an army officer who travels much abroad. His unselfish effort to rescue Waverley wins our sympathy. As a soldier, he outshines Bradwardine, Fergus, and Major Melville (the Laird of Cairnvreckan):

Colonel Talbot was in every point the English soldier. His whole soul was devoted to the service of his king and country, without feeling any pride in knowing the theory of his art, with the Baron, or its practical minutiae with the Major, or in applying his science to his own particular plans of ambition, like the Chieftain of Glennaquoich,

But Talbot falls short of Waverley's kind of humanity because of his lack of sympathy with the rebels. He feels the Baron is “the most intolerable formal pedant”; that Fergus is a “Frenchified Scotchman … with [a] proud, vindictive, and turbulent humour” who is followed by “a gang of such cut-throats as those whom you [Waverley] are pleased to admire so much.” Talbot's insensitivity toward Scottish women rivals Fergus's indifference for the feelings of women in general, for Talbot believes Flora puts on airs and that Rose is a “little uninformed thing, whose small portion of education was … ill adapted to her sex or youth.” Talbot himself “jocularly allowed, that he could not have endured Venus herself, if she had been announced in a drawing-room by the name of Miss Mac-Jupiter” (Ch. 52). Fortunately, because the Colonel's prejudice against the Scots is not very deep-rooted, he can learn from Waverley. The cultured but intolerant man learns sympathy from Waverley's example and practices it by obtaining a royal pardon for Edward and Bradwardine and by helping in the surprise restoration of Tully-Veolan for the Baron. In Talbot's case, it is his life experience with Waverley, not literature, that catalyzes the change in his character; but Waverley, who acts as the catalyst, owes his sensitizing power to a great extent to literature.

Although Baron Bradwardine seems the most eccentric of the readers who are pedants, the evidence of his education tempers that judgment and proves him to be more practical than he appears at first glance.14 The narrator compares Bradwardine's reading with Waverley's, and the contrast reveals the Baron's practical and historical bent:

Edward, we have informed the reader, was warm in his feelings, wild and romantic in his ideas and in his taste of reading, with a strong disposition towards poetry. Mr. Bradwardine was the reverse of all this. … As for literature, he read the classic poets, to be sure, and the Epithalamium of Georgius Buchanan and Arthur Johnstone's Psalms, of a Sunday; and the Deliciae Poetarum Scotorum, and Sir David Lindsay's Works, and Barbour's Bruce, and Blind Harry's Wallace, and the Gentle Shepherd, and the Cherry and the Slae. But though he thus far sacrificed his time to the Muses, he would, if the truth must be spoken, have been much better pleased had the pious or sapient apothegms, as well as the historical narratives, which these various works contained, been presented to him in the form of simple prose. And he sometimes could not refrain from expressing contempt of the “vain and unprofitable art of poem making.”

The Baron whose education originally had been aimed at preparing him for a legal profession, “only cumbered his memory with matters of fact—the cold, dry, hard outlines which history delineates” (Ch. 13). Thus, the Baron may quote Virgil at times, but draws mostly upon authors such as Cicero, Tacitus, Livy, and Pliny. Among the practical writings he prescribes for Rose's reading are “several heavy folios of history,” and “certain gigantic tomes in High-Church polemics.” In fact, one effect of the Baron's common sense is that it blinds him to Rose's passion for Waverley, for he could not believe Rose was susceptible to “idle and fantastic affection” (Ch. 14). Furthermore, his concern for literature is connected with the sense he has of his duty to preserve the traditional culture he has inherited and is analogous to his devotion to the feudal order.15 Therefore, while the Baron's speeches often mark him as an academician, his pragmatic bent suggests his resemblance to the novel's practical readers as well.

Of the practical readers among the minor characters, Bailie MacWheeble and Mr. Pembroke gain our sympathy more readily than Richard Waverley and Fergus MacIvor. Though all four use books to practical ends, the former pair do so selflessly and in a way helpful to Edward Waverley, whereas the latter pair act out of self-interest and to the detriment of the protagonist.

Only books of his trade fill Bailie MacWheeble's bookshelves. He finds his happiest moments those in which he can use his talent as an efficient financier stabilizing the finances of his clients. At times he outdoes himself, as when he becomes involved with the rebel army in the hope that some of the troops will commission him to write their wills. When Waverley announces his intention to marry Rose, MacWheeble's “ecstacy” almost deprives “the honest man of his senses”:

He mended his pen … marked half a dozen sheets of paper with an ample marginal fold, whipped down Dallas of St. Martin's Styles from a shelf, where that venerable work roosted with Stair's Institutions, Dirleton's Doubts, Balfour's Practiques, and a parcel of old account books—opened the volume at the article Contract of Marriage, and prepared to make what he called a “sma' minute, to prevent parties frae resiling.”

(Ch. 66)

MacWheeble's “poor understanding,” imbalanced as it is, presents a thoroughly humorous version of an otherwise serious problem. Likewise, Mr. Pembroke's religious zeal, though immoderate, contributes to the novel's humorous treatment of the overpractical reader.

Pembroke not only reads religious pamphlets but also composes them. His two unpublished religious tracts—“A Dissent from Dissenters, or the Comprehension Confuted …” and “Right Hereditary Righted!”—are the products of “the labour of the worthy man's whole life; and never were labour and zeal more absurdly wasted.”16 He bases his desire to “educate” Waverley in his religious tenets on the sincere conviction that Waverley will reproach him “for so long concealing the light which the perusal will flash upon his mind.” The texts, however, never become part of Waverley's educational experience, for “seeing nothing very inviting in the title of the tracts, and appalled by the bulk and compact lines of the manuscript, [he] quietly consigned them to a corner of his travelling trunk” (Ch. 6). Pembroke's books gain more serious practical import later when they are used against Waverley as evidence of his disaffection from the government.

Of Richard Waverley's reading we are only told that he “read and satisfied himself from history and sound argument that, in the worlds of the old song,”

Passive obedience was a jest,
And pshaw! was non-resistance.

Though born into a Jacobite family, Richard's self-centeredness leads him to adopt “a political creed more consonant both to reason and his own interest than the hereditary faith of Sir Everard in High Church and in the House of Stewart” (Ch. 2). We learn more of Richard's character from what he writes than from what he reads. His letters to Waverley, the narrator tells us, are masterpieces of jargon-filled arguments complaining of the injustices done to him by the government he uses for his own ends. The letters reflect the “pompous affectation of one who was too much oppressed by public affairs to find leisure to attend to those of his own family” (Ch. 25). Richard is careless about his son's education and so his selfishness is in part responsible for the early imbalance in Waverley's learning:

He [Richard] … prevailed upon his private secretary … to bestow an hour or two on Edward's education while at Brerewood Lodge, and left his uncle answerable for his improvement in literature.

(Ch. 3)

Richard Waverley's self-interest, his lack of sympathy, and his opportunism are mirrored in another practical reader: Fergus MacIvor.

Unlike his sister Flora whose attitude toward literature was practical but selfless, Fergus MacIvor uses his learning solely to further his own schemes. Like Flora, Fergus had been “brought up at the French court” (Ch. 41). He has a more than ordinary knowledge of literature which he displays by quoting Cervantes and occasionally bursting into song: “You see, my dear Waverley, I can quote poetry as well as Flora and you” (Ch. 25). Yet we are told that Fergus's “perceptions of literary merit were more blunt, rather affected for the sake of popularity than actually experienced” (Ch. 21) and that he liked “no poetry but what is humorous” (Ch. 22). His shallow understanding of the real merit of literature is consistent with his disproportionate ego. The prince's refusal of Fergus's petitions results in a tirade which reveals Fergus's selfishness by his repeated use of a favorite word—“I”:

“Why, what signifies what they were, man? I tell you it was I that made them; I, to whom he owes more than to any three who have joined the standard; for I negotiated the whole business. … I am not likely, I think, to ask anything very unreasonable, and if I did, they might have stretched a point.”

(Ch. 53)

Fergus's ultra-rational thinking is as foolish as Waverley's early romantic stop-and-start methods of study. In fact, the description of Fergus's inconstant thinking habits is very similar to that of Waverley's:

[He] would often unexpectedly, and without any apparent motive, abandon one plan, and go earnestly to work upon another, which was either fresh from the forge of his imagination, or had at some former period been flung aside half finished.

(Ch. 52)

What is more serious, Fergus's egocentricity disables him from feeling sympathetically with others:

[Waverley] had now been more than once shocked at the small degree of sympathy which Fergus exhibited for the feelings even of those whom he loved, if they did not correspond with his own mood at the time, and more especially if they thwarted him while earnest in a favourite pursuit.

(Ch. 50)

Though we sympathize with Fergus's heroism at his trial and execution, we see him to be an opportunist who uses his sister to further his own ambitions, who laughs at Baron Bradwardine's concern about the ritual of removing the king's boots after battle, and who neglects ever to consider Rose's feelings in his efforts to marry her. Finally, in a far more serious manner than Mr. Pembroke, Fergus uses literature to influence Waverley's decision to join him. He sends Edward a copy of Flora's verses about Captain Wogan, a gallant officer who lost his young life fighting for Charles II; he thereby knowingly takes advantage of Waverley's romantic disposition at a time when Edward's infatuation with Flora is at its height:

Whatever be the real merit of Flora MacIvor's poetry, the enthusiasm which it intimated was well calculated to make a corresponding impression upon her lover. The lines were read—read again—then deposited in Waverley's bosom—then again drawn out and read line by line, in a low and smothered voice, and with frequent pauses, which prolonged the mental treat, as an epicure protracts, by sipping slowly, the enjoyment of a delicious beverage.

(Ch. 29)

By feeding the fires of Waverley's infatuation, Fergus increases the obstacle which Waverley must overcome in his progress toward wisdom.

Two minor characters—Major Melville and Mr. Morton (the parish pastor at Cairnvreckan)—deserve consideration apart from the classes of pedants and practical readers discussed above because their educations and joint actions in the novel complement each other, each tempering the excesses of the other. After Waverley accidentally wounds the town blacksmith, Mr. Morton proposes that he be taken before Major Melville. Melville is a man of the world, a non-reader, who “had been versed in camps and cities; he was vigilant by profession, and cautious from experience, had met with much evil in the world, and therefore, though himself an upright magistrate and an honourable man, his opinions of others were always strict, and sometimes unjustly severe” (Ch. 32). Morton believes the Major has “too little allowance for the imperfections of human nature” (Ch. 33), a lack of “sympathy,” and treats people too often with “cold and punctilious civility” (Ch. 34). In contrast, Morton “had passed from the literary pursuits of a college … to the ease and simplicity of his present charge, where his opportunities of witnessing evil were few, and never dwelt upon, but in order to encourage repentance and amendment.” Neither character is wholly attractive; each has his flaw, but together Mr. Morton and Major Melville are capable of coming close to a true estimation of Waverley's guilt or innocence: Morton's sympathy tempers Melville's harshness. Whereas Morton worries about Gilfillan's lack of mercy, Melville's official position is: “you would hardly advise me to encounter the responsibility of setting him at liberty.” Likewise Gilfillan's haughtiness embarrasses Melville but brings a smile to Morton's face. The townspeople of Cairnvreckan perhaps best express the complementary nature of these two characters: “it was a common saying in the neighbourhood (though both were popular characters), that the laird knew only the ill in the parish, and the minister only the good” (Ch. 32).

Education in its broadest sense means the continuous and lifelong human struggle to reconcile factual reality with one's imaginative hopes and fears. With Waverley Scott invents a new literary genre whose blend of history and fiction directly confronts the problem of human education. Scott realistically refuses to guarantee that reading fiction necessarily results in a deeper sense of humanity, nor does he snobbishly condemn literary ignorance. Rather, by presenting a broad spectrum of characters of varying educations, his novel proclaims the advantages that fiction offers its students, advantages unattainable from useful studies alone, while it warns against the danger of neglecting the “medial” function of literature as a passage to understanding the real world. Waverley practices what it preaches: it educates the reader by revealing to him in his reading experience the coalescence of fact and fiction which cultivates a “fuller humanity.”


  1. Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, Ch. 3. Further references will be cited by chapter in the text.

  2. John Lauber, Sir Walter Scott (New York, 1966), p. 54.

  3. In Scott's “Advertisement to the 1829 Edition” he defines the historical function of this second narrator:

    The Author also proposes to publish on this occasion the various legends, family traditions, or obscure historical facts, which have formed the ground-work of these Novels, and to give some account of the places where the scenes are laid, when these are altogether or in part real; as well as a statement of particular incidents founded on fact; together with a more copious Glossary, and Notes explanatory of the ancient customs and popular superstitions referred to in the Romances.

  4. A watchful old grandam at Tully-Veolan is “like a sibyl in frenzy” (Ch. 8); the cavalry in Edward's regiment “almost realize the fable of the Centaur” (Ch. 7); the features of the young women at Tully-Veolan “resembled those of Minerva” (Ch. 8); Davie Gellatley is described as “idle as Diogenes at Sinope” (Ch. 15); the smith at Cairnvreckan as “Vulcan,” and his wife as “Venus,” a “Bacchante” and an “Amazon” (Ch. 30). The stale effect of the Baron of Bradwardine's pedantry on his listeners is likened to “Sancho's jests while on the Sierra Morena” (Ch. 57). Flora is “like a fair enchantress of Boiardo and Ariosto” (Ch. 22), and the gardens at Tully-Veolan are “not quite equal to the gardens of Alcina” (Ch. 9). The narrator quotes from “Chevy Chase” (Ch. 24); uses verse from Spenser to describe Janet Gellatley's hut (Ch. 67); compares the Baron of Bradwardine to “Toby Belch” (Ch. 11); portrays Donald Bean Lean's cave as “hell,” his men as “demons” (Ch. 17), Flora's garden as “Eden” (Ch. 22), and the hunters in Fergus's hunting party as “Milton's spirits in metaphysical disquisition” (Ch. 24).

  5. “… [A]ll kinds of drink to be had in burgh and land, as ale, beer, wine, muscadel, malvaise, hippocras, and aquavitae; with wheat-bread, main-bread, ginge-bread, beef, mutton, lamb, veal, venison, goose, grice, capon, coney, crane, swan, partridge, plover, duck, drake, brissel-cock, pawnies, black-cock, muir-fowl, and caper calizies”; not forgetting the “costly bedding, vaiselle, and napry,” and least of all the “excelling stewards, cunning baxters, excellent cooks, and pottingars, with confections and drugs for the desserts.”

    (Ch. 24)

  6. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (New York, 1938), p. 325.

  7. David Daiches maintains that in the Waverley Novels generally “love affairs are of no significance whatsoever except to indicate the nature of the observer's [protagonist's] final withdrawal from the seductive scenes of heroic, nationalistic passion. Waverley does not marry the passionate Jacobite Flora MacIvor but the douce and colourless Rose Bradwardine; Waverley's affair with these two girls is not presented as a serious love interest, but as a symbolic indication of the nature of his final withdrawal from the heroic emotions of the past” (“Scott's Achievement as a Novelist,” Nineteenth Century Fiction, 6 (1951), 86.

  8. Mark A. Weinstein discusses Waverley's progress from the dominant imagination of his early training to his growing awareness that “accurate sense impressions are the avenue to understanding” (“Imagination and Reality in Romantic Fiction,” The Wordsworth Circle, 2 (1971), 126-130). The limitation of this argument lies in its too absolute definition of “imagination” in Waverley as a “perjorative term, interchangeable with ‘fancy,’ and in opposition to ‘understanding’ and ‘judgment.’ It suggests mental invention that is capricious, whimsical, or untruthful, characteristically well removed from reality.” Professor Weinstein seems to suggest that Edward simply substitutes real experience for his earlier book knowledge. Unlike Weinstein, Robin Mayhead casually relates the “legacy” of Waverley's undisciplined education to its subsequent effect upon his life (Walter Scott, New York, 1968), pp. 35-40. Edgar Johnson, in his Sir Walter Scott: the Great Unknown, (New York, 1970), considers more fully the importance of Edward Waverley's education as the kernel of the plot's progress:

    Waverley … is not a romantic novel at all but an ironic novel of a young man's education. Its hero, as E. M. W. Tillyard notes, begins as an “innocent let loose upon the world” and ultimately becomes “the young man who grows up. He is the young romantic, slightly ridiculous as well as generous, who gradually sheds his illusions through the discipline of crude and genuine experience.”

    Johnson defends the early chapters depicting Waverley's “long hours in the Gothic Library at Waverley Honour” and “his proneness, not to the absolute delusion of Don Quixote, but to colouring reality with his own imagination.” The early chapters establish “the influences that render inevitable the young Edward Waverley's responses to all his later experiences.” The “influences” of Waverley's book-learning are part of a larger scheme that forms his character, a “program” that explains Scott's depiction of protagonists in several Waverley novels. Scott “emphasizes the powerful ways in which men and women are shaped by the society of which they are a part, by the beliefs and attitudes of their milieu, in short, by the particular culture of their time. … The characters in Scott's novels are the products both of their own and of the collective past” (pp. 521-24). Edward Waverley's education is a small part of that larger achievement.

  9. Waverley can sympathize with the Baron's pride in his Bear-goblet for it reminds him of “Ben Jonson's Tom Otter, with his Bull, Horse, and Dog” (Ch. 11). The superstitious legend of St. Swithin's Chair “reminded Waverley of a rhyme quoted by Edgar in King Lear” (Ch. 13). Fergus reminds him of a “sort of Highland Jonathan Wild” (Ch. 15); and his voice “reminded Edward of a favourite passage in the description of Emetrius:

    —whose voice was heard around,
    Loud as a trumpet with a silver sound.”

    (Ch. 21)

  10. Professor Johnson mentions Waverley's passion for Miss Stubbs as another example of Scott's giving us “an almost Restoration mockery of the conventions of romantic love” (op. cit., p. 524).

  11. Robin Mayhead diminishes the charge of political fanaticism against Flora MacIvor because of her admission of responsibility for Fergus's death: “Scott is no lover of fanaticism … and Flora herself, after the death of the rebels, feels that her obsession with the Stuart cause has led to her brother's death” (op. cit., p. 42). Though Mayhead is correct in judging Flora to be without the “taint of interest and advancement,” Flora's political zeal remains as strong after Fergus's execution. In her last interview with Waverley, she strongly distinguishes between sorrow for her brother's loss and devotion to the Jacobite cause: “I do not regret his attempt because it was wrong—oh no! on that point I am armed—but because it was impossible it could end otherwise than thus” (Waverley, Ch. 68). Flora mourns Fergus's death but not the political ideals he died for.

  12. Scott's Novels: The Plotting of Historic Survival (Charlottesville, 1966), pp. 29-30.

  13. Few of Waverley's minor characters are “non-readers.” Although characters like Callum Beg and Evan Dhu Maccombich would enjoy an oral cultural tradition, as non-readers in Waverley they reveal an undesirable imbalance of character. Although there is a kind of dignity in the devotion Callum and Evan Dhu have toward Fergus MacIvor, there is something insane about it as well. Callum's devotion to Fergus distorts his judgment and causes him to respond impulsively and entirely out of proportion to the situation. The most obvious example of this is Callum's shooting at Waverley because he felt Waverley had insulted Flora. At Fergus's trial, the judge gives Evan Dhu a chance for grace since he realizes Evan had only followed “the ideas in which you have been educated.” But Evan remains faithful to the only code he ever knew, that of the clan, and rejects the judge's offer (Ch. 68).

  14. Daiches defends the Baron's pedantry on the grounds that he represents those people “less affected by changes of dynasty than those of higher rank” and therefore “should survive to indulge his love of the past harmlessly in antiquarian studies and pedantic conversation” (op. cit., p. 92).

  15. On one occasion the Baron worries about applying his knowledge of regal decorum. He wishes to pay homage to Prince Charles Edward after the battle of Prestonpans according to an ancient feudal ritual. Mayhead reminds us that the Baron's conscientious hair-splitting over ceremony here is not wholly ridiculous, but points to his “connection with that world of the heroic past which we see, in this novel, fading into ‘the light of common day’” (op. cit., pp. 24-25).

  16. A more serious religious enthusiast, Habakkuk Gilfillan, a Cameronian who “has suffered persecution without learning mercy” (Ch. 32), reads, as we would expect, religious works such as “the Book of Sports and the Covenant” and “the Longer and the Shorter Catechism” (Ch. 36).

Alexander M. Ross (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4641

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, Ch. 4). In this paper I intend to examine the nature of some of the imagery that appealed to Edward Waverley. I shall argue that, far from being useless, it is really very serviceable, especially that representation of landscape and character which can be thought of as picturesque. Notably it serves as a catalyst to stir the hero to a course of action and as a convenience to help the reader visualize the fictional world. Of course, one may argue that to Edward Waverley this imagery was really valueless because it misled him. But then, in Edward's ‘aberration from sound judgment’ (Ch. 5), we have the core of the novel.

Sir Walter Scott's own close acquaintance with the theory and practice of the picturesque is well recorded and almost certainly dates from his days at university, if not earlier. Philosophically, he understood the mechanism of the principles of the association of ideas which William Gilpin, Sir Uvedale Price, and Richard Payne Knight employed in elaborating their own theories of the picturesque. Something of Sir Walter's attitude to these principles is apparent when he attempts a defence of his preference for ancient hymns of the Catholic Church:

This is, probably, all referable to the association of ideas—that is, if the ‘association of ideas’ continues to be the universal pick-lock of all metaphysical difficulties, as it was when I studied moral philosophy—or to any other more fashionable solvent which may have succeeded to it in reputation.

(Letters, III, 211)

But Sir Walter seems to have had no such aversion to picturesque art in itself: in fact, he regretted his inability to analyse landscape as a painter would, even though he was alive, as he said, ‘to the feeling of picturesque scenery’ (Lockhart, Ch. 1). What he could not do with a brush, however, he could do with words.

Later, in his life at Abbotsford, it was his pleasure to apply picturesque theory to the design of his own grounds. As early as November 1816, he explained to Robert Surtees that he had ‘the Tweed for one picturesque boundary of my little property, and a mountain lake, or tarn, at the other; both of which are tempting subjects of improvement’ (Letters, IV, 286). To assist him in improving his estate, he had in his study the 1810 edition of Sir Uvedale Price's Essays on the Picturesque. Actually, Price was one of his correspondents.

If further evidence of Scott's interest in the cult of the picturesque is needed, we can turn to other of his letters to people like Lady Abercorn, William Laidlaw, Richard Heber, Lady Louisa Stuart, and Joanna Baillie. Finally, there is the long review of Sir Henry Steuart's book, The Planter's Guide, which Scott wrote for the Quarterly Review in 1828 and on which Marcia Allentuck presented an excellent paper on the occasion of the Scott Bicentenary.1 The evidence overall then of Scott's interest in the picturesque is so extensive and convincing that I think further documentation is unnecessary. Rather, I want now to examine briefly how Scott applied this painter's creed to his fictional technique.

To begin, let me try to define the term ‘picturesque’ as it may be related to landscape, character, or action in the novel Waverley. As applied to landscape, it suggests a pictorial view offered in words of a place or of countryside which depends for its orientation and subject matter upon the forms and tastes which seventeenth and eighteenth century landscape artists imposed upon the external world as they imaged it for our pleasure on paper or canvas. Nearly always the scene in words has a frame, the sort which Scott, for example, used when he described what Edward saw from the confines of Rose Bradwardine's Gothic balcony (Ch. 13); the view offers the reader an eighteenth century prospect. This is not just scene painting. It is a sketch in words that enables the reader to see what Scott wants him to see: the glen organized not unlike a Gilpin print of the River Wye. For Edward Waverley, who ‘apprehends occurrences indeed in their reality’ yet ‘communicates to them a tincture’ of his own (Ch. 5), the scene pleases him because its painterly organization, its rocky wildness, its ruined tower with its associations all suggest picturesqueness. Also, for the development of the narrative, this description is important because in this wooded glen is Janet Gellatley's hut and nearby the cave that sheltered the fugitive Baron Bradwardine. Not far away, too, is the stump of an ancient oak, the trysting-tree, the place where the Highlanders rendezvoused before taking Edward to that ‘picturesque structure’ (Ch. 38), Doune Castle. The scene from Rose's window merits description: for the reader, because he must be able to visualize it; for Waverley, because its picturesqueness appeals to him; for the narrative, because the plot requires it.

Continuing to the second term, I suggest that a picturesque character is one whose outward appearance—costume, physiognomy, gait, or even actions—seems to us unusually colourful, striking, or singular. The Baron of Bradwardine may serve as a good illustration. The Baron's ‘language and habits’, too, says Scott, were ‘as heterogeneous as his external appearance’ (Ch. 10). Waverley is captivated by this man whom he considered ‘a singular and interesting character, gifted with a memory containing a curious register of ancient and modern anecdotes’ (Ch. 13). The Baron is a living extension of ‘many picturesque and interesting passages from our old historical chronicles’ (Ch. 3) upon which Edward had spent so many hours at Waverley-Honour; his picturesque reality fits nicely into the world of Edward's illusions.

The third distinction to be made concerns picturesque action. As early as 30 November 1802 Scott used the word ‘picturesque’ to describe the quality of an historical narrative:

I am highly flattered [he wrote to Anna Seward] by your approbation of Cadyow Castle which is founded upon a fact in Scottish histy.—for which I referr you to the death of the Regent Murray as narrated in Robertsons history at the end of the 1st vol: where you will find the story told in a manner highly picturesque.

(Letters, I, 163-4)

The narrative concerns the revenge which Hamilton of Bothwell-haugh took upon the Regent Murray for the death of his wife at the hands of the Regent's favourites. As told by Robertson,2 the account serves to illustrate Scott's understanding of story telling that was ‘highly picturesque’. It is John Gibson Lockhart who states that the ballad ‘Cadyow Castle’ was especially interesting as the first in which his father-in-law grappled ‘with the world of picturesque incident unfolded in the authentic annals of Scotland’ (Lockhart, Ch. 10).

Lockhart's use of the word ‘picturesque’ to qualify ‘incident’ is as interesting as Scott's application of the word in 1802 to the description of the death of the Regent Murray. Both men, it should be noted, are using the word to describe a particular kind of narrative writing in which stress is laid upon pictorial detail, exciting historical action, and the emotions of characters caught up in the rush of resulting circumstances. What is picturesque now extends well beyond the description of landscape and human appearance. The ut pictura poesis of Horace has left its traditional haunt of poetry and painting to encroach upon historical prose. The course from such prose to fictional narrative is too obvious to need comment; in Waverley we think especially of the vivid pictorialism of the stag hunting, of the movement of the armies at Prestonpans, and of the retreat from Derby. These episodes illustrate what Scott referred to as his ‘sense of the picturesque in action’ as compared to the static quality of scenic painting (Lockhart, Ch. 1).

But to return more particularly to Edward Waverley and to the way in which Scott's picturesque representation of landscape, character, and action in this novel not only appeals to his hero but also supports the novel's development and theme. From the beginning Edward's ‘warm and vivid imagination’ (Ch. 13) leans heavily towards picturesque convention. His ideal world is one that easily encompasses both the deeds of his ancestral crusaders and the ‘pristine and savage character’ of Waverley Chase with its ‘moss-grown Gothic monument’, its long, ill-cared for avenue, its Mirkwood Mere out of which rose a lonely tower and associations with the Wars of the Roses (Ch. 4). Nurtured on this physical environment, his mind stored with picturesque tales of past ages, Edward is, when he joins Gardiner's Dragoons, a young man suffering from ‘a surfeit of idle reading’ (Ch. 4), one whose lack of experience leaves him open to the lure of surface impressions. After a brief spell of basic training in Dundee, he happily accepts an opportunity to see the ‘more picturesque and romantic country’ (Ch. 5) in the midst of which his uncle's old friend, Cosmo Comyne Bradwardine, lives at Tully-Veolan.

Although Edward is distressed by the squalor of Tully-Veolan's one and only street (Ch. 8), his disquiet is eased somewhat by the pleasing forms of three or four village girls whose dress and braided hair, we are told, might have met the challenge of a ‘lover of the picturesque’ were it not for their overall need of soap. The village with its dung heaps, its half-naked children, its decrepit old people with eyes ‘bleared with age and smoke’, its miserable huts that housed starved cows and galled horses obviously lies far from Edward's real interests. But this glimpse of Highland misery does call to attention Scott's power as a novelist. The reader—if he thinks—becomes aware not only of Edward's preconceptions but also of the need for social change in Scotland prior to the Forty-Five. Although some thought of the effect of poverty and indolence upon the dwellers in Tully-Veolan may have entered Edward's mind, it finds no abiding place amid the romantic illusions that flourished there. Edward's search is for a landscape and society more in keeping with these same illusions.

To find such, he has to pass through the gates leading into the Parks of Tully-Veolan where he sees an arch with battlements and weathered stone, an avenue of ancient chestnuts and sycamores, high walls overgrown with climbers, and a road that is little more than a footpath. Such a sight, so picturesque, with its ancient trees, sunlit stone, intricate architectural lines, the light in the court, and the shade on the avenue, helps Edward forget the contrasting misery and dirt of the hamlet he has left behind.

A closer inspection of the Baron's manor-house reveals curious features. Neither a house nor a castle, its angular oddities, its ‘nondescript kind of projections, called bartizans’ (Ch. 8), its small turrets more like ‘a pepper-box than a Gothic watch-tower’ would have drawn the approval of Sir Uvedale Price. In the courtyard is the ‘tun-bellied pigeon-house’ and the fountain displaying the emblematic stone bear whose counterparts on the gates and on the mansion remind the visitor constantly of the ancient family motto, ‘Bewar the Bar’. The picturesqueness of the Bradwardine home elicits Edward's approval for we are told it ‘maintained the monastic illusion’ of his fancy. Nearly always, here and throughout the novel, the concrete qualities of Scott's description sustain a credible balance between the illusions that grip his hero and the reality that surrounds him. What is picturesque about landscape, or character, or action is seldom open to the objection that it is either superficial or sentimental.

Although the garden is laid out in terraces, these have their formality broken by an abundance of fruit trees and a ‘profusion of flowers and evergreens, cut into grotesque forms’ (Ch. 9). The brook which forms a boundary to the garden ‘leapt in tumult’ over the dam at the garden's end to disappear noisily into ‘a deep and wooded dell, from the copse of which arose a massive, but ruinous tower’. Again, over this garden, Sir Uvedale Price might have nodded approval and have been led to recall his own comments upon old gardens which like old houses may assume a picturesque character either because of neglect or because, as he wrote, of ‘the partial concealment of symmetry by the breaks and interruptions that arise from an irregular mixture of vegetation’.3

Those who frequent this garden are often picturesque themselves. David Gellatley is even more unusual in appearance than his master, the Baron of Bradwardine. His face, we are told, has a ‘wild, unsettled, irregular expression’. His gait is ‘as singular as his gestures’, and his ‘antiquated and extravagant’ attire, with ‘a scarlet bonnet proudly surmounted with a turkey's feather’, (Ch. 9) ensured for him easy identification. Less striking than either Davie or the Baron is Saunders Saunderson whose red nose and ruffled shirt betray his senior status of butler while his ‘hale and sunburnt visage’ and his green apron belong to those times when he musters as a gardener.

But Waverley is most fascinated by the visitor, Evan Dhu Maccombich, the first Highlander in full dress whom he has seen (Ch. 16). Evan is more than a colourful, outlying appendage to the Highland scene. It is his appearance which first rouses Waverley's curiosity about the customs and scenery of the Highlands and in the end leads him to accept Evan's invitation to go in search of the Baron's milch cows. But at the same time the reader is aware of how cleverly Scott blends the superficialities of the picturesque with his narrative. Evan's appearance becomes an important motive in the narrative for his unusual dress and manner appeal to Waverley's imagination and so serve to draw him toward the Highlands and Jacobitism. It is an illustration of what Christopher Hussey meant when he said that ‘Walter Scott accepted the picturesque and fused it into his romances together with all their other ingredients’.4

Waverley's course now is from Tully-Veolan to the Burkean sublimities of Donald Bean Lean's hideout, where the loss of his seal, and the use Donald makes of its emblematic significance, leads to mutiny among Edward's own dragoons. From Donald's cavern and the picturesque form and dress of his daughter, Alice, Edward proceeds to the raucous doings at Glennaquoich where he succumbs to the considerable charms of Flora MacIvor. Here, as Maria Edgeworth complained, Scott's control of the picturesque convention slipped to sentimentality. ‘The appearance of Flora and her harp was too like a common heroine; she should [Miss Edgeworth thought] be far above all stage effect or novelist's trick.’5 As a means, however, of captivating Edward, Flora's song, with its accompaniments of music and scenery, is a success because it makes so complete an overture to his fondness for what is picturesque (Ch. 22). Seeing only the surface of things, Edward tends to forget the deep and dangerous political currents that swirl about him. For Edward, the Highland setting has been cunningly contrived to appeal to the sort of person he really is and to lead him still further from Gardiner's Dragoons into the Jacobite net.

Even Flora's rejection of his love is not enough to rouse him to the dangers of his course. Rather it is Rose Bradwardine who convinces him to go to Edinburgh to clear his name of any charge of disloyalty. Such a decision, however, placed the author in a somewhat awkward position with respect to some of his female readers more interested in Edward's devotion to Flora than in the niceties of his conduct as a Hanoverian officer. To explain the effect of absence upon his hero's feelings to these ladies, Scott has recourse to picturesque theory:

Distance, in truth, produces in idea the same effect as in real perspective … the harsher and more ordinary points of character are mellowed down … There are mists, too, in the mental, as well as the natural horizon, to conceal what is less pleasing in distant objects, and there are happy lights, to stream in full glory upon those points which can profit by brilliant illumination.

(Ch. 29)

This passage in its aesthetic is the same as William Gilpin applied to artificial objects introduced into forest scenery: ‘Distance’, remarks Gilpin, ‘no doubt, hides many defects; and many an object may appear well in a remove, which brought nearer, would disgust the eye’.6 Fortunately for Edward Waverley, travel toward Edinburgh, under the escort of Habbakuk Gilfillan, leads him into such a maze of adventure that his ill-conceived love for Flora is gradually eroded away. Edinburgh, under Jacobite siege, is picturesquely described, while Waverley, like a hero in a romance, plights his allegiance to Charles Edward Stuart who, in turn, gives Waverley his own ‘genuine Andrea Ferrara’ (Ch. 40).

Throughout the succession of exciting events, Scott manages always to keep Waverley's conflicting passions before the reader. These passions, divided by opposing loyalties, provide in words the sort of contrast which light and shade offer the artist interested in emphasizing picturesque effect. For a time the fortunes of war are with the Jacobites. Prestonpans gives Sir Walter an opportunity to present a stirring account of battle, which he said he could never get from soldiers because ‘their mind is too much upon the tactique to regard the picturesque’ (Letters, II, 478). But for Edward the picturesqueness of the cause diminishes as he gazes on the face of the mortally wounded Houghton, his former troop sergeant, and later it fades quite away as he looks into the eyes of the dying Colonel Gardiner. The absurd concerns, picturesque as they may be, of the Baron of Bradwardine for the boots of the king himself must give way before the straightforward talk of Edward's prisoner, Colonel Talbot, whose summing up of Waverley's adventures is that he has been ‘trepanned into the service of this Italian knight-errant by a few civil speeches from him, and one or two of his Highland recruiting sergeants’ (Ch. 51).

Scott's creative power, as he makes Waverley realize gradually his true position, is very considerable and more so if we remember Scott's own attachment to this picturesque period of his country's history. With great skill, Sir Walter undermines Waverley's Jacobite attachments so that his delusion becomes evident. Gradually the Rebellion loses its picturesque character in Waverley's mind. Much later, to Colonel Talbot in London, he confesses that he is ‘heartily tired of the trade of war’ (Ch. 62). Consequently, it seems easy and a logical course for him to retreat from a life of action into the harmless dreamer he was when he left Waverley-Honour to serve as a soldier.

The adventures that are left to Waverley occur after Falkirk and Culloden, as he seeks the hand of Rose Bradwardine, who is now safe at Duchran. From Edinburgh to Tully-Veolan, Waverley's view of the aftermath of war is no longer picturesque: ‘Broken carriages, dead horses, unroofed cottages, trees felled for palisades, and bridges destroyed or only partially repaired—all indicated the movements of hostile armies’ (Ch. 63). The Bradwardine manor-house has been sacked by the King's troops. What had been picturesque is so no longer; Scott's description of the ruined and smoke-blackened remains is effective just because it contrasts so dramatically with Waverley's first view of the house. It is with real sadness that he looks at the destruction. Rose's little balcony, from which some brief months before he had viewed the prospect, has been looted and wrecked. David Gellatley's ‘A’ dead and gane—a' dead and gane' is—if not literally true—a good description of the desolation that surrounds him, to which the Baron (himself a fugitive sheltered by old Janet) adds the since often quoted ‘Fuimus Troes’ that Scott's vernacular has rendered so effectively: ‘And there's the end of an auld sang’ (Ch. 65).

These are ruins which time has had no chance to render picturesque. For Waverley, however, this is not yet the end of the Forty-Five. For him it takes place in Carlisle, where the grisly heads of Fergus MacIvor and Evan Dhu Maccombich remain ‘ower the Scotch yate, as they ca' it’ (Ch. 69).

But the horrified Waverley recovers, and we have a metaphor from landscape painting to assist our understanding: ‘The picture which he drew for her [Rose Bradwardine's] benefit he gradually familiarised to his own mind, and his next letters were more cheerful, and referred to the prospects of peace and happiness which lay before them’ (Ch. 70).

These prospects had eventually their picturesque side. In a very short time, Waverley with his bride, Rose, is back at Tully-Veolan, where the Baron of Bradwardine is so astonished by the change that greets him that he asserts he can almost believe in brownies and fairies. His manor-house has been quite restored to its former picturesque character, ‘excepting that the heavy stables, which had been burnt down, were replaced by buildings of a lighter and more picturesque appearance, all seemed as much as possible restored to the state in which he had left it when he assumed arms some months before’ (Ch. 71). In the old dining room, however, there is an addition. For here in a ‘large and spirited painting’ visitors can see Fergus MacIvor and Edward Waverley in Highland dress. In the painting as part of the background, the clans appear descending a ‘wild, rocky, and mountainous pass’. Beside this picturesque portrait hangs the Pretender's Andrea Ferrara and other weapons that Waverley has borne in the cause. Tears are in the Baron's eyes as he looks at the painting that must always remind him of the glorious days of the Forty-Five. And his delight becomes even more as Saunders Saunderson, now acting in his capacity as butler, places in his hands ‘the celebrated cup of Saint Duthac, the Blessed Bear of Bradwardine’.

Picturesqueness has been restored to the Baron's home. Neither Waverley nor the author, however, makes any mention of the wretched conditions in the nearby village! From now on in the narrative a harmless nostalgia reigns, kept alive in its own landscape by pictures, bits of plaid and claymores as decorative wall pieces, emblematic stone bears, a Shakespearian-like fool, and, of course, the unending antiquarian observations of Cosmo Comyne Bradwardine. With his marriage to Rose and his future residence at Tully-Veolan, Waverley's career has circled back almost to its beginnings, his character, as Donald Davie has noted, little changed despite his experiences with the loyal folk of ‘the old leaven’. Was this why Scott once spoke so harshly of him as a ‘sneaking piece of imbecility’ (Letters, III, 478)? He is notably, as his name suggests, a man whose ideals have no firm foundation. His has been a superficial life. Yet Edward is on the winning side at last and will, as he grows older, rather like his creator at Abbotsford, surround himself with the picturesque embellishments of the ‘auld sang’. For this opinion, we have Flora MacIvor's support. Waverley, she notes, would be most at home ‘in the quiet circle of domestic happiness, lettered indolence, and elegant enjoyments, of Waverley-Honour’ (Ch. 52). Undoubtedly at Tully-Veolan he will also incorporate the same changes as Flora predicts he would have made at Waverley-Honour:

And he will refit the old library in the most exquisite Gothic taste, and garnish its shelves with the rarest and most valuable volumes; and he will draw plans and landscapes, and write verses, and rear temples, and dig grottoes;—and he will stand in a clear summer night in the colonnade before the hall, and gaze on the deer as they stray in the moonlight, or lie shadowed by the boughs of the huge old fantastic oaks.

(Ch. 52)

For Edward Waverley, the dénouement of his active life is in one sense a retreat from a hopeless military cause to the reality of the benefits of the Act of Union of 1707; in another, it is a retreat from commitment to service to the sentiment and safety of picturesque vision.

Fused as it is so closely with the narrative structure of this novel, the picturesque element is significant, for it offered Scott an effective pictorial method whereby he could recapture the outward show and landscape of the 1745 insurrection and at the same time bring his hero by virtue of his impractical upbringing into the rebellion which, as Scott describes it, is a very real military campaign played out against an equally real landscape that lends itself very easily to picturesque representation. Its imaging process was widely recognizable and acceptable to most of Sir Walter's reading public, even though the aesthetic was a bag of tricks belonging not at all intrinsically to the external world but chimerically in the minds of the readers. For the public, it was, if I may paraphrase Sir Walter's own observation on the association of ideas, a universal pick-lock for all visual difficulties.

It was then, I suggest, for this not very good reason that Scott found the conventions of the picturesque so very useful. He was an author who wrote with his reading public very much in mind. He knew the value of conventions which would enable his readers to visualize his scene, his characters, and his action. Furthermore, this aesthetic, despite its faulty psychological underpinnings, did appeal to Scott, especially in its fondness for ruin and historical associations—for what was ‘a’ dead and gane'. For notwithstanding the obvious benefits of the Act of Union, one side of Sir Walter deeply regretted ‘lowering and grinding down all those peculiarities which distinguished us as Scotsmen’.7 In this connection, he was very much alive to the ‘strong contrast produced by the opposition of ancient manners to those which are gradually subduing them’. It was this contrast, he asserted, which afforded ‘the lights and shadows necessary to give effect to a fictitious narrative’ (Fortunes of Nigel, Introduction).

Scott's close understanding of picturesque theory and practice enabled him to project very effectively these lights and shadows, this vision of those peculiarities, so that even today's reader can sense the genius and see the topographical and architectural details of Tully-Veolan, the outward oddity of its inhabitants, and the rousing adventures that overtake them as clearly as if a Richard Wilson or a Paul Sandby, a Gainsborough or a Morland, a Salvator Rosa or Loutherbourg had sketched the scenes, or persons, or actions for a viewer. At the same time, Sir Walter's picturesqueness is nearly always restrained because of his actual and intimate knowledge of the topography and architecture of his country and—equally important in Waverley—his own acquaintance with those who came out in the '45.

Far from being useless, the imagery that appealed so much to Edward Waverley proved to be very serviceable and has provided for generations of readers vivid directions whereby they could visualize through the medium of Scott's prose in Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since an heroic, if unhappy episode, in Scotland's past. In Sir Walter Scott's hands, the conventions of the picturesque became a fit instrument whereby he could represent visually men and manners, incidents and landscape, war and peace, in this very successful novel.


  1. Marcia Allentuck, ‘Scott and the Picturesque: Afforestation and History’, in Scott Bicentenary Essays, ed. Alan Bell (Edinburgh, 1973), 188-98.

  2. William Robertson, The History of Scotland during the Reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI, 3 vols (London, 1821), II, 204.

  3. Sir Uvedale Price, An Essay on the Picturesque, 2 vols (London, 1796-8), II, 136-7.

  4. Christopher Hussey, The Picturesque: Studies in a Point of View (London, 1967), 242.

  5. Maria Edgeworth: Chosen Letters, ed. F. V. Barry (London, 1931), 224.

  6. William Gilpin, Remarks on Forest Scenery and Other Woodland Views, 2 vols (London, 1791), I, 232.

  7. The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, ed. W. E. K. Anderson (Oxford, 1972), 113.

Joseph Valente (essay date 1986)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10516

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 approaches to a text like Waverley,1 a locus classicus of the discussion, remain relatively homogeneous. The subject has not, however, reached the point of saturation. Adjusting our perspective will, I believe, open a new and various exchange.

The historical project in Waverley has been approached previously from two directions, the first concerned with Scott's representation of his age and its political import,2 the second with his historiography, specifically the relative importance of the uniformitarian model of the Enlightenment versus the incipient historicism of the romantic period.3 Both focus on history as an objective reality, whether local and empirical or metaphysical and ideal. But history is not a given in Waverley. Defined by opposition to the concept of romance, history is a problem, a problem with roots in epistemology and hermeneutics. Indeed, the topos of history and romance in Waverley serves precisely to thematize the fundamentally interpretive dimension of human experience.

Edward Waverley himself places the antitheses of history and romance at the center of the novel's structure. Having finally quit the crumbling Jacobite insurrection,

… he felt himself entitled to say firmly, though perhaps with a sigh, that the romance of his life was ended, and that its real history had now commenced.


This passage demarcates, along with the two segments of Edward's life, the two symbolic universes of Waverley.4 To one side, it sets the wild grace of Jacobite Scotland, with its antique social forms and visionary outlook, now passing convulsively into the realm of shadow and illusion. This is the fantastic world which holds Edward's youth in thrall. To the other side, it sets the cultured charm of Hanoverian England, with its burgeoning commercial order and pragmatic ethos, quietly ushering in the age of science. This, Edward's native element, is the realistic world in which he invests his future.

So radical is the dualism of Scott's thought, however, that these worlds divide against themselves, each harboring the values that characterize its other. To take an exemplary case, Edward's family, like England at large, is split along party lines; and it is the Waverley Tories, Sir Everard and Mrs. Rachel, who first introduce many of the romantic qualities predominantly associated with the Scottish Highlanders: the Jacobite loyalties, the strict code of personal, family and caste honor, the strong attachment to tradition and a dream-like past. For its part, Scotland is geographically partitioned into the Highland wilds, with its distinctively Celtic culture, and the more cultivated, Anglicized Lowlands; and it is by way of an alliance to a Lowland family that the “real history” of Edward's life is fulfilled. There is no end to this doubling in Waverley. Every pertinent aspect of the novel rests upon the braes between historical fact and romantic fancy. Scott thereby shows the two forms of experience to be dialectically implicated in one another, and so distinguishable not in terms of their respective lineaments alone, but by reference to the prospect from which these are viewed and interpreted.

Of the many narrative and symbolic oppositions Edward's change of course involves, the one drawn between his first love, Flora, and his eventual spouse, Rose, figures most importantly in Scott's elaboration of the crux at issue. By critical consensus, these women represent the muse of romance and history respectively, personifying the characteristics, sketched above, of either world-vision. Yet they display contradictions in role and character which, without subverting their contrasting symbolic values, progressively redefine them.

Thus, Flora comes to image the interdependence of romance and history and the epistemological problem this poses. Scott saturates her initial presentation with variants of the word “purity,” so that this concept, prototypical of the medieval romance heroine, serves to define her in a direct, authoritative manner. This context established, the gradually disclosed doubleness of her nature points to a state of division, of historical rupture, so fundamental that it stands for unity itself. I will outline Flora's role in the first section of the essay. Rose's duality by contrast is a function of Edward's changing perceptions of her; and this narrative development reflects Scott's perspectivist resolution to the problem. I will discuss this resolution in section three. In between, I will chart the novel's sophisticated hermeneutic, which elucidates the dialectic of history and romance and effects its sublimation. The essay will then close with a note on the social, economic and political origins of Scott's idea of history.


Scott establishes Flora's allegorical role, in part, by identifying her with the highland landscape in several important respects: as its “Celtic muse,” its indigenous growth and its presiding deity. At the same time, Scott saturates the description of the landscape with the epithet, romantic. He thereby expands the significance of Flora's figuration of romance to include the national character, the primitivism of the region, and the communal art, hence ethos, of the people. Further, the qualities of the landscape deemed romantic correspond metaphorically with Flora's dominant spiritual traits, so that, on the one hand, the land and its genius exist as extensions of one another, and, on the other, the conceptual form of romance itself is both enlarged and more sharply defined.

Tracking the term romance through this landscape, one finds it associated with the wild and primitive, the natural and fearsome, the elevated and indeterminate, and, as applied to the guiding brook, with a certain raw, unharnessed power. The overall effect of the scenery is fairy-like, broaching a salient property of romance, illusion. All in all, the concept closely approximates the idea of the sublime, as it had been systematically opposed to the beautiful in the 18th century aesthetics. Flora, in fact, implicitly invokes this topos when she informs Edward that the wooer of the Celtic muse must “love the barren rocks more than the fertile valley” (177).

The metaphorical correlation of Flora and the landscape is evident. The uproar of the brook and elevation of the hills corresponds with the simultaneous purity and fury of her passions, particularly her fanatic devotion to the Stuarts. The desolate sublimity of the highlands is consonant with the “ideas and wishes” that she chiefly fostered, which, “respecting great and national events, are not to be brought round without both hazard and bloodshed, and therefore not to be thought of with levity” (171). Finally, the openness and untamed quality of the landscape corresponds with the sincerity and spontaneity of one who though once “the companion of a French princess … had not learned to substitute the gloss of politeness for the reality of feeling” (169). Flora is thus a representative romantic as well as the chief object of romance for Edward.

Flora's Parisian background, however, has left her neither as uncultured nor as artless as the romantic wilds she personifies might suggest. It is in fact upon her dual background, symbolic in itself, that Scott builds the internal division of her character.

There was no appearance of … parsimony in the dress of the lady herself, which was in texture elegant, and even rich, and arranged in a manner which partook partly of the Parisian fashion, and partly of the more simple dress of the Highlands, blended together with great taste.


Flora's artfulness extends to her dealings with Edward, belying her vaunted “reality of feeling.” Conscious and glad of her power over Edward and aware that “the romance of the scene” (177) has its own persuasive impact on him, Flora displays a clear-eyed realism more appropriate to the historical than the romantic temper. Furthermore, given her revolutionary zeal, her cognizance of Edward's emotions almost necessarily passes into political calculation. Surely she knew what a catch a Waverley was for the rising. Her later attempt to dissuade him from joining the cause for her sake rather confirms her political savvy than absolves her of manipulation. There, she brilliantly mixes contempt for his “lukewarm adherence” (215) with disinterested counsel; she dismisses him from the highlands as unworthy but also for his own good. In the same breath however, she expresses confidence that an enlightened Edward will aid the rising from England, where, as an advance party, he would be of maximum benefit anyway. Here, she strives to enhance the romantic aura of the scene as a way of arousing in him a generalized sympathy for her people.

Scott calls attention to Flora's manipulation of Edward and the inconsistency of character it demonstrates under the pretense of rationalizing her behavior:

the appearance of Flora with the harp, as described, has been justly censured as too theatrical for the lady-like simplicity of her character. But something may be allowed for her French background in which rapt and striking effect always make considerable object.

(Note O, 502)

Instead of affirming Flora's simplicity, the passage subtly impugns it, hinting that her unspoiled air is an effect of histrionic proficiency. Her naturalness derives from elaborate artifice, her simplicity from a social code.

Whereas the romantic side of Flora's personality emerges through her metaphoric consonance with the landscape, the contradictory element can be discerned in what she does to it:

Mossy banks of turf were broken and interrupted by huge fragments of rock, and decorated with trees and shrubs, some of which had been planted under the direction of Flora, but so cautiously, that they added to the grace, without diminishing the romantic wildness of the scene.


Flora cultivates, tames, Nature, yet with such skill that she contrives to accentuate the sense of wildness. Her art outstrips itself; it excels mere form and attains to the form of formlessness, emphasizing the “broken and interrupted” lineaments of the earth.

Nevertheless, gardening per se figures the historical spirit in Waverley and is out of keeping therefore with Flora's allegorical role.5 In addition to being Rose's definitive pursuit, gardening is a notoriously English enterprise. Even as Edward acknowledges that “the romance of his life was over and its real history had commenced” (415), he is guiding his steps toward the world of “English farmhouses, enclosures and hedgerows” (406) against which the arch-Scot Fergus defines himself. Flora astutely prophesies a life of landscaping for Edward, but with a scorn that belies the self-referentiality of her prediction.

I will tell you where he will be at home, my dear, and in his place,—in the quiet circle of domestic happiness … and he will draw plans and landscapes … and dig grottoes …


In global terms, cultivation equals civilization. It involves the imposition of an ordering principle upon the inchoate life-quality of the wilderness and, as such, is the condition of historical being and thought. In local terms, it represents a pursuit of the beautiful at the expense of the sublime, the refined at the expense of the rugged, contentment rather than “high and perilous enterprise” and domestic emotion rather than grand passion, all of which aligns it, in the novel's symbolic schema, with practical, realistic ameliorism and over against the desperate and deluded idealism Flora putatively incarnates.

Gratifying the desire for form in a traditionally historical vein, Flora's antiquarianism jars even more obviously with her dominant symbolic role. Antiquarianism amounts to the cultivation of culture: the antiquarian collects raw material, organizing and framing it, much as the gardener works the stuff of nature. Flora's second-hand minstrelsy is of this order. Not the bard of the clan but its bardolater, she compiles, translates, and interprets the work for outsiders like Edward; and while doing so, she evinces the compulsive orderliness of the connoisseur. Not coincidentally, her self-reflexive vision of Edward's future, cited above, includes antiquarianism.

The allegorical polarities of Flora's character and conduct fall into a pattern of dialectical interdependence. Like the other antitheses of the novel, they are neither sustained nor resolved; they are absorbed into a symbiotic relationship, which finds its appropriate image in the friendly antithesis of Flora and Rose:

Her most intimate friend had been Rose Bradwardine, to whom she was much attached; and when seen together, they would have afforded an artist two admirable subjects for the gay and the melancholy muse.


To use a different metaphor, the polarities are analogous to the hemispheres of a working brain, one pole may dominate at a given point—Flora can serve a unilateral symbolic function—but only with the co-operation of the other, the action of which is never entirely invisible.

This contradictory symbiosis reflects the double nature of oppositional structures such as history and romance in Waverley. In the context of the narrative, they are recognizably empirical, cultural and psychological realities whose functioning entails their interplay and synthesis. Just as fundamentally, however, they are mutually defining concepts whose substance depends on their distinction and articulation.

The different types of cultivation that Flora practices foreground these different aspects of the history-romance interaction. The fusion of the two as social realities surfaces in Flora's political cultivation of Edward. Flora subconsciously employs the emotional impact of romantic notions as a rhetorical tool to achieve a specific end, with presumably weighty historical consequences. Her persuasive tact presages that employed by Charles Stuart, the sole historical figure in the novel and arguably the most romantic—

Unaccustomed to the address and manners of a polished court, in which Charles was eminently skillful (sic), his words and his kindness penetrated to the heart of our hero, and easily outweighed all prudential motives. To be thus personally solicited for acceptance by a Prince whose form and manner … answered his ideas of a hero of Romance …


So radically does Charles bring romantic ideas to bear on the historical process that they temporarily conceal and even supersede it. Charles Stuart the historical figure disappears behind Charles Stuart the romantic knight in order to override the “prudential motives” of possible converts by playing, prudentially, upon their romantic impulses.6

Flora's interweaving of romance and history is less complete, but even more convoluted. For if her immediate ends are historical, her ultimate response partakes of the sublime and illusory splendor of romance. To sustain her ideals, Flora must resort to expedient policy (including the somewhat disingenuous invocation of romance). Romantic sentiments here both constitute and determine historical particulars. But they themselves are a product of historical forces as well—no less shaped than shaping. Thus one finds the origin of Flora's grand passion is a decidedly domestic emotion, a filial attachment to her natural and adoptive guardians not unlike Rose's affection for the Baron; and this grand passion in turn augments her equally homey affection for Fergus. The thread can be followed endlessly through the shuttle.

On the other side, Flora's ‘natural’ cultivation serves to locate the history-romance dialectic in their differential semantic relation. Only such an interchange of nature and culture could properly frame this development; for it is the erosion of a pre-cultural groundwork that necessitates a differential structure of meaning. Flora, nature-deity and indigenous growth, is a product of hyper-cultural, exotic Paris, her simplicity an effect of manners, the highland wilds she personifies the wilder for her art. By way of these inversions, Scott points to the non-existence of pre-cultural, pre-ideological data. Without this stable and autonomous conception of reality—the nature of Newton and Pope—objective fact, intrinsic meaning and correspondence theories of truth are all untenable. Things signify, are true and false, only within human configurations and only by relation to other components within these systems.7 Hence culture itself must be defined, or define itself if you will, by the projection of a first term, nature, from which it claims to succeed and upon which it claims to build. Nature, as Flora's landscaping attests, is a complex achievement of culture, a view unwittingly intimated by Fergus: “A simple and unsublimated taste now, like my own, would prefer a jet'd'eau at Versailles to this cascade” (181). The nature/culture dichotomy in Waverley is irreducible; it is perfectly epitomized in Flora's oxymoronic quality, “lady-like simplicity.” But more than that, the perception that nature is a secondary origin, a dependent first term, brings forth the contradictory symbiosis of history and romance discussed above. This will become clearer as we turn to the hermeneutical paradigm to which the very same perception gives rise.


The theme of irreducible non-simplicity is especially germane to the historicism/uniformitarianism debate in Scott commentary. A thoroughly historicist concept, it is first thematized in the chapters (beginning with Chapter 8) written immediately after the hiatus in Waverley's composition. Its development thus supports the view that during this period Scott abandoned the uniformitarian vision of nature expressed in the introductory extrapolation on the eternal passions.8

These chapters take place “upon the braes,” the border zone between lowlands and highlands, but also a part of the former, itself the border between modern, “historical” England and the traditional, “romantic” portion of Scotland. The braes epitomizes the import and operation of the novel's critical border-motif. The border is both single and double, the dichotomy and the difference. It symbolizes and is the fundamental condition of the relational world of the novel. It brings into view two entities (highland and lowland) and through this demarcating function comes into existence itself. This process goes on at every level; the so-called entities partake equally of border-status. The lowlands, subsuming the braes, serve to discriminate the Scottish highlands from the north of England and are, in the process, delimited. They, like the braes, are an integral entity precisely because they are a border.9 In Waverley, there are only borders. The braes is its microcosm and its frame: the place where Edward's adventures begin and end, the gateway, both geographically and narratively, to the “land of romance” and back to the “real history” of hearth and home.

Scott paints the braes as a region of whorled contraries, interlarding his description of Tully-Veolan itself with the term grotesque. Generically speaking, the grotesque is the nexus of the dichotomy and the border. It defines that which has irresoluble contradiction as its constituting principle, that which defies classification, resting in the interval between categories of intelligibility.10 It subsists in ironic relation to the term permeating the depiction of Flora, purity, especially since it twice attaches to the Baron's gardens.

The genius and chief grotesque of Tully-Veolan is Davie. He occupies so many categorial borders and absorbs so many dichotomies, it is difficult to provide an exhaustive list. A peasant, his life is one of aristocratic ease, his dress of aristocratic finery. In a psychological vein

neither idiocy nor insanity gave that wild, unsettled irregular expression … but something that resembled a compound of both, where the simplicity of the fool was mixed with the extravagance of a crazed imagination.


Through an allusion to “Shakespeare's roynish clowns” (83), a blend of wisdom and folly is also ascribed to Davie. Most importantly, Davie is thrice said to comprise a mixture of folly and knavery (84, 104, 116); and in between Scott assesses the world in identical terms, as an “admirable compound of knavery and folly” (107). Davie thereby becomes a microcosm of the earthly condition, the grotesque nature of which is correlated with moral failing. Immediately after the first such characterization, Davie is compared explicitly to a grotesque and then dubbed an innocent, an epithet Scott underlines via a second, somewhat forced reference (85-86). The ironic juxtaposition of innocent with grotesque—suggesting endless complexity—and with knavery, the attendant evil, points to the irreducibility of the border-structure.

Scott's major border-structures, such as Davie, are not special cases but exaggerated manifestations of those principles that constitute all entities in the Waverley world. Davie stands as a miniature model, his variegated wardrobe the symbol of Scott's characterization. Scott treats characters as he does concepts, values and qualities; to this extent, he works within the allegorical or humorous tradition. But because he finds layered dichotomies everywhere, his characters transcend this tradition, without, on the other hand, acquiring the psychological density notable in modern literature. The multiple contradictions of a Fergus MacIvor—self-serving politician and generous chief, petty blackmailer and massive threat to kings, throwback to the heroic past and modern utilitarian, endow him with a shallow complexity. Waverley himself, though more minutely worked out, remains a character of this mode, perhaps representing the farthest point it can attain.

Through its thematic dichotomies, the ur-border (the braes) exposes the corresponding doubleness of the items it defines and their equally relational character. To give an example—Scott pairs the Scots with romance and the English with practicality upon Edward's arrival at Tully-Veolan:

Three or four village girls, returning from the well or brook with pitchers and pails upon their heads, formed more pleasing objects … Nor could a lover of the picturesque have challenged either the elegance of their costume, or the symmetry of their shape; although, … a mere Englishman, in search of the comfortable, a word peculiar to his native tongue, might have wished the clothes less scanty, the feet and legs somewhat protected from the weather, the head and complexion shrouded from the sun, or perhaps … the whole person and dress considerably improved, by a plentiful application of spring water, with a quantum sufficit of soap.


The last phrase however sets the table for turning. The pointless Latin usage anticipates the Baron's verbal style, and the “mere Englishman's” exclusive concern with concrete facts soon finds its match in the Scottish laird: “the baron only encumbered his memory with hard dry outlines—the cold hard dry facts which history delineates” (109). The mind of Edward, conversely, teems with “wild and romantic ideas” (109), largely cultivated under the tutelage of the romantic Sir Everard and Mrs. Rachel. To argue that, being Tories, these two cannot be classified “mere Englishmen” is to postulate yet another border-condition.

To reverse matters, the Baron's romantic attachment to feudal tradition is not disparaged by the practical English, not even by Colonel Talbot, who despises him, but by Fergus, head of the highlanders, the collective personification of romance. He designates the Baron, “the most absurd original that exists north of the Tweed,” largely because his “principal motive for taking up arms” is a romantic one: “the expected pleasure of performing [a ceremony]” (346-47).

The braes form a social and economic border as well. As feudal estate, Tully-Veolan balances the collectivist ethos associated with the tribalism of the clans against the individualism that has become predominant to the south. A topographic equipoise is set up between the common field, “where the joint labor of the villagers cultivated alternate ridges and patches of rye oats, barley and peas” and the private enclosures, the walls of which are surmounted by the Bradwardine family symbol (76). But here too, the braes reveals the border principle at work in the entities it defines. On the one hand, the region falls victim to the predations of Donald Bean Lean, who, proving faithless to the Jacobite cause and his highland brethren, violates the very tribal code that sanctions his thievery. Donald is a self-serving turncoat in the Richard Waverley mold; and his conduct displays the individualistic spirit of capitalism already embedded in the clan system. Inversely, the decrepitude of the lowland feudal structure, its borderline status as feudalism, suggests that Sir Edward's expedient of purchasing what he still believes to be “the natural dependence of the people upon their landlords” with a “copious repast” will better sustain outworn class relations than Bradwardine's title or dormant pillory. The reactionary quasi-feudalism of the south counter-balances the incipient quasi-Whiggery of the north.

The central political figure in Waverley possesses the same border-structure. Charles is a divisive addition to Great Britain. The civil conflict he effects is the political analogue to the novel's overriding structure of contradiction; and Scott connects Edward's part in it with the Fall, reinforcing the link between moral transgression and ontological division.11 But Scott deliberately and repeatedly emphasizes that the Stuarts are the royal house de jure, i.e. the rightful dynasty in law and, given monarchical pretense, the eyes of God. Charles is not an addition at all, nor can he be, in principle, a divisive factor; or, paradoxically, he is a primary addition, a divisive first term. In keeping with the overall thematic structure, there is no isolated fall from political unity, no point at which intractable antimonies supervene or are incurred. The entry of the heir de jure from a land symbolic of admixture12 encapsulates and nationalizes the theme of irreducible non-simplicity. The border in Waverley is the first term.

The border, however, is inherently unstable. The non-existence of pre-cultural data entails that truth and significance be relative and contingent. To over-simplify, the concepts of history and romance subsist in a figure-ground relationship; but which is the applied figure and which the implied ground at any point varies with a wide range of social and historical circumstances bearing upon the novel's entire network of oppositions.

The unrecognized innovation in Waverley, the step that makes Scott fully contemporary, is the wedding of a proto-structuralist hermeneutic to a proto-historical one. Moreover, as the foregoing denotes, he shows these two models, often thought antithetical, to evolve logically from the same insight and so imply one another. Given the absence of a fixed nature, the economy or structured interplay of conceptual differences at once defines historical reality as its ground and arises from it as its function. Whereas Marx and Hegel anchored their famous dialectics in trans-historical realities, Scott ties his version to a structuralist projection that is no less its consequence than its basis. The paradigm as a whole is itself irreducibly synthetic. As a result, it resists discursive formulation.

Instead, Scott provides a vast and lucid metaphor of its operation, the bifurcated stream:

In a spot, about a quarter of a mile from the castle, two brooks, which formed the little river had their junction. The larger of the two came down the long bare valley … the other stream … seemed to issue from a very narrow and dark opening … These streams were different also in character. The larger was placid, and even sullen in its course, wheeling in deep eddies, or sleeping in dark blue pools; but the motions of the lesser brook [which leads to the “land of romance” described above] were rapid and furious … all foam and uproar.


The two streams can be identified with an array of oppositions pertinent to this discussion: Rose/Flora, Hanover/Stuart, civilized/wild, prudence/passion, and, clearly, history/romance.13 But the very wealth of possible associations here suggests that the image can be interpreted on a more comprehensive level as a hermeneutical model, particularly if one takes into account the river, largely ignored in critical commentary, that is formed by the junction of the two streams.

The spatial configuration of the stream suggests the structuralist element of Scott's thought; it images the differential unit that issues in positive meaning (the river). The streams' motion reflects the historical element, the confluence of their waters symbolizing the dialectic fusion of history and romance as social and psychic realities. Taken in both respects, the figure signifies the reciprocal production of these two elements. The current (phenomenal flux) inscribes, replenishes and redefines the stream beds (categories of sense) which not only direct but actually constitute it as such. The result is the appearance of a “reality,” the river, which largely submerges the complexities of its formative process. Structure and flux, stream-bed and current are thus neither wholly one nor two but both at once, irreducibly synthetic. This quality sustains the structure as a whole. Because the streams are disparately formed, they cannot but redefine themselves on a differential basis. Most importantly, the streams will continue to differ in the depth of their activity. At the end of Waverley, Scott fixes history and romance in an analogous relation.

Taken holistically, the image also reveals a dilemma confronting Scott: how can one calibrate the ideas of history and romance within a structure of meaning that creates, and is created by, historical circumstance? For a radical historicism, this problem is insoluble. Scott's two-fold paradigm does, however, enable a sublimation of it. Crossing its synchronic and diachronic aspects, Scott distills something akin to Nietzschean perspectivism. There are in Waverley not just differences, but differences between these differences based on one's vantage-point. Although this has the air of a further complication, it actually constitutes something of a solution. Whereas the differential structure of meaning explains the breakdown of categories, differential perspective can explain, provisionally, how distinctions appear, how one category sufficiently dominates to become the figure to the other's ground.

The dialectic of history and romance implicit in Flora's antiquarianism illustrates this principle. Flora's historical side, bred by her contact with modern culture, works to preserve artifacts largely for their romantic appeal. Yet this appeal rests in a rude sublimity and collectivist ethos that are recognizable as such only to someone with modern tastes and historical impulses. The less acculturated clansmen do not find minstrelsy romantic; only someone outside the immediate cultural matrix would; someone, for example, who knows the “characters of Arcadia” well enough to find them “insipid” (181). The quality of romance appears only at some culturally determined distance.

Similarly, Edward finds Flora romantic due to the type and degree of her cultural distance from him. That is to say, the romantic qualities she displays—sublimity, primitiveness, etc.—are no less the effects of her unfamiliarity than its occasion. Scott elucidates the relevance of distance to romance in his description of Edward's access of passion for Flora upon his return to the lowlands:

Distance, in truth, produces in idea the same effect as in real perspective. Objects are softened, and rounded, and rendered doubly graceful; the harsher and more ordinary points of character are mellowed down, and those by which it is remembered are the more striking outlines that mark sublimity, grace, or beauty. There are mists, too, in the mental, as well as the natural horizon, to conceal what is less pleasing in distant objects, and there are happy lights, to stream in full glory upon those points that can profit by brilliant illumination.

(225, emphasis added)

The effects of distance described here recall numerous romantic instances in Waverley. In making clear the indistinguishability of inherent property from perspectival distortion, the passage puts oppositions like reality/illusion, history/romance on a new footing.

Garside and Iser have discussed perspective in Waverley primarily as an interpersonal phenomenon. They remark the subjectivism implicit in Scott's view of reactions to, and accounts of historical events.14 Clearly, an examination of history and romance based on differential perspective finds such instances of subjective variance important, particularly when they are connected with cultural determinations, as in our own contrast of Flora's response to minstrelsy with that of the clan at large. But the difficulty of distinguishing the two categories cannot be reduced to a “one man's romance is another's history” formula, which ignores the radically diachronic property of their relation.

To emphasize this property, Scott projects the issue of perspective primarily through the transformations of Edward, whose viewpoint governs the narrative. His constitutional vacillation represents a miniature parody of differential historicity, and the name Waverley itself connotes continuously bilateral motion. Perhaps that is why Scott entitled the novel Waverley, instead of simply Sixty Years Since. In any event, it is Waverley who moves through the novel, gauging phenomena at different distances as he grows and changes. The most important object of his attention in this regard is unquestionably Rose Bradwardine.


Rose's milieu, like Flora's, signals her symbolic function. Whereas Flora's element is wild, open, and sublime, a masterpiece of nature, Rose's is pretty, cramped and civilized, a flower of culture: a “small but pleasant apartment,” adorned with art work (110). Not only is horticulture in evidence, the gardens are significantly de-naturalized through enclosure, stressing the tie between cultivation and the will to order. The flowers “under [Rose's] special protection” are crowded into a “bartizan or projecting gallery.” Nearby can be seen “the formal garden, with its high bounding walls … contracted, as it seemed, to a mere parterre” (111). The scene has a claustrophobic hothouse effect, with Rose herself the main botanical attraction. The only opening is southward, toward England, the national symbol and repository of the domestic, commonsensical and refined values of which Rose's environment is so redolent.

Rose's element is a mirror of her soul. Her “natural good sense” (111), her feel for the social amenities, and her insistence on good manners (indicated by her displeasure with Edward's brusqueness following the Balmawhapple affair) are exactly what one might infer from her living space. But even as Scott establishes her allegorical role, he again reveals the contradictions within the single term, in this case raising the issue of perspective.

Ironically, Rose's lack of romantic appeal for Edward is imputed to qualities metaphorically correlative not to her milieu but to the highland country—not wildness certainly, but relative naturalness, openness, spontaneity, sincerity, and innocence:

Rose Bradwardine … had not precisely the sort of beauty or merit which captivates a romantic imagination in early youth. She was too frank, too confiding, too kind, amiable qualities … but destructive of the marvellous, with which a youth of imagination delights to address the empress of his affections. Was it possible to bow, to tremble, and to adore, before the timid, yet playful little girl, who now asked Edward to mend her pen, now to construe a stanza in Tasso? … All these incidents have their fascination on the mind at a certain period of life, but not when a youth is entering it. …


The passage as a whole makes it clear that romance is not only in the eye of the beholder but at some distance from it. The point is subsequently underscored:

I knew a very accomplished and sensible young man cured of a violent passion for a pretty woman, whose talents were not equal to her face and figure, by being permitted to bear her company for a whole afternoon. … And although Miss Bradwardine was a very difficult character, it seems probable that the very intimacy of their intercourse prevented his feeling for her other sentiments than those of a brother. …


Rose does not lack romantic qualities; rather she is not at the right cultural distance for Edward to see them. Her allegorical status hinges upon this fact. History, then, represents what is so common one hardly notices it. I shall return to this point shortly.

Far from depriving her of romantic potential, Rose's sheltered existence has left her ripe to play the romantic heroine. She is not only natural but indeterminate—“A character young and inexperienced”—sincere and spontaneous, simple and solitary, prepared to give and receive affection. Scott calls attention to these qualities, in preparation for the comic conclusion. Rose is not, as one critic has it, another Cecilia Stubbs,15 but an open-ended possibility, a litmus test of perspective. Thus, her name sounds domesticated by comparison with Flora but it also resonates of the medieval romance. Similarly, she is toasted as a romantic “deity,” “the Rose of Tully-Veolan,” but the circumstance being farcical, she seems no more glorified than ridiculed by the affair (85).

Just as Flora seems even more romantic to Edward upon his return to the lowlands and to Rose, Rose assumes romantic nuances once he is swept up in Flora's world. Thus the differential relation is maintained. Weary of grandiose movements and passion, and feeling the stress of frenzied activity, Edward comes to think Rose's domestic affections and amiable traits perfectly natural yet invaluable, while deeming Flora bizarre and artificial:

Rose Bradwardine? … I rejected her simple, natural and affectionate attachment instead of cherishing it to tenderness … and dedicated myself to one who will never love mortal man, unless Old Warwick the king maker should rise from the dead.


She [Flora] is taller, and her manner more formed; but many people think Miss Bradwardine's more natural.


Edward finally articulates his resolve to marry Rose in London, at a great distance, in every sense, from her and what she represents. Not coincidentally, he professes his love in the same speech in which he renounces “the plumed troops and the big wars [that] used to enchant [him] in poetry” (i.e. at a remove) (425-26).

Distance is most effective as a condition of romance when it poses the threat of irrevocability. All things romantic in Waverley partake of pastness or loss. Rose only begins to haunt Edward's imagination after she and the domestic tranquility she symbolizes seem forever lost to him. In a cultural analogue, Flora and her battle song evoke a virtually extinct way of life; and it is no accident that the romantic appeal of the highlanders (Fergus, Flora, Callum Beg) reaches its peak preparatory to their disappearance. The romantic effect of the dominant political figure, who is part of history in the making, derives from his associations with a dynastic past, which the reader at any rate knows is irredeemable. Even Davie borders on the romantic when the properly elegaic note is struck (cf. 106, 435-36).

Scott interweaves romance with retrospection through a well-defined pattern of sunset imagery. Edward's youthful “visions [are] brilliant and as fading as those of an evening sky” (55). As Flora plays the Scottish harp, taught her by “one of the last harpers of the Western highlands … The sun, now stooping to the west, gave a rich and varied tinge to all the objects which surrounded” (176, emphasis added). Romance is that which is gilded by desolation, actual or anticipated. Of Preston, Scott reports, “Although the Highlanders marched on very fast, the sun was already declining when they arrived …” (331). The uprising is romantic because it is effectively over at its inception.

The last of this imagistic thread to romance carries its interpretation with it:

The pleasure of being allied to a man of the Baron's high worth … was also an agreeable consideration. … His absurdities, which had appeared grotesquely ludicrous during his prosperity, seemed, in the sunset of his fortune, to be harmonized and assimilated with the noble features of his character, so as to add peculiarity without exciting ridicule.

(450, emphasis added)

This passage broaches the power of pastness to color, soften, and ennoble, clearly recalling the passage above on the effects of distance. Because the Baron is a throwback to an eradicated social system, even his peculiarities have value.

Obviously, the condition of real history's emergence from the ground of romance must be equally tied up with the issue of perspective. None of the intrinsic historical criteria, suggested at points in the text, will hold; for at a retrospective distance the very same qualities are constitutive of romance. The paradox is that in Waverley romance occupies the space traditionally allocated to history. Not only does history generally entail retrospective distance, but some of the very distortions Scott connects with distance are part and parcel of any historical account. More striking outlines will be remembered, certain objects concealed and others emphasized as a result of the principle of selection that marks all systematic accounts. The infusion of narrative form both indicates distance and increases it.

The Waverley family annals, another of the novel's frames, dramatize this point. The legends of Wilibert, Nigel and Lady Alice defy the categories of history and romance. They are adjudged factual and have prescriptive force to match, yet they are also fantastic romances that “perpetuate what is rare and valuable in ancient manners.” Garside chalks this ambiguity up to the “intangibility of the distant past.”16 But the latest addition to them, the tale of Edward's “gallant behavior in the military character” (478) admits no such explanation. Given the proximity of report to event, Talbot's generous misrepresentation of Edward's action and the Waverleys' more generous misrepresentation thereof denote that the principles of selection, suppression and distortion are ineluctable attributes of distance, whatever its quantity. Commenting on Edward's glorification, Garside argues, “Scott is not pleased to rest entirely with history, at least not in the limiting sense of objective fact.”17 But Scott's thesis is meta-historical. One cannot rest in or seize upon the objective fact or even a faithful historical representation in the Kantian sense. History and romance do not just converge in the distant twilight of legend. The first step toward traditional history is the first step toward romance.

To stand free of romance, yet remain an alternative to it, history must coincide with immediate reality. Scott makes this point but at the same time indicates that history can never be apprehended as such. A principle of epistemological delay operates in the novel to convey the double theme. Facts are always detected at a temporal remove. This motif is explicitly established early on; news of Richard Waverley's activities “came upon Sir Everard gradually, and drop by drop … distilled through the … procrastinating alembic of Dyer's Weekly Letter … a slow succession of intelligence” (39). A similar time-lag in the detection process leads to Edward's loss of commission and Houghton's death.

The chief example of this type of deferred discovery, the nursing incident, clearly demonstrates the relevance of this motif to the romance-history distinction. We have seen that Rose's role as historical muse is bound up with her invisibility, metaphorically speaking, her failure to make an impression. In keeping with this, Edward is unable to identify her the entire time she ministers to him and presides over his convalescence. He imagines that “a female … had appeared to flit around his couch” (275), but his subsequent efforts to satisfy his curiosity prove fruitless. During this time, Edward's “sole amusement was gazing … upon a large brook, which raged and foamed through a rocky channel” (277). The similarity of this brook to that highland waterway to the “land of romance” (see 262 above) is marked, and the significance of its correlation with Rose's concealment is clear.

It might be said that Edward cannot see the “real history” for the romance. He is, after all, looking for his nurse to be Flora (275-76). But on another level, the incident suggests that history itself is imperceptible; what one approaches is always already romance. This is subsequently confirmed. First, Edward does not discover his nurse's identity until much later, when he is already romantically predisposed to her. The recognition scene is immediately preceded by Edward's discovery that the same romantic waterway runs through Tully-Veolan, a symbolic index of Rose's transformation, past and present, in Edward's mind. Further, the actual report of Rose's exertions suggests that they will in time pass into the Waverley annals. Janet performs the requisite apotheosis—“… a leddy that hasna her equal in the world—Miss Rose Bradwardine” (444)—while Edward's rapt attention to her account clearly recalls his youthful receptions of the family legends—“Never did music sound sweeter … than the drowsy tautology, with which old Janet detailed every circumstance, thrilled upon the ears of Waverley …” (445). Finally, this intelligence induces the most cliched romantic sentiment of the novel: “To Rose Bradwardine, then, he owed the life which he now thought he could willingly have laid down to serve her” (450).

More interestingly, Scott manages to inflict a similar sense of epistemological delay upon the reader. He forestalls the immediate experience of represented historical events by stepping out of the progressive narrative frame just as such events are about to unfold and relating the end and consequence, which, he points out, the reader already knows. The battles at Preston and Carlisle feature this narrative tactic. Most striking in this regard, however, is the report of the Jacobite decision to return home. Scott exploits the fact that none of the typical motivations for such a move—shortages, threatened mutiny, compelling defeats—obtain and simply apprises the reader, without warning, that the decision having since been made, the retreat had commenced. The most intriguing event in this sequence, the debate among the chieftains at Darby, is recapitulated summarily and only after the outcome is reported and its implications cited.

Scott creates this feeling of after-the-fact discovery solely with respect to historical occurrences. He thereby conveys, in a visceral manner, a sense of history as a submarine force depositing consequences that can only be seized upon retrospectively. Thus, the dialectical model of the history-romance correlation, presupposed in the novel's antimonous rhetorical structure, is gradually, insidiously—“historically,” if you will—supplanted by a model of necessary projection. History, for Scott, resembles Derridean presence or the pre-cultural data discussed above. Like them, it is a construct of immediacy, an unimpeachable source. Like them, it can never be observed, but its projection is absolutely essential to the differential operation of meaning, an operation whose own necessity lies precisely in the unverifiability of such constructs. History is Scott's version of the unfathomable ground of being. As the wave is to water or energy to matter, history is to the manifestations of temporal process; it is not them, nor is it in them, but it does not exist without them. Rather, it is presumed to move through them; and it conforms, in this sense, to Hume's idea of causality, which surely influenced Scott.

In accordance with this paradigmatic shift, Scott refines the relational metaphor of the bifurcated stream. Although it emphasized the complex dialectic of history and romance, setting them in a continuously changing figure-ground relationship, that metaphor held the paradigm of surface manifestation and inferred depth in potentia; the romantic brook being all surface uproar, the historical stream “wheeling in deep eddies.” At the novel's end, Scott returns to the river imagery to give his historical model its final form:

But change, though steadily and rapidly progressive, has nevertheless, been gradual, and like those who drift down the stream of a deep and smooth river, we are not aware of the progress we have made, until we fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have drifted.

(492, emphasis added)

Change and development only become apparent at some considerable retrospective distance from their source, yet they occur steadily and even rapidly. Thus the surface manifestations of life are misinterpreted as being stable until they come into a perspective which leaves them inevitably subject to other distortions. Simply stated, we can only focus at a distance, at which point our focus is falsifying. History is to this superficial flux of images as an undercurrent, hidden and unrecognizable. It is imagined in order to explain the changes in perspective, the increases in distance, the manifestations of progress, the continual leavening of the whole romantic superstructure. History stands on the last braes, seeming at once fundamental, an immanent force, and unreal, a fictional construct.


The ramifications of Scott's final formula for the historical novel are telling. By denying the accessibility of the historical undercurrent, Scott makes the historical novel a prototype of the standard history.18 All histories are, after all, historical romances. A true history has less to do with fidelity to fact, which is impossible in the absolute and unverifiable in any case, than with the authority accorded it by members of a given community.

Scott introduces the idea of competing histories and their ties to other forms of social authority in a sly, prejudicial way:

It did not, indeed, he [the Baron] said, become them, as had occurred in late instances, to propone their prosapia, a lineage which rested for the most part on the vain and fond rhymes of their Seannachies or Bhairds, as aequiponderate with the evidence of ancient charters and royal grants of antiquity. …


Two forms of historical document are juxtaposed: the legal charter, the ancestor of the history proper, and the poetic charter, the forefather of the historical romance. The baron weakens his advocacy of the former by the absurd pomposity of his speech, but his argument from antiquity actually favors the contemporary novelist rather than the historian. Scott works in and claims descent from the ancient tradition of the Scottish bards, while the system of laws from which the historian draws his authority is almost brand new. The defender of the ancient charters loses his estate by the end of the novel, and it must be repurchased in accordance with the revised economic and legal apparatus of land distribution. The romance can thus claim precedence to the historical, just as the historical undercurrent always constitutes a secondary projection from the manifestation it is felt to cause.

The copious notes Scott appends to the text should be perused in light of this hierarchy. Scott's pose as an editor of history is designedly threadbare; the notes are shot through with references to literary texts, which are, ironically, invoked to support claims of historical veracity. Moreover, and more importantly, history is pressed into editorial service for romance. It becomes that most secondary of things, a footnote.

One can say then, that Scott founds the new form of novel on the collapse rather than the combination of generic categories. He shows the hybrid to be, in a sense, no hybrid at all. Yet he does crush the taxonomic boxes at both ends; so that by a perverse turnabout, the trace of an opposition remains. The “deep and smooth” river that submerges history in romance also submerges the romance at hand in history. It images the apparent social progress since the events represented—specifically “the gradual influx of wealth, and extension of commerce,” and “The political and economic effects of these changes” (492)—and in so doing breaks the conventional literary frame, situating the novel, no less than the tale it tells, in real time. The novel is foregrounded as an historical artifact. But of course such artifacts are surface manifestations, hence already a part of romance in the larger sense.

In order to emphasize his point, Scott applies the law of deferred discovery to the novel as a whole. He embeds this river image and its interpretation in a chapter headed “Postscript That Should Have Been Preface.” Not only does the phrase define Scott's view of history, it suggests that he did not fully grasp what he was about until after he had finished. His epistemological conclusions would thus seem an accurate reflection of his experience, which, for its part, authenticates them. Thus, the mechanism of epistemological delay itself could be read as a surface manifestation of an underlying “historical” force, in this case Scott's own uncertainty, and perhaps anxiety, during the novel's composition. The contrary view is no less indicated, however; that Scott's conclusions, coming as they do at a retrospective distance, are inevitably distorted, indeed that the very law of epistemological delay and the whole historical paradigm to which it is attached must partake of romance insofar as they have come into view for Scott and his readers. In any event, this device of delay is both clever and appropriate. It further breaks down the conventional frame, inscribing the novel in the history of its composition and its consumption, while at the same time affirming that this history remains a projection.

Because of such frame-breaking devices, Scott's “personal voice,” and the kinship between Scott and Edward, Waverley has invited more than its share of biographical and historical commentary.19 Although my intention has been to work the other side of the street, as it were, I do feel that several aspects of Scott's circumstances have particular relevance to the historical paradigm I have discussed and the ideas that underlie it.

Most of the plausible analyses in this vein place particular emphasis on the polarities that marked Scott's sensibility: affection for tradition vs. satisfaction at commercial progress (Fleishman), appreciation of the compassionate life of the Scottish Enlightenment (Daiches), knee-jerk romanticism vs. an awareness of its dangers (Mayhead).20 The political manifestations of these spiritual dichotomies were that he was a progressive Tory on the one hand and, on the other, an anti-Jacobite who affirmed that he would have “fought against the convictions of my better reason for [Charles] even to the bottom of the gallows.”21 These oppositions, which are constant with those of Waverley, are generally invoked to support one or another compromise theory of history. Daiches speaks of an ambivalent version of history, Fleishman of a paradoxical “evolution within the status quo,” Devlin of progress founded on the changeable and universal constitution of the human spirit; even Lukacs, who might be expected to search out dialectic, finds in Scott's work an historical middle road.22

Without quarreling with the underlying basis of these constructs, I would argue, in effect, that Scott's historical vision was more imaginative and more ambitious than has generally been recognized. To account for it, it is necessary to abandon for a time Scott's express duality of temper and turn to the circumstantial contradictions that befell him.

Underlying Scott's historical paradigm is, as we have seen, the concept of the border, which was deeply ingrained in his experience. Southern Scotland was considered border territory and Scott thought himself a border-poet.23 What is important about the border is that in being one thing it is at the same time something else distinct from and, indeed, opposed to it: in being a start, it is an end; as an exit, it is an entry: being part one entity it is part of another; and as the border of both it is a thing unto itself. Scott occupied a number of such border positions. In an aesthetic vein, he was a Scotch writer addressing a primarily English audience. The more he played to that foreign audience, the more prominent a fact his own nationality became. He was thought a distinctively Scottish writer in a way he would not have been had his work circulated exclusively or even principally in Scotland.

The borders multiply in the political arena. Waverley shows that Toryism and Jacobitism were historically opposed to Whiggery and Hanoverianism, as right wing to left. Yet Scott, in being a Tory was also a Hanoverian; the progressive faction, possessing authority, becomes that which is conserved. On the other side, Scottish Nationalism, a Jacobite sentiment, was being exploited by advocates of the French Revolution24—the old and new order, the radical right and left came together. Nor, as Scott was surely aware, was this a wholly novel development in Scottish politics. Sharing fear and hatred of England, the Jacobite Party and the County Party, an extreme Whig, Presbyterian faction, struck an alliance during the Parliamentary debates preceding the union in order to block concessions to their southern neighbor. The situation was reportedly felt to be an embarrassment, doubtless because it was grotesque: Jacobite and Whig differentially defined each other in Scotland at that time, yet in this instance one was a good Jacobite by being a good Whig.25

An even more radical case: the Highlanders did not in fact consider themselves Scots; they applied this term with contempt and loathing to the Lowlanders, whose progenitors, they felt, had dispossessed their own of the best parts of the land.26 Yet by keeping their cultural distance, by ferociously holding on to the distinguishing traits of their society, they came, over time, to be seen as the real, pure and original Scotsmen. Scott, an antiquarian, was doubtless aware of this anomaly.

The last of these borders involves Scott's place in the changing social and economic order. Scott was attuned to the capitalistic tenor of his day. He broke away from an established publisher to enter as an equal partner in a new publishing and printing firm. He then took the initially substantial profits from this venture and bought his estate in Abbotsford. He planted the grounds, renovated the house “after the model of an old hall” and there passed his antiquarian studies, occupying a feudal world of sense and spirit.27 He proceeded through the capitalistic structure of the present and future to the agrarian tradition of the past. In being one with the former, he became one with the latter, a fact substantiated further by the baronetry of Abbotsford he received in 1820.28

These border-cases, in aggregate, must have impressed Scott deeply. More than that, they exemplified theoretic means by which he could gratify his conflicting desires, by which he could eat his cake and have it too. The last example appears in fairly unsublimated form at the close of Waverley, where it takes the form of a wish-fulfillment. The baron's estate is lost to Inchgrabbit, betokening the passage of the historical baton to an order founded on Adam Smith's contradictory notion of private greed for public good. But Edward's participation in the free-market system restores the Baron to his estate. He is, if anything, more secure in it, being beyond monarchical whim and prerogative.

This conclusion can be fairly criticized as a fairy tale imposition on an historical novel, a dodge;29 yet it is wholly consistent with Scott's historical paradigm, which is itself a rather sanguine accommodation of circumstance to desire. If, as outlined, history is always imperceptible and romance alone can be apprehended, if the immediate or the present is always unrealized and things can appear only at a retrospective distance where their irrevocability softens and embellishes them, then a commitment to the new order will necessarily both create and dignify the old. The development of a modern industrial Scotland will bring her past into glorious view, and only through dull, transparent domesticity can the heroic shine as such. The Hanover ascendency enshrines the Stuart cause; capitalism defines and aggrandizes feudalism. In brief, under this model, progress, and progress alone, can engender tradition, the value of which lies precisely in its being not-progress. Scott establishes a temporal border, where to be one thing, progressive or contemporary, was to be its opposite, reactionary or conservative. One can see this mechanism at work in the development of the paradigm: Scott's modern analytical skepticism leads him to posit a wholly romantic and retrospective world. One can see it too in Scott's career; a novel like Waverley, which ultimately expresses a pro-union position, played a large part in the making of Scottish identity.

On the other side, those activities, such as fiction and antiquarianism, that move one mentally, spiritually or emotionally into the romance of the past, that makes the old order seem immediate and somehow normative, place one at a distance from the present day and grant insight into it and appreciation of its worth. Scott gives up the possibility of objective truth and intrinsic meaning to maximize the value of life, valorizing the past from the present and the present from the past. Far from resting in ambivalence or acquiescing in compromise, Scott contrived a paradigm that allowed his opposed impulses to satisfy each other. He plays both sides against the middle; he exaggerates polarities to the point at which they collapse upon themselves: “Indeed, the most romantic parts of this narrative are precisely those with a foundation in fact” (493).


  1. I have used the Penguin English Library edition, Andrew Hook ed., which is based on the Centenary edition of 1870-71. The Penguin text includes Scott's Notes, which have a direct bearing on my discussion here, as well as the additional material of the 1829 edition.

  2. Scott's conservative tendencies are emphasized by Alexander Welsh in The Hero of the Waverley Novels (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1963) 82-92. His progressivism is articulated in Marxist terms by Georg Lukács in his classic section on Scott in The Historical Novel (Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1962) 30-62, and, with reference to speculative history, by Avrom Fleishman in The English Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1971) 37-101.

  3. Lukacs of course opts for a version of historicism and Donald Davie—in The Heyday of Sir Walter Scott (London: Routledge, 1961) 33 ff.—seems to as well. Welsh, Fleishman and D. D. Devlin (The Author of Waverley [London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1971] 40-41) all see Scott balancing the two historical programs.

  4. A. O. J. Cockshut, The Achievement of Walter Scott (N.Y.: NYU Press, 1969) 127. Cockshut points out that all of Scott's best books have something of a double focus.

  5. Robin Mayhead, Walter Scott (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1973) 25. Mayhead notes this cultivation as unromantic and deems it an extension of Flora's orderliness of mind, which is equally so.

  6. Historical accounts indicate Charles actually performed in exactly this manner. Hume P. Brown, History of Scotland (N.Y.: Octagon, 1971) 288 and W. C. MacKenzie, The Highlands and Isles of Scotland (Edinburgh: AMS, 1971) 118-19.

  7. To paraphrase Ferdinand de Saussure, without positive terms there are only differences. See Course in General Linguistics (New York: McGraw, 1959) 120.

  8. Davie registers the view that Scott changed courses, The Heyday of Walter Scott 26. For the novelist's uniformitarian views see Waverley Introductory 35.

  9. Scott hailed from what was termed border country, as I note in my conclusion, and so would be sensitive to the concept's possibilities.

  10. Geoffrey Harpham, On the Grotesque (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1982) Ch. i.

  11. Donald Bean Lean is said to have “played the part of the tempter” respecting the letters, in which he punned on Gardiner's name, calling him Adam.

  12. For the operation of France as a principal of admixture, witness Flora's cultivated simplicity of dress and mien, Fergus' alienation from his traditional role and, a more purely emblematic example, the French text Edward reads, “Memoirs Scarcely More Faithful Than Romances … Romances So Well Written as to be Hardly Distinguished from Memoirs” 49.

  13. The Hanover/Stuart opposition is remarked by Devlin in The Author of Waverley 64. For the prudence/passion antimony see David Brown, Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination (London: Routledge, 1979) 26.

  14. Wolfgang Iser, “Fiction—The Filter of History” in The Implied Reader (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974) 81-101. P. D. Garside, “Waverley's Pictures of the Past,” ELH [Journal of English Literary History] 44 (1977): 664.

  15. Devlin, The Author of Waverley 72.

  16. P. D. Garside, “Waverley's Pictures of the Past,” ELH 44 (1977): 666.

  17. P. D. Garside, “Waverley's Pictures of the Past,” ELH 44 (1977): 676.

  18. Iser argues (The Implied Reader 96) that for Scott history “can be best captured by aesthetic means,” imagination giving access to a reality beyond fact.

  19. For Scott's personal voice see David Daiches, “Waverley: The Presence of the Author” in Nineteenth Century Scottish Fiction, ed. Ian Campbell (Manchester: Carcanet, 1979) 15.

  20. Fleishman, The English Historical Novel 38, Daiches, “Waverley: The Presence of the Author” in Nineteenth Century Scottish Fiction 16 and Mayhead, Walter Scott 29.

  21. Scott's “Letter to Miss Clephane” quoted by Daiches 15 and Lockhart, The Life of Sir Walter Scott (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1871) 786. On Scott's political conflicts see Lockhart 716. Lockhart reports that Scott stayed a Jacobite to the end, and worried over his disloyalty at heart to a monarch who had befriended him.

  22. For Daiches' view see Francis Hart, Scott's Novels: The Plotting of Historical Survival (Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1966) 5; for Fleishman's see The English Historical Novel 45; for Devlin's, The Author of Waverley 40-42; for Lukacs' see The Historical Novel.

  23. Edgar Johnson, Sir Walter Scott (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1970) 1: 171, 213.

  24. Henry Meikle, Scotland and the French Revolution (N.Y.: Augustus M. Kelley, 1912) 65-67.

  25. For an account of this situation see Hume P. Brown, History of Scotland 86-95.

  26. W. C. MacKenzie, The Highlands and Isles of Scotland 118-19.

  27. Edgar Johnson, Sir Walter Scott 306-36, 373 and 576.

  28. Lockhart, The Life of Sir Walter Scott 460.

  29. P. D. Garside, “Waverley's Pictures of the Past” ELH 44 (1977): 677.

Louise Z. Smith (essay date 1986)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3231

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 invented it for Scott? And what is the nature of his invention? I think Scott's invention combined the elements familiar in eighteenth-century fiction with two closely related, newer elements: dialectical rhetoric and anthropological historicism. Dialectical rhetoric presents the narrator's shifting vision—sometimes sympathetic, sometimes objective—of the past. This dual vision presents anthropological details—of language, genealogy, ceremony, legend, and local association—both as facts of life in the on-going past and as artifacts revealing the past in the present. These anthropological details link the hero's personal development with historical change.

Dialectical rhetoric shows us two simultaneous views of the past. Avrom Fleishman explains that as if living our own lives, we little-by-little share the characters' experiences then. And stepping back across a median of more recent time in Waverley, we see their past as a completed whole now.2 Scott's dialectical rhetoric expresses this double view. Appropriately for the fictional mode, the narrator sometimes sympathetically unfolds events as the changing hero experiences them in the on-going past. But the distance of sixty years empowers him to reveal their historical significance in the present; his interpretive comments acknowledge the historian's tug toward objectivity. And Scott's editor (a term I will use for Scott's persona, distinct from the narrator) with his documentary apparatus of annotations and prefaces, urges us to compare “real history” with the fictions of the novel. This editor also reminds us to see Waverley's experiences objectively, not to become too enchanted with the romance of the past—the lesson that Waverley himself must learn. In 1821 Coleridge characterized the “essential wisdom and happiness” of the Waverley Novels as a contest between “two great moving principles of social humanity … the desire and admiration of permanence … and the mighty instincts of progression and free agency.3 Though the narrator sympathizes with Waverley's romantic aspirations to adventure, glory, and love (seen in terms of traditional literary romance), he also interprets the experiences in the perspective of sixty years and emphasizes the values of stability and mundane common sense (the last in the comic intervention of Baillie MacWheeble). When he synthesizes subjective sharing with more objective interpretation, the narrator can become an historian: he imaginatively seeks, recreates and assesses the permanence of the past.

Scott's narrative strategy is not, of course, wholly new. Earlier English novelists provided precedents for synthesizing intrusive with detached narration and combining immediate with remote perspective on events. The intrusive narrator of The History of Tom Jones never pretends his “comic epic in prose” is really history, whatever its title. But other novelists invented fictitious editors, collectors, and publishers to make epistolary novels and travel “journals” seem real. In Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe himself has two points of view. While the ink supply lasts, the marooned voyager records his dramatic spiritual crises and keeps a double-entry ledger of “Blessings” and “Afflictions.” This journal allows the reader to share Crusoe's immediate experience without commentary or historical distance. Later Crusoe intersperses his autobiographical reflections, which sometimes contradict the journal's accounts. And still later, the anonymous editor presents Crusoe's story, “a just history of fact” without “any appearance of fiction in it,” but improves it for the instruction and diversion of the reader.4 While Defoe's three parts are linear, Scott's three—the sharing narrator, the interpreting narrator, and the editor—tell the story simultaneously through dialectical rhetoric.

The second important aspect of Scott's invention is his anthropological historicism. The historian depends upon history's “auxiliary sciences,” such as archaeology, linguistics, or numismatics, to derive historical facts by studying artifacts. On this analysis the historian bases an imaginative reconstruction of the past.5 So does Scott. Dialectical rhetoric simultaneously presents anthropological details both as shared facts of the on-going past and, from a distance of sixty years, as interpreted artifacts of the completed past. This accomplishes a “delineation of manners.” He distinguishes “manners” from the horrific, sentimental, or fashionable manners of earlier English novels,6 but because his “tale is more a description of men than manners,” Scott selects only the “manners and laws which cast a necessary colouring” upon “those passions common to men in all stages of society” (I, 64-5). The facts of the historian's present enable him to breathe new life into the artifacts of the past, reinvigorating the modern reader's sense of the on-going “vie privée of our forefathers.” These artifacts are “manners,” which Scott categorizes as language, the traditions associated with particular localities, and the folklore and laws which shape the “sentiments” or “habits of thinking from generation to generation.”7 Scott's invention, historically connecting the past with modern understanding of the past, is to present anthropological details simultaneously—through dialectical rhetoric—as facts and artifacts. Verisimilitude thus widens to include not only economic but also anthropological elements.

Bearing in mind the dialectical meaning of “invention,” we still ask “Who invented historical fiction for Scott?” Although he acknowledges historical sources in the prefaces and notes of most of the novels, he says very little about literary sources and models. One of these is Scott's life-long favorite: The Old Manor House (1793) by Mrs. Charlotte Turner Smith. In this work, Scott found in relatively simple and incidental form the elements of his invention: both the kinds of anthropological details that would enliven history for a modern reader and the narrative rhetoric that would most clearly illumine their historical significance. The breadth and complexity with which he then employed these elements more than justifies locating in Waverley the “invention” of the historical novel.

In his appreciative essay “Charlotte Smith” (written in 1821 for the Ballantyne's Series but published in 1827 in Miscellaneous Prose Works), Scott calls The Old Manor House her chef d'oeuvre. He admires the truth and precision of her landscapes whether actually observed or “only become acquainted with by report,” the accuracy of “language fitted to [a character's] station in life,” and in general her regard for the same kinds of anthropological details with which Scott imparts anthropological historicism to Waverley. He approves of her augmenting direct observation with unpedantic use of scholarly reading.8 It is not surprising, then, to discover that the narrative mode of The Old Manor House—a storyteller who both shares experiences in the past and interprets them in the present, together with an editor who supplies a documentary framework—is woven naturally into Waverley.

Both novels use dialectical rhetoric. The narrators' sympathetic sharing of the heroes' experiences in both novels is so pervasive as to require no demonstration. Appropriately to the fictional mode, the narrators interpret frequently. For instance, Mrs. Smith's narrator emphasizes the protagonist Orlando's naive self-identification with classical heroes by commenting that even the Furies would smile upon him in the “abode of the Sybil.”9 Similarly, Scott's narrator calls Fergus MacIvor's ancestor a “second Aeneas” (XIX, 172). Narrative intrusions forecast inevitable disillusionment for Orlando, who enters the military “romantic in the extreme … his mind expatiating on visionary prospects” (p. 138) and for Waverley (LX, 406). Scott's narrator exposes Waverley's romantic distortion of the correspondence with Colonel Gardiner (XXV, 213-4); the narrator's emphatic reservations—“apparently,” “as it seemed,” “appeared”—explicitly question Waverley's perception of deliberate unfairness. However sympathetically the narrators may share the heroes' feelings, they also know that Orlando and Waverley must correct romantic assumptions and curb hasty judgments. The narrators' comments—Scott's much more pervasively and systematically than Mrs. Smith's—point toward and interpret their learning process.

Strong authorial presence, modeled after Fielding's, augments these narrative intrusions. Mrs. Smith's epigraphs from Shakespeare, Cowper, and Rousseau announce the subjects of volumes. More elaborately, Scott's titles announce, often weigh, and sometimes satirize the subjects of chapters. Mrs. Smith addresses to the reader her indignant comparison of British troop ships with slave ships (p. 345). Scott too discusses his authorial concerns. Besides parodying the titles of popular novels (I), he defends “speedily” changing his style (XXX, 172) and teasingly leaving events unexplained (LXV, 438). In contrast to the editors' objectivity, these strong authorial presences remind the reader that these novels are imaginative, fictive, non-historical discourse.

On the other side of the dialectic, both novels have editors who provide a documentary framework, urging the reader to accept the narratives' historicity. The apparatus includes scholarly-seeming, often historical, notes (pp. 326, 348, 385, 510). In one referring to David Ramsay's The History of the American Revolution (1789) and to the Annual Register for 1779, the editor opposes British exploitation of Indian warriors and compares the American War with the French Revolution (p. 360). In another, the editor compares the King's rationalization for killing American colonists with the Medicis' for killing Protestants in 1572 (p. 450). Thus, lacking the sixty years' perspective given Waverley, Mrs. Smith reaches into the far distant past to create historical perspective. The editor of Waverley also provides notes, prefaces, and appendices, all inviting comparison of historical record and fictional creation. This editorial apparatus establishes a sense of the historical context within which each hero's learning process takes place: a distant, completed past whose artifacts can have historical significance in the present. Like Froissart's accounts of war, these novels are “memoirs, scarcely more faithful than romances, and romances so well written as hardly to be distinguished from memoirs,” (III, 77). Their dialectical rhetoric synthesizes the two modes. The anthropological details of language, genealogy, ceremony, legend and local association are an important means of linking the hero's individual growth with historical change. Through dialectical rhetoric, the narrator shares the facts of the hero's experience of historical events, interprets them as artifacts in the present, and with the editor's help connects modern “manners” with those of the past.

In both novels language dramatizes the dangerous isolation of an individual caught in the historical interpenetration of social classes. Scott's favorite character in The Old Manor House is Mrs. Rayland, the Tory Jacobite matriarch of the Rayland family. In “Charlotte Smith,” he calls her “a Queen Elizabeth in private life” and her letter projecting Orlando's future as a gentleman “a masterpiece of diplomacy.” The Jacobean orthography and formality, elegant and proper in Mrs. Rayland's generation, seem humorously quaint to Orlando's middle-class family. The narrator interprets the historical significance of the linguistic artifact: Mrs. Rayland's language expresses her hope of insulating herself from the inevitable middle-class encroachment upon Tory traditions. In contrast to her linguistic isolation, Orlando's ease with the languages of many social classes enables him to reconcile social and political groups at the end of the novel. By interpreting language, the narrator shows its importance in an individual's adaptation to historical change.

The language of the Baron Bradwardine reflects his views much as Mrs. Rayland's does hers. That of Fergus (modern and cultivated) appeals to Waverley, but conceals atavistic pride and violent ambition. Waverley suffers physical injury because of his ignorance of Gaelic in the hunting scene, but his misinterpretation of the language of his Jacobite friends is more serious.

Genealogy also presents “history as … the concrete precondition of the present.”10 In both novels dates and ancestral portraits or arms represent genealogy. Mrs. Rayland and Sir Everard Waverley recall generations of Jacobite loyalty, cling to memories of the days before the defeat of Tory Jacobites, and cherish relics. The Old Manor House is set mainly in 1779, when the narrator voices both Tory and Whig sympathies in turn (pp. 7, 10). Like Rayland hall, Waverley-Honour sheltered Jacobites in the Great Civil War. Sir Everard cherishes the genealogical tree of Sir Hildebrand Waverley's descendents. On the verge of disinheriting young Waverley's father, who read his recantation and befriended the Hanover succession, Sir Everard is dissuaded by the sun's momentary illumination of the ancestral arms. In both novels, reverence for family artifacts entails excessively romantic education.11 However, Waverley's genealogical education makes him a stronger Tory than Orlando's. Both must overcome excessive romanticism, but Waverley must also learn the personal and political dangers of fanatical partisanship. Thus, personal and historical change are more intimately connected in Waverley than in The Old Manor House.

Ancient ceremony dramatizes the historical and personal issues in both novels. The traditional ceremony of the Michaelmas dance figures forth The Old Manor House's central historical question: who will inherit the old Tory estates? Waverley's major ceremony, the grand ball restoring “liveliness and elegance” to the “long deserted halls of the Scottish palace” at Holyrood-House (XLIII, 312-18), functions similarly. The narrator interprets this event “in the illfated and desperate undertaking of 1745” to connect personal with political disappointment. Hopelessly in love with Flora MacIvor, the heartsore young Waverley feels “like one striving to recover the particulars of a forgotten dream.” Fergus's chagrin on Waverley's behalf bears historical overtones: “This, then, is the end of my day-dream!” The narrator's observation of Waverley's “expectations which now seemed so delusive” applies equally well to the Prince's expectations of being restored to the throne. To the Prince's ceremonial “Good Night,” hoping for “many future meetings of mirth and pleasure in the palace of Holyrood,” the narrator appends Baron Bradwardine's melancholy gloss:

“‘Ae half the prayer wi' Phoebus grace did find,
The t'other half he whistled down the wind.’”

The narrator's introduction and the Baron's epitaph create an historical frame for the ceremony.

To awaken from such dreams to the real historical issues embodied in these ceremonies, both young heroes must learn to re-evaluate legends. As anthropological artifacts connecting the past with the present, legends can either impede or promote historical change. Ancient legends teach both heroes to respect the irrational force of superstition. In America, Orlando is overcome with melancholy by the cry of the night hawk (pp. 384-5). Scott's use of legend of the Bodach Glas is almost identical (LIX, 396-400). An equally important lesson for an historian or historical novelist is the converse: by establishing ideals, legends can promote historical change. An ideal cherished throughout the eighteenth century, long before Rousseau, was sentimental primitivism. This contemporary legend conceived the New World as a “new Eden,” populated by genteel, primitive people. But Scott (XXIV, 202-3; XL-XLI, 297-301) and Mrs. Smith (pp. 379-83) portray both the ideal and the reality. Orlando and Waverley follow identical steps: rescue by gentle yet willful leaders; imitation; virtual captivity. Sentimental primitivism encourages both to idealize their mentors: Wolf-hunter's “more open countenance—his more gentle manners” (p. 361) distinguish him from the other Iroquois, just as Fergus's French education and courtliness distinguish him from the other Highlanders. Expecting their mentors to live up to the legend of gentility, Orlando and Waverley must nevertheless recognize the foolhardiness of letting the legend obscure real experiences. Each mentor retains a rather savage will: Wolf-hunter is a “savage protector” whose “word was not to be disputed” (pp. 383-4), and Fergus responds fanatically to any opposition to his cause, ambitions, or affections (XXV, 216; LII, 363; LVIII, 389). Frequent interpretations by each narrator emphasize that these noble primitives are not just representatives of an abstract ideal. They are real individuals, who share the love of power Scott observed in Elizabeth I and Mrs. Rayland. While sentimental primitivism can set forth goals of historical change, i.e. respect and humane understanding between different cultures, progress toward these goals of history and anthropology depends on taking realistic account of individual human shortcomings. Fanatic partisanship—like Mrs. Rayland's, Flora MacIvor's, and Fergus's—prevents realization of their ideals. In contrast, Orlando and Waverley succeed precisely because they do learn to see people not just as partisans but as individuals. When balanced with reality, the ideals embodied in legends can promote historical change.

By far the most important artifacts are the estates. Local associations, the values attached to particular landscapes and houses, connect personal with historical change. Reassessment of these local associations, paralleling revaluation of legends, is the learning process by which Orlando and Waverley become worthy inheritors of the estates.

Stewardship, protecting and reinvigorating the decaying monuments of the Jacobite past, becomes their role. The legalities of wills, repurchases, and deeds, the artifacts upon which economic interpretations of historical change are based, are no more significant than the restoration of architectural integrity and vitality. The estates suffer similar damages.12 The neglect and destruction of ancient houses and trees, artifacts that have survived generations of personal and historical change, figures forth the neglect and destruction of the old ways of life. Both narrators fully share the heroes' despair. But to maintain historical perspective, dialectical rhetoric furnishes objective interruptions, permitting the reader to witness the estates' destruction and interpret it as an artifact of historical change.

Stewardship does not try to isolate the estates from change in order to preserve their antiquity. By restoring their vigorous integrity, Orlando completes the reconciliation of the two families begun in his childhood. And they represent the changing relations of the aristocracy, Tory Jacobites, and Whigs. Waverley's reconstruction of Tully-Veolan also connects personal with historical change. The estates are important artifacts because they show how Orlando and Waverley redeem themselves from historical fanaticism—Whig opportunism or Jacobite quixotism. They encounter both sides of the conflict without sustained, passionate commitment to either. They neither renounce nor conquer the romantic values of the past; instead they infuse it with present strength and transform it with personal and historical aspiration for a New Eden.

The same might be said for Scott's invention of the historical novel. In creating a form which dramatizes economic historicism and the struggles between social classes, Scott does not renounce a more conservative anthropological historicism. In the Eighteenth Century's scholarly investigation of the languages, ceremonies, and legends of “primitive” peoples, of individual genealogy and cultural heritage, and of the picturesque and the sublime, the antecedents of Scott's anthropological historicism are clear. But Scott's invention, elaborating the much simpler pattern found in The Old Manor House, uses dialectical rhetoric to present language, genealogy, ceremony, legends, and local association both as facts shared with the hero and as artifacts interpreted sixty years since. The combination broadens Scott's historicism beyond economics and the struggles of social classes to include much more of the felt life linking the hero's personal development to historical change. Recognizing the Eighteenth Century materials from which Scott invented historical fiction increases our understanding both of the new genre and of the dialectical nature of literary invention.


  1. Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (1937; rpt. New York, 1956), p. 31.

  2. Avrom Fleishman, The Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf (Baltimore, 1971), p. 13.

  3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of S. T. Coleridge, ed. T. Allsop (New York, 1836), p. 41; quoted in David Brown, Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination (London, 1979), p. 206.

  4. Tobias Smollett, Humphry Clinker (London, 1966), p. 1; Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (London, 1981), p. 2.

  5. E. H. Carr, What is History (New York, 1962), pp. 7-9.

  6. Sir Walter Scott, Waverley (London, 1969), Chapter I, pp. 63-4. Subsequent references are given in the text.

  7. Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (London, 1959), pp. 16, 19.

  8. Ioan Williams, ed. Sir Walter Scott on Novelists and Fiction (London, 1968), pp. 184-190.

  9. Charlotte Turner Smith, The Old Manor House, ed. Anne Henry Ehrenpreis (London, 1969), pp. 5, 9. Subsequent references are given in the text.

  10. Lukács, p. 20.

  11. Compare Smith, pp. 9, 23, 28 with Scott III, 76; IV, 79-81; XXII, 189.

  12. Compare Smith, pp. 397-8 and p. 516 with Scott LXXIII, 423. And compare Smith, p. 519 with Scott LXIII, 423.

Ina Ferris (essay date 1989)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4684

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 novel.”1 Writing in the same review a quarter of a century later, Thomas Babington Macaulay also linked the genres of history and the novel—but to a very different end. Contemporary historians, Macaulay declares in a well-known passage, would do well to look to the novels of Sir Walter Scott, which deploy “those fragments of truth which historians have scornfully thrown behind them, in a manner which may well excite their envy.”2 The difference underlines the degree to which by 1828 Macaulay no longer works within the same hierarchy of genres that allowed Brougham in 1803 to assume his readers' automatic reception of the word “novel” as the sign of a worthless writing removed from all standards of truth or literary merit. Macaulay, while careful to maintain the primacy of history, refers without embarrassment to the practice of a contemporary novelist as exemplary for historians as historians. Macaulay can do so because the novelist he cites is Walter Scott, whose literary dominance of the age reflects the innovative power of the Waverley Novels in altering the generic field in place at the turn of the century. So rapidly was Scott's achievement absorbed by the culture that, shortly before his death in 1832, T. H. Lister found it necessary to remind readers of the Edinburgh Review that prior to the publication of Waverley the novel was the form “the least respected in the whole circle of literature,” whereas now it takes “a place among the highest productions of human intellect.”3 If the status of the novel was neither quite so exalted nor so secure as Lister here suggests, Scott's extraordinary success had made the novel a major genre.4 And that success depended on the way in which conventions of genre, gender, and literary authority intersected at the time of Waverley.

For the early nineteenth century, literary (more broadly, critical) authority was invested in the male middle-class reviews, notably in the Edinburgh Review, whose own innovations in book reviewing in 1802 had transformed a disreputable trade into a powerful cultural force.5 By 1814 quarterlies like the Whiggish Edinburgh and its Tory rival, the Quarterly Review, along with the major monthlies, were firmly established as the institutionalized site of critical discourse for a reading public moving into cultural and political prominence.6 Despite their differing political allegiances, the reviews wielded a shared vocabulary of assessment. Words like “rational” and “spirited” served as signs of approval, while others like “absurd” and “insipid” marked denunciation. This common rhetoric does not mean that terms within that rhetoric were understood in the same way—far from it, in a context of heated ideological debate, internecine rivalry, different readerships, and individual quirkiness on the part of reviewers. But it does imply consensus about the critical project and points to certain important areas of convergence. One such area was the contemporary novel: contemporary fictions, all agreed, were in general “absurd.” But whether or not the novel as a form was absurd was a more disputed question. While some reviews simply dismissed the genre, others signalled a readiness to take more seriously a form obviously entrenched in the culture. Several of the reviews of Waverley, for example, open with attempts to place the genre historically or theoretically, and the publication of Scott's novel coincided with the publication of John Dunlop's The History of Fiction, a multivolumed study of European prose fiction which drew the attention of the two powerful quarterlies.7 Some months later, the Edinburgh Review printed William Hazlitt's “Standard Novels and Romances,” historically important both as an early statement on the novel by a romantic critic and as a sign of the growing sense that the novel, in the words of Hazlitt, “deserves more attention than we have ever yet bestowed on it.”8 Such instances point to the existence of a potentially receptive critical climate for a novel which could be perceived as counteracting the “absurdity” of contemporary fictions.

Waverley was precisely such a novel, not least because this ostensibly anonymous work was not anonymous at all. To be sure, it looked exactly like hundreds of novels of the period, and to the modern reader the text of the first edition looks naked or incomplete without the introductions and notes to which we have become accustomed. But to Scott's contemporaries, this apparently routine publication was of unusual interest. Rumors of his authorship surface in almost every review, and their significance is apparent in the statement by the crusty Critical Review: “we neither like the work nor the subject; but the name of Walter Scott claims attention.”9 The name of Walter Scott—name of a famous poet, respected scholar, and undisputed gentleman—immediately distinguished Waverley in a period when the novel was not only held in low critical esteem but also (a not unrelated point) regarded as dominated by women to a degree unusual even for a genre that had been closely linked to women since the mid-eighteenth century.10 Thus when the British Critic announces that it is “unwilling” to consider Waverley “in the light of a common novel, whose fate it is to be devoured with rapidity for the day, and to be afterwards forgotten for ever,” or when Francis Jeffrey asserts in the Edinburgh Review that Waverley belongs “rather with the most popular of our modern poems, than with the rubbish of provincial romances,” the assumptions about genre are inseparable from assumptions about gender.11 Especially revealing is the strategy of J. Merivale in the Monthly Review, who characterizes Waverley as “a tale which has little of the ordinary attractions of a novel to recommend it, and which will therefore probably disappoint all those readers who take it up at a circulating library, selecting it at random from amid sundry tomes of Emmeline, Castel Gandolpho, Elegant Enthusiasts, and Victims of Sensibility.12 To disappoint such readers is obviously a positive value, and their gender would have been immediately apparent. Merivale's cluster of motifs—circulating library, aimless reader, standard titles—constitutes the contemporary code of female reading, a code so well established that he does not need to decode it for his readers.13 And neither does Scott himself when he makes a similar point in the first chapter of Waverley, satirizing the conventions of popular fictional modes as part of a sly argument that to read his novel one must have no expectations at all. From the outset Waverley locates itself outside the context of female reading, and its two explicit addresses to “my fair readers” later in the text reinforce the opening point. Apologizing to his readers at the end of Chapter 5 for “plaguing them so long with old-fashioned politics,” the narrator comments: “I do not invite my fair readers, whose sex and impatience give them the greatest right to complain of these circumstances, into a flying chariot drawn by hyppogriffs, or moved by enchantment” (24). At the opening of Chapter 55, the narrator again stresses the divergence of his text from the expectations of female readers: “If my fair readers should be of opinion that my hero's levity in love is altogether unpardonable, I must remind them, that all his griefs and difficulties did not arise from that sentimental source” (257). Both passages draw on stock notions, inscribing a reader who is impatient of political analysis, interested only in romantic love, and eager for undemanding, escapist fictions. At the same time, Scott locates himself within the context of female writing in the Postscript where he acknowledges as his model the “admirable Irish portraits” of Maria Edgeworth. She is not, of course, his only model—the Postscript records debts to writing in several genres by both genders—but Scott credits Edgeworth with showing him how to undercut the debasing national stereotypes that literary fictions tended to propagate. She is thus allied with the serious cultural project of Waverley and dissociated from the trivial fantasies of the common novel.

In its deployment of “fair readers” and “female authors,” Waverley points to the typical division of the fictional field at this time into two kinds of novels under two different female signs: that of female reading, which is located as the origin of the worthless common novel; and that of female writing, which generates the superior, morally edifying mode of the proper novel. Both signs, however, cohere in marking confinement as the general condition of the practice of fiction in the period.

Female reading, obsessively demanding “repetition of the same adventures, the same language, and the same sentiments,”14 simply reinforces the confinement it seeks to escape. An endless loop, such reading is characterized as enervating, irresponsible, and oddly impersonal—as are the novels produced to satisfy its desires. These novels are typically depicted as stamped out by the printing press, not as written by authors. In a symptomatic moment, the Antijacobin regrets the “shoals of compositions” that have issued from “the London presses.”15 Its recoil from the proliferation of volumes and insistence on their mechanical production reflect the general sense that the common novel participated in an economic system of manufacture and consumption rather than in a literary system of authoring and reading.16 The “shoals of compositions” are emphatically printed, not written; devoured rather than read. They offer formula and deception, both of which are underlined by the foregrounding of their status as printed objects. So Sydney Smith comments sarcastically that the Minerva Press has always on hand a “ready composed” stock of type to produce its novels of adultery,17 while the Gentleman's Magazine images the events in novels as “inflicted with a beautiful type, and upon paper wire-wove and hot-pressed” in its argument about the gap between the “distresses” of real life and those “produced by the printing press.”18 The complex of concerns expressed by the printing motif reveals that what is at stake is the very novelness of the novel: its capacity for novelty and its function as a representation of experience. Self-enclosed and self-perpetuating, the common novel has floated free of referential responsibility.

But if the female reading that fuels the common novel is the sign of the irresponsibility of fiction, female writing operates, by contrast, as the sign of its social and moral utility. A letter to the editor entitled “on Modern Tales or Novels” in the Scots Magazine in 1810 is representative in approving a “well conducted natural tale” that edifies while it amuses and establishes “just notions of propriety and decorum.”19 What respect was expressed in the reviews for contemporary fiction was directed precisely to the “well conducted” mode of the novel of manners, a mode that seems to have been practiced almost exclusively by women.20 Certainly, as in this comment in the Scots Magazine, only women are cited as exemplary, with Maria Edgeworth generally heading the list. Her “admirable” tales appear here as a wholesome contrast to the “preposterous and extravagant trash” of the ordinary novel, and commendation is also extended to Elizabeth Hamilton for uniting “pertinent observation” with “pious and moral instruction.” Female writing is seen as restoring to the novel something of its ethical function but in a limited sense. It figures primarily as antidote to female reading, which the period routinely images as poison and disease.21 Nor are these images always metaphoric. An 1802 Scots Magazine article which cites a medical treatise claiming that young women may be “precipitated” into “diseases” of romantic passion “merely, by reading improper novels” is adopting a standard strategy.22 Improper novels were commonly associated with what we might call horizontal reading—supine, erotic, luxurious. The proper novel, on the other hand, promoted vertical reading, countering the “enraptured fancy” and “delusive sensations” of female reading with the upright feminine virtues of piety, chastity, and patience. The point is that each notion requires the other—female writing implies female reading, and vice versa—so that what is created is in effect a closed system.23 Outside that system stands the real novel as represented by the eighteenth-century canon that was being set in place in these years. So John Croker of the Quarterly pursues a historical argument whereby the current novel is defined as “minute,” as “less comprehensive and sublime” than novels of the previous century. Of course, he notes, “so far as utility constitutes merit in a novel, we have no hesitation in preferring the moderns to their predecessors.” Reading Edgeworth's Tales of Fashionable Life or Hamilton's Cottagers of Glenburnie, he grants, improves “morals or manners” in a way that reading Tom Jones or Peregrine Pickle certainly does not.24 But there is no doubt which, for Croker, are the better novels.

The contemporary (and female) novel is consistently situated in a context of generic decline from the great (and male) tradition of the eighteenth century. The reviews construct a golden age of English fiction when (in the words of the Antijacobin) the novel stood high “in the estimation of the rational and well-informed part of the world.”25 The canon, whose core is the work of Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, and Sterne, allows reappropriation of the novel as a genuinely male form that has become feminized and so has lost the centrality it once enjoyed. Setting up the canon at once rescues the genre itself from the contempt of rational persons and allows its current practice to be designated as either degenerate (the common novel) or narrow (the proper novel). No one demonstrates this more clearly than William Hazlitt in “Standard Novels and Romances,” a piece occasioned by the publication of Fanny Burney's The Wanderer. The article concentrates on the canonical four before turning to Burney in its final pages. She is a significant figure for Hazlitt, who sees her as the sole representative in the current debased condition of the novel of the “old school” that he values. But Burney's gender precludes her from extending its achievements. As “a very woman,” she looks at “persons and things … in that point of view in which it is the particular business and interest of women to observe them. We thus get a kind of supplement and gloss to our original text, which we could not otherwise have obtained.”26 As “supplement” and “gloss,” Burney's narrative can only circle in and around the “original text,” those male “masterpieces” whose structures contain and define value and significance. Women for Hazlitt are partial and conservative beings impelled by “their senses or habitual prejudices,” their attention characteristically focused on “a violation of the rules of society, or a deviation from established custom.” Hence female novelists like Burney are incapable of dealing with the novelistic matter of manners “in the most extended sense of the word, as implying the sum-total of our habits and pursuits.” Instead they have narrowed the concept to “the manners of people in company.”27

This cluster of assumptions about the contemporary novel forms the critical context of the reception of Waverley, a context that helps to make sense of the reviewers' reiteration of two points: the “variety” of mode, scene, and characterization in the novel; and the “fact” and “accuracy” of its depiction of historical event and cultural life. Both are ways of registering the sense that this novel has restored to contemporary fiction something of the full, broad power of novelistic representation that the dominance of female writing and female reading has threatened. There are, of course, disagreements—Waverley has not yet turned into the authoritative Waverley Novels—but in general the reviews set up Scott's text as marking a return to the novel of responsibility, rationality, public concerns—in short, of centrality. The vocabulary of assessment for Waverley, as in Jeffrey's important review in the Edinburgh, merges easily (if not fully) with that used for nonfictional works under review, thereby underscoring the point that this novel fits into what are regarded as serious and central concerns of the age. And Waverley itself, restoring male writing in a very specific sense, weaves into the narrative a constant strain of allusion to the European literary canon, so locating itself in a literary mainstream that is neither precisely modern nor exclusively novelistic. The British Critic notes with approval “a perpetual allusion to the English and the Latin classics.”28

But the validation of Waverley as a novel that satisfies the official critical idiom of value (“fact,” “truth,” “intellect,” “nature”) exists in tension with another, less authoritative valuation signalled by words like “extraordinary” and “wild.” If the analytic portions of the reviews keep stressing the realist value of the novel, the plot summaries and the passages chosen for quotation keep highlighting its romantic appeal. Over and over again the same passages describing the “extraordinary” life at Tully-Veolan and in the Highlands are presented to the reader. The choice of such passages is usually explained as occasioned by a rational interest in a particular “state of society” or as somehow compelled by the exigencies of reviewing. Merivale, for example, adopts the latter approach to account for the way in which he rapidly passes over the proper heroine, Rose Bradwardine, and her excellent qualifications for domestic life: “while we give to those qualifications in real life the full tribute of our sincere preference, we feel it to be our duty on the present occasion to pass from them to the delineation of more striking characteristics.”29 In a parallel passage in the Quarterly, Croker similarly commends Rose's domestic virtues, then announces that he must “hasten from the character which, in real life, would most attach us, to a description of the uncouth personages who partook with Waverley the wild hospitalities of Tully-Veolan.”30 As rational men, as responsible critics, Merivale and Croker cannot surrender too easily to the satisfactions of fiction, which here appear clearly divorced from those of life. The tension in the response to Waverley surfaces most obviously at the end of John Scott's review in The Champion. “On looking back to our observations,” he notes with some alarm, “we see there is a risk of its being thought from them, that this work is chiefly a romantic Novel … but this idea must not be entertained. Its chief merit is its accurate and lively delineation of character and manners. …”31

John Scott's comment underlines the struggle in the reviews to contain Waverley within the categories that would establish its distinction from the dubious romantic fictions of the common novel. That struggle enacts the contemporary male suspicion of fiction; at the same time, it signals the male release into the satisfactions of fiction which Scott's historically grounded narrative made possible. As Scott is careful to point out in the Postscript, “the most romantic parts of this narrative are precisely those which have a foundation in fact” (340). Paradoxically, Scott's commitment to external reference—to that “fact” valorized by the reviews—permitted him to be more, not less, fictional. Francis Jeffrey, for instance, argues that an artist guided by “nature and truth,” rather than by “the phantasms of his own imagination,” has rooted himself in a principle whose internal consistency gives him the confidence “occasionally to risk a strength of colouring, and a boldness of drawing, upon which he would scarcely have ventured in a sketch that was purely ideal.”32 Terms like “risk,” “strength,” and “boldness” set Waverley apart from both the common and the proper novel, marking it as a liberation of the imagination from a confined and enervated space. As Hazlitt was to suggest shrewdly, this space was in some sense the space of civilization itself, and the Waverley Novels offered an outlet for emotions and desires necessarily repressed by civilized society. In an essay entitled “On The Pleasure of Hating,” Hazlitt muses about how the progress of civilization does not so much weaken primitive energy (as was commonly feared) as block the direct expression of certain forms, leaving intact the energy itself: “We give up the external demonstration, the brute violence, but we cannot part with the essence or principle of hostility.” Civilized persons must therefore resort to rituals of violence (like burning the guy on Guy Fawkes day) and to its imaginative displacement. Herein, says Hazlitt, lies the “secret of the success of the Scotch Novels,” for these novels transport readers to a less restrained time of feuds, wrongs, and revenge. “As we read, we throw aside the trammels of civilisation … the heart rouses itself in its native lair, and utters a wild cry of joy, at being restored once more to freedom and lawless, unrestrained impulses.”33 That sense of freedom and unrestrained impulse is, of course, firmly contained by the rational and conservative structure of historical interpretation in the Waverley Novels, but it is integral to that structure.34 Desire and reason, fantasy and fact conjoin in the powerful myth of history through which Scott opened up the novel for the male gender.

This does not mean that the novel now became male. As Elaine Showalter has demonstrated, the association of the novel with women continued throughout the century.35 Indeed, one can argue for the “feminine” elements of Scott's fiction itself: the passive, feminized heroes; the foregrounding of the maternal tongue of Scots; the contestation of centralized authority through attention to marginal forms and peoples.36 All these have important political and cultural implications, but so too does the way in which the “masculine” concerns of the novels yielded to the categories of value assumed by the male reviews so as to establish the novel as a major form. After the intervention of Walter Scott, the debate about fiction in the nineteenth century occupied a different ground. The genre was now accorded a literary authority and cultural centrality that it had not been granted at the turn of the century, largely because the Waverley Novels had ensured that the novel could no longer be perceived as the confined genre of a confined gender.


  1. Edinburgh Review 2 (Jul 1803): 377.

  2. Edinburgh Review 47 (May 1828): 365.

  3. Edinburgh Review 55 (Apr 1832): 64. Ralph Cohen has stressed that alteration of the relationship of literary forms is a distinguishing feature of generic innovation. See, for example, “Innovation and Variation: Literary Change and Georgic Poetry” in Ralph Cohen & Murray Krieger, Literature and History (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA, 1974) 3-42.

  4. For a review of the nineteenth-century reception of the Waverley Novels, see James T. Hillhouse, The Waverley Novels and Their Critics (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1936). For two recent arguments stressing the dependence of Victorian fiction on the Waverley Novels, see Alexander Welsh, Reflections on the Hero as Quixote (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981) ch. 6, and Judith Wilt Secret Leaves: The Novels of Walter Scott (Chicago and London: UP of Chicago, 1985), especially the Introduction.

  5. See John Clive, Scotch Reviewers: The Edinburgh Review 1802-1815 (London: Faber, 1957).

  6. For a discussion of the cultural force of the reviews, see Jon Klancher, The Making of English Reading Audiences, 1790-1832 (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1987), especially ch. 2.

  7. The History of Fiction: Being a Critical Account of the Most Celebrated Prose Works of Fiction. From the Earliest Greek Romances to the Novels of the Present Age, 3 vols. (London, 1814). The Edinburgh reviews Dunlop's study in the same issue as it does Waverley, Edinburgh Review 24 (Nov 1814): 38-58. The Quarterly reviews Dunlop somewhat later, Quarterly Review 13 (Jul 1815): 384-408.

  8. “Standard Novels and Romances,” Edinburgh Review 24 (Feb 1815): 322. John Tinnon Taylor, Early Opposition to the English Novel: Popular Reaction from 1760 to 1830 (New York: King's Crown Press, 1943) feels that by about 1800 the novel was beginning to be recognized as a literary form by reviewers, even as it started to encounter a strong new opposition from evangelical religious forces (110). J. M. S. Tompkins, The Popular Novel in England 1770-1800 (1932; rpt. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1961) discerns an increased interest in the novel as a form in the last decades of the eighteenth century and correlates this interest with a rise in the reputation of Fielding (330). More recently, Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (New York: Oxford UP, 1987) has argued that in the 1790's one “suddenly” comes across more sophisticated classifications of fiction in the reviews amidst the standard warnings against fiction (106). See also Michael Munday, “The Novel and Its Critics in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Studies in Philology 79 (1982): 205-26.

  9. Critical Review 5th ser. 1 (Mar 1815): 288. For a list of contemporary reviews, see Claire Lamont's recent edition of Waverley (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981) All references to the novel are to this edition.

  10. For traditional historical surveys of the association of women and fiction in the reviews (and outside them), see Tompkins (ch. 4) and Taylor (ch. 3). Nancy Armstrong's more Foucauldian history argues that the English novel originated and developed as a specialized feminine discourse that was central to establishing the hegemony of middle class ideology. Suggestively, the period when the Waverley Novels were at their most dominant and popular is designated as a “gap” in her history, an “interval” when domestic fiction was not being written (ch. 4).

  11. British Critic ns 2 (Aug 1814): 204; Edinburgh Review 24 (Nov 1814): 208.

  12. Monthly Review ns 75 (Nov 1814): 279-80.

  13. For a discussion of the consensus view of female reading, see Robert Uphaus, “Jane Austen and Female Reading,” Studies in the Novel 19 (1987): 334-45.

  14. “The Projector, No. xliv,” Gentleman's Magazine 75 (Oct 1805): 911-12. For a striking example of the standard view of female reading, see “On Novels and Romances,” Scots Magazine 64 (Jun-Jul 1802): 470-74, 545-48. Interestingly, the admission in this article that “some men” do read novels simply reinforces the conventional trope of female reading, for the writer declares that such men doubtless would read even more fiction were male social roles as “circumscribed” as are those of women (471).

  15. Antijacobin Review 47 (Sep 1814): 217.

  16. See, for example, “The Projector, No. lxxxviii” Gentleman's Magazine 78 (Oct 1808): 882-85. This article playfully deploys the vocabulary of political economy in accounting for the “manufacture” of novels.

  17. Edinburgh Review 2 (Apr 1803): 176.

  18. “The Projector, No. xlix” 912.

  19. “On Modern Tales or Novels,” Scots Magazine 72 (Jun 1810): 418-419.

  20. Scott's later introduction to his only attempt at a contemporary novel of manners, St. Ronan's Well (1824), presents him as entering a form defined by women. Female success, he remarks, “seems to have appropriated this province of the novel as exclusively their own.” Scott here names Burney, Edgeworth, Austen, Charlotte Smith, and Susan Ferrier. Waverley Novels, 25 vols (Edinburgh: Black, 1871) 17: 1.

  21. For these metaphors, see Taylor (ch. 3) and Armstrong (98-106). Such fears about female reading were not restricted to Britain or North America. Michel Foucault quotes eighteenth-century French texts that make similar points in Madness and Civilization (New York: Vintage, 1965) 219. On the question of the proper novel as antidote, see Robert A. Colby, Fiction With a Purpose (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1967), ch. 2. Colby here discusses Waverley in terms of the Anti-Romance, a popular mode centering on a foolish female reader who unlearns female reading in the course of the novel. Austen's Northanger Abbey remains the best known example. Austen, incidentally, does not figure among the eminent contemporary novelists in the reviews before or in 1814, the year she published Mansfield Park.

  22. “On Novels and Romances” 471-72.

  23. My thanks to my colleague April London for her helpful comments on this section.

  24. Quarterly Review 11 (Jul 1814): 355.

  25. Antijacobin Review 217.

  26. “Standard Novels and Romances” 336.

  27. “Standard Novels and Romances” 336-37.

  28. British Critic 209. A classical education, as Walter Ong has shown, long functioned as a central mechanism of gender definition, Fighting for Life (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1981). Scott, of course, uses several languages; see Wilt (ch. 3).

  29. Monthly Review 284.

  30. Quarterly Review 357.

  31. The Champion, No. 81, 24 Jul 1814: 239.

  32. Edinburgh Review 208.

  33. The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, 21 vols (London: Dent, 1931) 12: 127-29.

  34. See Alexander Welsh, The Hero of the Waverley Novels (1963; rpt. New York: Atheneum, 1968).

  35. A Literature of Their Own (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977), ch. 3. For a recent sociological study that builds on Showalter, see Gaye Tuchman, with Nina E. Fortin, Edging Women Out (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1989).

  36. On Scott and gender, see Wilt (ch. 4). For an expansion of the point about marginal forms and peoples, see my “Story-Telling and the Subversion of Literary Form in Walter Scott's Fiction,” Genre 18 (1985): 23-35.

David Oberhelman (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7053

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 in a critical polemic revolving around his general claim to “historicism”—to a coherent theory of history manifested in his novels.1 Indeed, the abrupt shift from one of those generic terms to the other in the third volume of Waverley, “the romance of his life was ended, and … its real history had now commenced,”2 does not simplify the task of classification. Faced with such a dilemma, the critic of Scott must attempt to sort out the differences between genres operative in the Waverley Novels and in Scott's criticism before undertaking any consideration of Waverley itself (and its position between “history” and “romance”). Following such an analysis, then, the generic polarities of Waverley can be reformulated and, as I contend, replaced with an entirely different, more profound, opposition, but an opposition which in the end folds back upon itself.

Most critical studies of Walter Scott tend to revolve around the axis of historicity with each reader taking a slightly different view of Scott as the chronicler of the past. Lukacs sets the tone by regarding Scott as a dialectical historian, as a quasi-Hegelian tracing the (r)evolutionary sublation of the timeless Enlightenment man and subjecting human consciousness to the (necessarily time-bound) struggles of social upheaval and ideological contests. He writes of Scott's work as a whole 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.”3 Such doctrinal readings have been challenged by Wolfgang Iser who sees history in Scott as a mode of human perception dependent upon the empirical validation of the witness. Writing of Waverley in particular, Iser states:

Historical reality, then, is a cohesively patterned phenomenon that has to be communicated; its relative homogeneity is brought about by the fact that the authenticity is guaranteed each time by an eye-witness, who does not allow the past to disintegrate into a pile of amorphous facts, but instead reports on how own world, which seems to him to be a complete and unquestionable one.4

Iser's perspectivism introduces the problem of history in Scott as written, as a textualization “of” the now lost and inaccessible events of the past. As J. M. Rignall notes of Waverley and Scott's “histories” in general, “The writing of historical fiction, like the writing of history, builds on other narratives, other texts. There is no access to the historical past, to acted history, that is not imaginatively mediated.”5 This textualization has been formulated in those generic terms by Joseph Valente who claims that Waverley details “the collapse rather than the combination of generic categories”:6 for him, Scott's sense of history is that it is never itself since “what one approaches is always already romance.”7 Jane Millgate echoes Valente when she asserts that the “romance” and the “history” of Edward's journey are intimately interconnected: “Romance is not in competition with historical truth in Waverley; it is the medium through which that truth is expressed.”8 Thus “history” and its generic other “romance” appear in Waverley and more broadly in Scott's whole corpus as two versions of the same discourse, as two related textual transcriptions of past events.

Scott himself compares history and romance in his Encyclopaedia Britannica article on “Romance” where he situates the two not as enemies, but as relatives, specifically as father and son. This familial analogy introduces a third term to the discussion that can redefine the nature of Scott's historicism entirely. Scott argues that “Romance and history have the same common origin,”9 that both discourses grow out of a patriarchal narrative of social origin, what Scott calls the “father's” story of the founding of the tribe. The two differ only because one, history, precedes romance in a line of descent that moves increasingly away from “veracity”—from historicity. Scott outlines the paths the Ur-narrative of the patriarch take on its progress from history to romance using the model of a father and his progeny disseminating different accounts of that original founding:

The father of an isolated family, destined one day to rise into a tribe, and in further progress of time to expand into a nation, may, indeed, narrate to his descendants the circumstances which detached him from the society of his brethren, and drove him to form a solitary settlement in the wilderness, with no other deviation from the truth, than arises from the infidelity of memory, or the exaggerations of vanity.

(“R” [“Romance”], 134-135)

With the subsequent retellings of those circumstances, romance begins to replace history: “But when the tale of the patriarch is related by his children, and again by his descendants of the third and fourth generation, the facts have assumed a very different aspect” (“R,” 135). Romance, then, takes the form of “the mythological and fabulous history of all early nations” (“R,” 135); the “veracity” is subsumed into the fabulous—the father into his mythic counterpart. History and romance therefore have the same origin, the same genetic ties, but differ in that romance is the son who replaces and venerates the patriarch. Father begets son just as narrative begets narrative: both come from the same stock and have the same descent in Scott's model. In other terms, the sons “kill” the father/history and make him the primal father, his word the Law.10

The structure of kinship ties Scott foregrounds in his discussion of the genres raise numerous problems, for the absolute certainty of the “origin”—of the father and his tale—is never to be found. The paths of the narratives could conceivably be traced back to the “tale of the patriarch,” but also beyond that father to the one who begat him (the father of the society of “brethren”) as well as the father of that father (not to mention the mother, the great lacuna in Scott). Genealogy, the retracing of the lines of familial descent, is implicit in such a patrilineal model, but genealogy threatens to undo that structure altogether, for it disrupts the unitary path of the father-son legacy.11 A genealogy of the narratives that follows the paths history and romance have already trod could form a true generic “other” to that dualism and could sharply reorient discussions of Scott's Waverley Chronicles and of Waverley, the “father” of that series.

The issue of genealogy, of familial descent, is a crucial thematic in Waverley itself: the novel turns upon the connection of the individual to the family and patrilineal rights/obligations. Yet genealogy also functions as a check on the historicism of Scott—more precisely, on the progressivist historicism Lukacs discerns. The straight paths of father/son succession, the topic of history (and its progeny romance), erode under the scrutiny of genealogical investigation, and Scott dons the cap of the genealogist throughout the Waverley cycle. Both the construction of the Magnum Opus edition of the novel (with its appendices and the other critical apparatus) and the role of genealogical tracing within Waverley itself redefine the terms of generic opposition in Scott. The chief problematic in his work is not the distinctions between history and romance, but rather between those two categories grouped together as the patrilineal lines of succession associated with history, with history in its teleological sense, and genealogy as the unraveling of those lines, as the disruption of patrilineal authority and teleology.

Scott's “genealogical” tendencies are most dramatic in the construction of the Magnum edition of the Waverley novels in which Waverley stands as the first in a series of narratives. He includes the “fathers” of the Waverley stories—his preliminary attempts at romance-writing—as well as the aborted “fathers”—those abandoned efforts that did not directly lead to the formation of the Waverley Chronicles. Scott effectively opens up the “history” of the writing of his own text here by calling into question the clear paths of succession between the various stages of his composition. The account of the lost Waverley manuscript (started in 1805 and then rediscovered and continued to become the 1814 edition) is supplemented by other abandoned texts that appear only in the Magnum apparatus.12 Scott defends his actions in the “General Preface” where he writes of the inclusion of his additions to Strutt's Queen Hoo-Hall by declaring that “It was a step in my advance towards romantic composition; and to preserve the traces of these is in a great measure the object of this essay” (W [Waverley], 353).

“Preserv[ing] the traces”: Scott thereby opens up the history-romance line of development to include additional (and partial) “parents” in the form of other narratives, legends, and fragments—the repressed “others” of his discourse. The attention to the genealogy of narratives places these documents in the territory covered first by Nietzsche in his attacks on nineteenth-century historical positivism and later theorized into a mode of discursive analysis by Michel Foucault. The polemic on genre played out in Scott's texts offers a critique of teleological models of history similar to that given by Nietzsche and Foucault in their conceptions of genealogy.

For Nietzsche, “genealogy” (as in the On the Genealogy of Morals) is the answer to the repressions, the Will to Power, of history; he works to undermine the project of the historians by creating an “effective history” [wirkliche Historie] which, as Foucault glosses it, “deals with events in terms of their most unique characteristics, their most acute manifestations.”13 Foucault appropriates the term “genealogy” to critique discursive structures and the relationships of power they manifest. He analyzes discourse, power relations, in their most interior way, focusing on the (normally repressed) modalities that go into them. Foucauldian genealogy thus questions history, its ties to the notion of “origins,” and its teleological function.14

Foucault's genealogical project accordingly looks at the rifts and breaks in discursive formations—“the accidents, the minute deviations—or conversely, the complete reversals—the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and to have value for us.”15 History, as Foucault sees it, seeks to disguise those deviations and in so doing mask the structures of power that go into its shaping. Thus by articulating those repressed traces of “other” discourses, Foucault can analyze the most intricate workings of history in its own terms. In his “Two Lectures” Foucault outlines this procedure using “genealogy” and its companion, “archaeology”: “‘archaeology’ would be the appropriate methodology of this analysis of local discursivities, and ‘genealogy’ would be the tactics whereby, on the basis of the descriptions of these local discursivities, the subjected knowledges which were thus released would be brought into play.”16 This two-pronged attack lays bare the repressions hidden in the closets of the “family” of history (as in the cases of madness, sexuality, and punishment).

Genealogy in Waverley functions in much the same way: Scott's discursive analysis of history, both that of the Jacobite revolution (in its textualizations) and that of his own writing of the text, articulates that which would otherwise be forbidden. In the Magnum edition, for example, the origin, the “tale of the patriarch” and its offspring of the third and fourth generations (the alpha and the omega of the Encyclopaedia Britannica paradigm for genre) cannot claim absolute primacy, legitimacy, for the genealogical tendencies operating in the Magnum appendices, Scott's “archaeological” collection of fragmentary narratives and his putting those texts into play against the finished Waverley, undermine the father/son legacy. In a note Scott gives to the fragment of “Thomas the Rhymer” (Appendix I) Scott writes of those “other” pieces:

It is not to be supposed that these fragments are given as possessing any intrinsic value of themselves; but there may be some curiosity attached to them, as to the first etchings of a plate, which are accounted interesting by those who have, in any degree, been interested in the more finished works of the artist.

(W, 361).

The “first etchings”—the lines of development that do not lead directly from father to son—disintegrate the clear linearity of development from an Ur-narrative to its “mythological” final heir. As Scott observes of the Canobie Dick legend reported in that appendix,

This legend, along with several variations, is found in many parts of Scotland and England—the scene is sometimes laid in some favourite glen or the Highlands, sometimes in the deep coal-mines of Northumberland and Cumberland, which run so far beneath the ocean. It is also to be found in Reginald Scott's book on witchcraft. It would be in vain to ask what was the original of the tradition.

(W, 367)

The genealogy of this legend pushes the “original”—the “father” of the tribe—infinitely back and disperses it among many “variations,” many branches of the genealogical tree.17 Narratives ramify outward into new clusters that do not adhere to strict lines of succession from one father to one son. What Scott indicates is that the traces of the earlier narratives always radiate out from the present one in a series of abandoned paths, broken and incomplete lines of succession. Scott the genealogist, then, is the one who takes these paths (as given in an “archaeology” to use Foucault's terminology) and reassembles them, giving a history of what history has forbidden, an “effective history” of romance-writing.

Scott's genealogical bent is most apparent in the second appended fragment, “The Lord of Ennerdale” (Appendix I) in which he presents another genealogist involved in the activity of tracing the lines of discursive succession. In that incomplete narrative the visitor Maxwell draws a “parallel” between the seventeenth-century conflict over royal succession and the “present evil days” (W, 364) of the late eighteenth century using the fragmentary records offered to him by his host Sir Henry. The exchange between Sir Henry and Maxwell following the debate with the Vicar illustrates the “utility” of the discarded narratives in the formulation of a genealogical history and provides a convenient emblem for Scott's own task in the Waverley Novels. I quote their exchange at length:

“Have you found any thing curious, Mr. Maxwell, among the dusty papers?” said Sir Henry, who seemed to dread a revival of political discussion.

“My investigation amongst them led to reflections which I have just now hinted,” said Maxwell, “and I think they are pretty strongly exemplified by a story which I have been endeavoring to arrange from some of your family manuscripts.”

“You are welcome to make what use of them you please,” said Sir Henry; “they have been undisturbed for many a day, and I have often wished for some person skilled as you in these old pot-hooks to tell me their meaning.”

“These I have just mentioned,” answered Maxwell, “relate to a piece of private history, savouring not a little of the marvelous, and intimately connected with your family; if it is agreeable, I can read to you the anecdotes in the modern shape into which I have been endeavoring to throw them, and you can judge of the value of the originals.”

(W, 369)

Maxwell the genealogist, the one skilled in “old-pot hooks,” takes the fragments of unfinished familial discourse (such as the unfinished “Journal of Jan Van Eulen” and the pieces from Garbonnette Van Eulen's letter) and stitches them together, makes some use of them to articulate that which history has forbidden, the parallels between the inner turmoils of power in the past and in the “present evil days.” This procedure is then itself broken off with ellipses and “Cetera desunt” (W, 367) to mark its own incompletion. Maxwell's tactical act of fashioning a narrative out of the undisturbed fragments becomes but another fragment to be fitted into another such patchwork narrative, another genealogy formed from “disjecta membra” (W, 367).

The branches of Scott's genealogy in the Magnum appendices spread, intertwine, and fold back on themselves. But “history” as either a dialectical process or as a mode of perception, indeed, history as the father of romance in narratival succession, is revealed to be nothing but the systematic repression of those fragments. Maxwell's “piece of private history” can only be related through genealogical analysis; history would ignore those texts as mere “dusty papers.”

The genealogy in the Magnum edition shatters the apparent patrilineal schema of history in Scott's writings. The process of composition, the production of discourse, always takes this genealogical form—always grows out of the lack of a clear origin. The end result is that the disjecta membra of Scott's romance-writing prove that paternity is but a legal fiction.18 This insight redefines the place given to history in Scott's individual novels and offers a new perspective on his first completed attempt at historical fiction.

The opposition between genealogy and history present in the appendices of the Magnum edition of the Waverley Novels also affects the narration of Waverley, a novel which, in its depiction of the Jacobite rebellion, is from the outset inextricably lined to genealogical investigation. On the broadest plane, Waverley thematizes the attempt to reinstate interrupted lines of genealogical succession and challenges the exclusion of the Stuart line from the throne. By focusing on the campaigns of Bonnie Prince Charles, “one who,” as Scott writes in his History of Scotland, “prepared to act as the restorer of an ancient dynasty,”19 Scott foregrounds issues of paternity and genealogy in their political ramifications for eighteenth-century Scotland. His historical novel, to that end, functions as a counter to such “official” histories as John Home's History of the Rebellion in the year 1745 (1802) which champion the Hanoverian line; the intersection of genealogy and history so central to the Jacobite rebellion is put into question by Scott's fiction.

Genealogy, though, permeates Waverley to an even greater extent and determines the very structure of its narrative. Edward's encounter with Talbot, the most crucial episode in the novel, is an account that is subjected to a rigorous genealogical scrutiny. In the final “Postscript, Which Should Have Been a Preface” (III.xxiv) Scott writes:

Indeed, the most romantic parts of this narrative are precisely those which have a foundation in fact. The exchange of mutual protection between a Highland gentleman and an officer of rank in the King's service, together with the spiritual manner in which the latter asserted his right to return the favour he had received, is literally true.

(W, 340)

Then in the 1829 “Introduction” he adds that “The plan of this edition [the Magnum edition] leads me to insert in this place some account of the incidents on which the Novel of waverley is founded” (W, 386) and proceeds to recount “one of those anecdotes which softens the features of civil war” (W, 386)—the story of Alexander Stewart of Invernhyle and Colonel Whitefoord. Genealogical lines intervene in even the most basic aspects of the novel's plot. The earlier “anecdote” of Stewart and Whitefoord, the “father”/history, as it were, is appended onto the “son,” the account of Edward and Talbot, to remind him of his origins.

Yet that reminder of narratival paternity is also supplemented by other instances of genealogical study occurring within the 1829 footnotes. Here too these alternate lines disrupt paternity as a clear line of succession from history straight into romance. Scott admits in one of the notes that, for example, that the Laird of Balmawhapple “is entirely imaginary,” but that “A gentleman, however, who resembled Balmawhapple in the article of courage only, fell at Preston in the manner described” (W, 403). The paths of descent from the “Perthshire gentleman of high honour and respectability” (W, 403) to the Laird of Balmawhapple represent a break in paternity: the latter is the romantic “son” of the former in one “article” only. Those other “articles” in the “father,” his honour and respectability, are, Scott indicates, omitted from the history-romance transfer and only to be recovered by the genealogist who questions that history.

Such a stance is taken by the narrator of Waverley who establishes himself as the genealogist, as the one who picks up the “old pot-hooks” discarded by the forward-moving path of history and allows, in the Foucauldian sense, “the subjected knowledges which were thus released [to be] brought into play.” Genealogy appears most vividly early in the novel when the narrator describes Pembroke's discovery of Edward's unfinished love poem to Miss Caecilia Stubbs. The “fragments of irregular verse” (W, 22) are given to Aunt Rachael and then are

transferred … to her common-place book, among choice receipts for cookery medicine, favourite texts, and portions from high-church divines, and a few songs, amatory and jacobitical, which she had caroll'd in her younger days from whence they were extracted when the volume itself, with other authentic records of the Waverley family, were exposed to the inspection of the unworthy editor of this memorable history.

(W, 22)

The common-place book, like the “dusty papers” of Sir Henry in the unfinished “Lord of Ennerdale” narrative, falls into the hands of a genealogist, here the narrator as an “editor” (using the trope of authenticity most frequently employed by Defoe, the figure Scott canonized) who assembles them into a “modern shape.” To that end, the editor gives that fragment of verse to the reader since it can show Edward's spirit “better than narrative of any kind” (W, 22). This fragment and its accompanying “transient idea of Miss Caecilia Stubbs” (W, 23) do not belong in the pages of history, but they do figure in the genealogy which can highlight the breaks in “development,” here, Edward's romantic education.

Indeed, the narrator comments on such “common-place books,” such concatenations of (archaeological) relics, when he describes Sir Everard's antiquarianism:

Family tradition and genealogical history, upon which much of Sir Everard's discourse turned, is the very reverse of amber, which, itself a valuable substance, usually includes flies, straws, and other trifles, whereas the studies, being themselves very insignificant and trifling, do nevertheless serve to perpetuate a great deal of what is rare and valuable in ancient manners, and to record many curious and minute facts which could have been preserved through no other medium.

(W, 16)

Edward, the romantic, “From such legends … would steal away to indulge the fancies they excited” (W, 17), would begin to formulate romance based on the particular “trifles” of history he selects and simply discard the rest. His activity is that which Scott outlines in the Encyclopaedia Britannica article, the son taking the father's tale and converting it into mythology, romance. But the “editor” puts a check on that history-romance conversion by preserving those “curious and minute facts” Edward's romantic medium cannot; he gives the genealogy of Edward's tales, the fragments and facts repressed by the historical shaping which nonetheless alter it, redefine its contours.

Hence the antiquarianism in Waverley becomes a major concern in determining the actual shape of the narrative. The two chief antiquarians, the Baron Bradwardine and Flora Mac-Ivor, thus supply the raw material, form the archaeology of “local discursivities” that the genealogist utilizes in rewriting history, although the nature of the “trifles” they offer differs.

Bradwardine gives the forgotten traces that persist, the relics discarded in the writing of history and romance that adversely affect their forward momentum, in other words, the dead-end paths history clips away.20 Flora, however, presents another side of genealogy—those traces that form counter-lines not acknowledged in accepted histories, the repetition and resurfacing of long-forgotten relics in the present that history attempts to erase with its monological path. The editor's task in this novel is to insert those relics into the history-romance succession and accordingly restructure it along the lines of a genealogy.

Bradwardine and Edward appear to correspond to the history and romance poles of narratival succession (as they do to the roles of father and son given Richard Waverley's non-presence in this novel). The way the two “[meet] upon history as a neutral ground” (W, 57) is dramatized in I.xiii during Edward's tour of Tully Veolan, the mine of Waverley's archaeological excavation.

Bradwardine “attache[s] some anecdote of history or genealogy” to the sites on their “pleasant and circuitous route” (56) which Edward then sifts through for his romantic renditions. The narrator describes the two thus:

The Baron, indeed, only cumbered his memory with matters of fact; the cold, dry, hard outlines which history delineates. Edward, in the other country, loved to fill up and round the sketch with the colouring of a warm and vivid imagination, which gives light and life to the actors and speakers in the drama of past ages.

(W, 57)

The history (Bradwardine) then turns into the romance (Edward): “Mr. Bradwardine's minute narratives and powerful memory supplied to Waverley fresh subjects of the kind upon which his fancy loved to labour, and opened to him a mine of incident and character” (W, 57). Thus the rough sketch is filled out by the romance, but it is also pared down and (from the Baron's perspective) distorted by that process. As the Baron says of an exemplary romance, Rose's song of “St. Swithin's Chair,” “It is one of those figments … with which the early history of distinguished families was deformed in those times of superstition” (W, 61); romance with its coloring presents a mere “figment,” “superstition” (as with legends) that ignores the minutiae of genealogical lore so cherished by Bradwardine, the pieces that he would have added to history and romance.

The editor consequently must supplement that romance-writing Edward effects by retaining the pieces of those “dry, cold outlines” not colored in by romance—the fragments and anachronisms otherwise discarded. Yet retaining them in such a genealogy here preserves them as dead and not as parts of a new romance. The Baron's tendency to cling to ancient traditions, to traces not accounted for in the writing of history-romance, becomes crucial for the genealogist since those relics must be retained to show what directions history might have taken (and those which it never did). The debate over the translation of caligae (III.i) is one such case: the incommensurability of caligae, “boots,” with the “brogues” worn by Charles Edward is emblematic of the lack of connection between the Chevalier and the old kings of the Scottish past. The lines of descent between that particular relic of the past and the present moment have worn away like a dead branch on the genealogical tree, but the genealogist adds them to his “history” to unmask the unilateral claims of history.

Bradwardine's obsession in Waverley is precisely the fact that there are dead branches in any genealogy. He even prefaces his tirade with a lament about the break in his own father-son line of succession: “Well, as I have said, I have no male issue, and yet it is needful that I maintain the honour of my house; and it is on this score that I prayed ye for your peculiar and private attention” (W, 230). The Baron's anxiety over his lack of a son to perpetuate his line and his refusal to settle his estate upon anyone but a male heir highlight the most basic fact of genealogy: the aborted lines of familial succession can only be incorporated into a history as aborted, as dead. Those traces are not in the romance precisely because they are not endowed with the “light and life” romance gives. The Baron's function in this novel is to embody the deadness of such lines, their deadness yet presence “in” history (as rewritten).

If the Baron exemplifies the broken lines forgotten in history, Flora Mac-Ivor represents those lines which recur, which repeat in the present, but are omitted or repressed from the straight paths of history. Her minstrelsy corresponds to a collection of traces that reappear and take modern form, albeit an unrecognized form. She thus serves as another archaeological gravesite (of the revenants to use Freud's term for the repressed) the genealogist can plunder and utilize in rewriting history.

The “extraordinary string of names which Mac-Murrough has tacked together in Gaelic” (W, 102) and which Flora translates in her song is the best place to undertake the exploration of her archaeological function in Waverley. She describes her song to Edward as “little more than a catalogue of the Highland clans and their distinctive peculiarities, and an exhortation to remember and to emulate the actions of their forbearers” (W, 104); it is, in a sense, a genealogy unto itself—a list of the varied forbearers—but a genealogy accompanied by the “exhortation” to emulate that past, to replicate the long-dead deeds of the ancestors. The seemingly insignificant actions of that “bootless host of highborn beggars” (W, 108), actions history would discard and discount, do affect the present by offering connections and analogies (as the one Maxwell draws between the two centuries in “The Lord of Ennerdale”).

Flora's point comes across when Edward “repeats” the actions of Captain Wogan narrated in the lines of verse she gives him. Edward even tells Fergus that Flora is “more in love with the memory of that dead hero, than she is likely to be with any living one, unless he shall tread a similar path” (W, 147), not knowing that “the politic Chieftain was desirous to place the example of this young hero under [his] eye” (W, 147). Melville later confirms this imposed connection between Edward and Wogan when he says “I cannot but find some analogy between the enterprise I have mentioned [Edward's ‘desertion’] and the exploits of Wogan” (W, 158). Only the activity of the genealogist would allow this analogy to be made, would allow that suppressed knowledge to reconfigure the power relations present at that moment (Edward's true relationship to the conflicting national powers).

This rewriting of history with its inclusion of Edward in conjunction with the Highlanders has already been figured by Flora's description of the interpolations in Mac-Murrough's song:

The Gaelic language, being uncommonly vocalic, is well adapted for sudden and extemporaneous poetry; and a bard seldom fails to augment the effect of a premediated song, by throwing in any stanzas which many be suggested by the circumstances attending the recitation.

(W, 104)

The song is never the same catalogue progressing from one name to another in an unchanging path of succession. The new “circumstances” force its rewriting, its inclusion of the new relationships within that “premeditated” narrative. Such a song is the work of the genealogist: the past in this instance is never merely past, divorced from the present circumstances, but is always existing in a dynamic relationship with it, a changing one fashioned out of new connections between events and new analogies revising the older chronicles. The past can be dead, a branch of the genealogical tree that has given rise to no further issue, but it can also produce unexpected offspring, bastards impossible within a strict father-son model. Flora (and even, to a lesser extent, Fergus) allow those analogies to become visible by repeating those relics, but repeating them with a difference—the inclusion of the present to rewrite them and the history to which they belong. Flora, along with the Baron, provide the valuable assistance which the editor/genealogist needs to produce his work.

The basic outline of the genealogical procedure offered in Waverley can be summarized thus: the editor takes these traces and, as he does with Aunt Rachael's common-place book, uses them to create a different species of narrative, a genealogical history that incorporates both the aborted lines of development and the unacknowledged ones forbidden in history. This approach to history in the novel must qualify the received conception of historicism normally associated with Scott's work, for it introduces a more fruitful opposition than the traditional history/romance dualism. Yet despite the emergence of this genealogical history, the attempt to subsume those lines into a master narrative of history nonetheless resurfaces at the end of the novel and points to a certain structural necessity in such familial narratives. Genealogy in Waverley does seem to be transformed back into history at a structural level, suggesting that the desire to fashion a stable historical narrative still affects the development of a genealogical history.

The rebuilding of Tully Veolan with which Waverley concludes presents special problems to the fulfillment of the editor's genealogical enterprise since in that castle's plentitude, its mixing of “new moveables” with “old furniture” in order to maintain its “original character” (W, 334), it defies the fragmentation of a genealogical schema. Like the pseudo-Gothic Abbotsford castle Scott grafted onto the Scottish countryside,21 the new Tully Veolan embodies not an effort to preserve the broken lines of development in their disarray (as a genealogy would), but rather one to establish a concrete text or narrative which draws diverse stands of historical development together, fusing the old lines with the new. The structure becomes a concrete marker of a structural tendency that becomes manifest only after the history/genealogy opposition has been put forward. The ruins of genealogy are not able to be retained as ruins, but are rebuilt, reincorporated into a unified text—a text that must be termed “history.”

The portrait of Edward and Fergus that dominates the new castle most dramatically exemplifies this remnant of an historical narrative:

It was a large and spirited painting, representing Fergus Mac-Ivor and Waverley in their Highland dress, the scene a wild, rocky, and mountainous pass, down which the clan were descending in the background. It was taken from a spirited sketch, drawn while they were in Edinburgh by a young gentleman of high genius, and had been painted on a full length scale by an eminent London artist. Raeburn himself (whose Highland Chieftans do all but walk out of the canvas) could not have done more justice to the subject.

(W, 338)

The painting is an attempt to contain Edward and Fergus in a coherent narrative (of Scottish history, the two of them continuing the work of the former clan chieftans), to ground them in a history which would monumentalize them like the old chieftans in Raeburn's portraits. This new portrait represents an historical, not a genealogical, text which crowns Waverley. Such an emblem strategically located in the ending of Waverley qualifies the text's championing of the genealogical model: the novel proposes genealogy as the alternative to history, to the inaccessible “tale of the patriarch” which is actually not a father at all, but in the same movement implies that the broken lines of development inherent in genealogies are, in what may even be characterized as a violent act, reintegrated into history during the process of narration. Genealogical narratives can only be presented thus in the guise of history; narratives can only be historical narratives since a pure genealogical narrative cannot appear as such.

This final qualification of the genealogy and history model in the novel has far-reaching ramifications for Scott's entire canon. Scott himself observes that even though history and romance may be father and son, such a formulation cannot account for the vastly complicated nature of familial/narratival relations because it represses the aborted fathers and bastards. History must take its place in a network of genealogical relationships among narratives, other narratives, and other versions of those narratives. The generic distinction between “history” and “romance” finally becomes irrelevant once their narrow grounding in origins and telea has been uprooted by a genealogical enterprise.

The backwards trek through family traditions, the “flies, straws, and other trifles” only forces the father-son succession of history and romance into the background. But genealogy does not appear as the full replacement for history, for as the erection of Tully Veolan and the emblematic portrait imply, any attempt to present the flies and straws in a narrative resembles a history, is forced into that historical mode once again. Genealogy, Scott argues, may be the only “history” that can be written, but genealogy cannot appear without being contaminated by history. Hence the claims made about Scott's historicism must be even further modified: genealogy supersedes history, but genealogy cannot emerge as such since in his novels it is always already presented, represented, as history.


  1. For a detailed discussion of “history,” “romance,” and the third generic term “novel,” see Michael McKeon's first chapter, “The Destabilization of Generic Categories,” in The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), pp. 25-64. Using Marx's theory of a “simple abstraction,” McKeon contends that the generic “history”/“romance” dialectic (in early eighteenth-century discourse) is resolved by the introduction of the “novel” as the sublating term of resolution.

  2. Waverley, of 'Tis Sixty Years Since, ed. Claire Lamont (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 282. All subsequent references to the text will be cited parenthetically in the text and preceded by “W.

  3. The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1963), p. 34.

  4. “Fiction—The Filter of History: A Study of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley,The Implied Reader (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 90.

  5. “The Historical Double: Waverley, Sylvia's Lover's, The Trumpet-Major,Essays in Criticism 34 (1984), p. 15. Rignall cites Fredric Jameson's words on history and textualization which are worth repeating here: “History [Jameson's capitalization] is not in any sense itself a text or master narrative, but … it is inaccessible to us except in textual or narrative form, or in other words, … we approach it only by way of some prior textualization or narrative,” “Marxism and Historicism,” New Literary History 11 (1979), p. 42. The exact constitution of this “History” that is non-textual, though, is left undecided: it is present somewhere but not accessible.

  6. “Upon the Braes: History and Hermeneutics in Waverley,Studies in Romanticism 25 (1986), p. 272.

  7. ibid., p. 269.

  8. Walter Scott: The Making of the Novelist (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), p. 40. Millgate believes that Edward's journey as his process of learning the “grammar” of romance, the romance as “a mode of explanation as well as appreciation” of history (p. 39).

  9. “Essay on Romance” in Essays on Chivalry, Romance, and the Drama (Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1972), p. 134, hereafter cited parenthetically in the text with “R.”

  10. Compare Scott's model to Freud's discussion of the totem meal in Totem and Taboo, trans. James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton, 1950), pp. 141-145.

  11. Freud's analysis of the genealogical relationships of hysterical symptoms in “The Aetiology of Hysteria” (1895) has substantial bearing upon the “overdetermined” genealogical structure of narratives (other signifying elements): “If we take a case which presents several symptoms, we arrive by means of the analysis, starting from each symptom, at a series of experiences the memories of which are linked together in association. To begin with, the chains of memories lead backwards separately from one another; but, as I have said, they ramify. From a single scene two or more memories are reached at the same time, and from these again side-chains proceed whose individual links may once more be associatively connected with links belonging to the main chain. Indeed, a comparison with a genealogical tree of a family whose members have also intermarried, is not at all a bad one,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, III, trans. and ed. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1962), p. 198. Texts can be branched back to two or more other ones in a genealogical analysis: the single origin of paternity is always being broken into diffuse chains.

  12. As George Levine comments on the historicism of Scott in light of the Magnum Edition, “His historicism, which implied for him a steady progress in history to the present moment, also pointed to all kinds of unfinished stories, meaningless experiences, alternative possibilities, and a cultural relativism,” “Sir Walter Scott: History and the Distancing of Desire,” The Realistic Imagination: English Fiction from Frankenstein to Lady Chatterley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 91. Levine, however, stops short of reformulating that “historicism” based on the two (contradictory) paths it takes. Scott's stance towards those other texts in the Magnum edition has been effectively summarized by Edward Said in his discussion of the “dynastic” relationship of narratives versus their relationship of “adjacency” in which “the text itself stands to the side of, next to, or between the bulk of all other works—not in a line with them, nor in a line of descent from them,” Beginnings: Intention and Method (New York: Basic Books, 1975), p. 10.

  13. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Random House, 1984), p. 88. For an instance of Nietzsche's “effective history,” see his discussion of the concept of “guilt” in The Genealogy of Morals III, 19-21 (trans. Walter Kaufmann [New York: Random House, 1969], pp. 136-143).

  14. In “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Foucault observes that the “origin” [Ursprung] in Nietzsche is dismissed in favor of a pattern of “descent” [Herkunft] and “development” [Entstehung] which better reveal the machinations of power.

  15. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” p. 51.

  16. “Two Lectures,” trans. Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale Pasquino, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Random House, 1980), p. 85.

  17. Said mentions an interesting (and repressed) “etymology” of legend: from gens, the root of genealogy. Legends therefore may be always already involved in genealogy, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 122. His chapter “On Repetition” (pp. 111-125) may be useful in the context of genealogy and history.

  18. Jane Millgate adds an even new dimension to the genealogical nature of the Magnum edition by discussing how it “supplements” the individual novels that were issued separately and are then reissued as a (magnum) unit, Scott's Last Edition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1987), pp. 108-109.

  19. History of Scotland (Tales of a Grandfather), New Edition. Vol. III (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, n.d.), Part Second, p. 21. Scott's attempts for an objectivity in his presentation of Prince Charles, to “[qualify] the exaggerated praise heaped upon him by his enthusiastic adherents” and to “avoid repeating the disparaging language of public and political opponents” (Part Second, p. 21) reveal the extent to which he seeks to realign the historical discourse on the rebellion.

  20. They function as monuments in the sense Jean Starobinski has described them, as markers of “the absence of persons and places, the better to evoke their memory fervently,” The Invention of Liberty, 1700-1789, trans. Bernard C. Swift (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1964), p. 196.

  21. See Stephen Bann's discussion of Abbotsford in The Clothing of Clio: A Study of the Representation of History in Nineteenth-Century Britain and France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 93-111.

Marilyn Orr (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8778

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 order to make readers “aware of the progress we have made” but also of the loss that this progress has entailed; and his novel is meant to help focus this change for the “we” who “fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have been drifted” (W, 72:364).2 Scott does not try simply to memorialize the difference of the ancient culture or figuratively to bring this “distant point” closer by enhancing the affinities between past and present. Instead “the Author of Waverley” compels his hero and challenges his readers to become active in the process by which “we have been drifted”—passive, despite our progress—by the movement of time. As the first of what will become his exemplary historical novels,3Waverley radically redefines the relationship between individuals and history, not by inviting readers to observe its hero in relation to history, but by employing narrative to analyze the nature of time itself, activating the memories of its readers to draw them into the process by which history emerges out of the interrelation of time and memory.

In the novel Scott sets his notoriously passive hero to work out his relationship to time: he must learn to set his private time according to the public time of history. Simultaneously, Scott sets his readers the congruent task of working out a relationship to time through their reading of Waverley and of its hero.4 Although the history that is the novel's subject is past history for the reader and contemporary history for Waverley, both character and reader confront this history as public time, a sphere that is distinct from, yet related to, the private time of individual experience. While for Edward Waverley, individual, private time is reset according to the public time of history, for the readers of his story the adjustment works in the opposite direction, a resetting of the sense of the public time of history according to the private time of individuals. While Waverley moves from his experience to an understanding of history and of his place in history, readers move from their accustomed perception of history as inscribed event (or text) to an understanding of the experiences out of which history has emerged.5 For both Waverley and the reader, this changed perspective is accomplished in the process by which memory changes the relationship between self and time.


Underlying Scott's understanding of the process of memory are two related distinctions: a distinction between two kinds of memory (voluntary versus involuntary) and a distinction between two kinds of time (real versus narrative). Although the two kinds of memory are not actually differentiated until Chronicles of the Canongate (1827) and the two kinds of time are never explicitly differentiated, both distinctions are implicit from the beginning of the Waverley Novels. In Waverley the hero comes to understand what Scott in this novel calls “real time” and learns to distinguish it from what I will call “narrative time.” Edward Waverley's ability to make this distinction is linked to his learning to respond to his involuntary memory and to recognize its distinction from his voluntary memory. It is the latter that may then be activated to narrate his time.

Scott introduces the concept of “real time” very late in the novel as a rather transparent gloss on the hero's realistic chastening. In chapter 70 readers are informed that “considerably more than two months” of “real time” elapse before Waverley's wedding, a delay of the conventionally romantic conclusion of his story. This “real time” obstructs by virtue of being “occupied” by “law proceedings” and the tedious inconveniences of travel (W, 70:348). Reflecting the overall movement of the novel towards moderation and compromise, real time modifies the romantic passion and the romantic resolution. The “important matters” that delay the marriage, the narrator notes, “may be briefly told in narrative,” and they are so told, occupying little narrative time (W, 70:348). But Scott refuses to allow the narrative time they may take to replace or obscure the real time they do take. For the eager bridegroom, the fact that the delay may be so briefly told provides no consolation as he endures the real time of waiting. For readers, the negative correlation of our reading time and Waverley's real time is a reminder that what is narrative time to us is unrelenting real time to him. Scott's deliberate drawing of attention here to the two kinds of time, a conventional technique of eighteenth-century novels, takes on a special pertinence in a historical novel which necessarily confronts more literally the problem of the transformation of experiential time into narration. And since readers of Waverley have been made aware of themselves as historical beings, located in time as historical change, the disjunction here between real time and narrative time implicitly locates the reader's own real time within potentially narrative time and suggests that our “important matters” may also turn out to be simply dead time for narrative.

In discussing the narration of history, Hayden White states that it is in historiography that “our desire for the imaginary, the possible, must contest with the imperatives of the real, the actual.” Because “narrative becomes a problem only when we wish to give to real events the form of story,” he says, historiography best exemplifies the process in which “narration and narrativity [function] as the instruments by which the conflicting claims of the imaginary and the real are mediated, arbitrated, or resolved in a discourse.”6 One might further contend that since individual, private time is always to some extent contingent upon public time and because the individual does take a narrative stance towards one's experience, the individual produces a “discourse” of one's time by a parallel process of narration. This personal narrative mediates, arbitrates, or resolves the conflicting claims of one's own imagination and reality. One's personal narrative also negotiates, however, the conflicting claims whose negotiation produces one's understanding of the official story that is read as history. This text of public, social, narrative time provides the context for private, individual, narrative time.

Although inherently fictional, narrative time—public and private—can be authentic or false depending on its relation to real time. Insofar as narrative time takes real time into account, it achieves consequentiality by at once substantiating its own narrative structure and ordering the otherwise amorphous material of experience (real time). At both a public and a private level, achieving consequential narrative time involves activating and properly coordinating the faculties of consciousness. Edward Waverley initially impedes the process and renders his time inconsequential: his imaginative powers are so highly developed that real time is falsified and the understanding is subverted. In the course of the novel, he must learn not only how to appreciate real time but also how to narrate his time authentically, that is, in a way that takes real time into account.


Scott takes pains in the early chapters of the novel to make clear that Waverley is peculiarly handicapped in undergoing the conventional realist “education.”7 As a child his experience of real time is fragmented because his time is divided between the two diametrically opposed worlds of his father and his uncle. Because his education is “regulated alternately” by these divergent minds (W, 2:17), Waverley's experience is rendered curiously insubstantial, as the real time spent in one household is systematically negated in the other. Under these circumstances, the boy not only learns but virtually imbibes a radical sort of neutrality of spirit, which deprives him of a footing—a point of view—from which to narrate his time. Thus divided between two worlds and accountable to neither, with neither accountable for him, Waverley undergoes an education that is notably misguided or unguided because of this “relaxation of authority” (W, 3:19). And, as a consequence of the “desultory style of his studies,” he emerges without “any fixed political opinion to place in opposition” to the emotional forces he later confronts (W, 4:25).8

In his studies, as in his upbringing, Waverley moves at will from one work to another in order to avoid effort and engagement. In part a kind of metonymy for his faulty upbringing, his faulty education also has a substantial significance of its own. “Alas!” sighs the narrator in chapter 5, Edward, permitted to read only for amusement, “foresaw not that he was losing forever the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application, of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the powers of his mind for earnest investigation—an art far more essential than even that intimate acquaintance with classical learning which is the primary object of study” (W, 3:20). Because he does not learn to read well, Waverley is without the habits of mind which would enable him to read or interpret his experience wisely and to narrate his time appropriately. This disability manifests itself, not surprisingly, in a confusion between life and literature and in inappropriate modes of narration. A romantic youth naturally has a penchant for “romantic literature,” and his imagination, predictably, constitutes “the predominant faculty of his mind.” But Waverley is also betrayed by the dangerous confusion that results from the intermingling of memory and imagination. His imagination is fed not only by his own “memory of uncommon tenacity” but also by his uncle's memory of “family tradition and genealogical history” and his aunt's romantic nostalgia for family glory (W, 3:23, 4:27). Vaguely remembered family “legends” excite “fancies” that call for clandestine re-enactment in an “ideal world” (W, 4:29,30). We are told in this chapter that Waverley reads French memoirs that can be taken for romances and romances that can be taken for memoirs. Such texts both literally foster and metaphorically underline his more profound generic confusion of memory and imagination. Thus tainted by “that more common aberration from sound judgement which apprehends occurrences indeed in their reality, but communicates to them a tincture of its own romantic tone and colouring” (W, 5:32), Waverley emerges from his upbringing and education without having learned the use and significance of time. On the one hand, his experiential, real time is falsified by his unaccountability: because he never has to account to any authority for his time, it is not subject to the “imperatives of the real” and it is therefore not itself real. On the other hand, the time that is for him subject to narration is the time spent in the “ideal world,” time which the imagination narrates in terms of romance. His time never achieves the consequentiality that results from struggling to reconcile the conflicting claims of imaginative desire and a given reality, because reality is never imperative to him and there is therefore no conflict. Desire, without any real imperatives to define it, dictates a false, inconsequential narrative. And, separated like this, both kinds of time are unreal. Waverley ventures into the world, then, without ever having been faced with that “problem” that White identifies as commensurate with a wish “to give to real events the form of story.” And he is further handicapped in learning to narrate real time by the resemblance of the “real world” into which he ventures to the “ideal world” of his imagination. In one world, as in the other, real events seem to take the form of story on their own, producing a false congruence of real time and narrative time that further militates against their proper relation.9

The dangers of Waverley's irresponsible education become manifest when he sets out from home, in that the geographical and epistemological journey he then begins follows the pattern established by his course of reading. Quickly becoming disenchanted with a military role that requires him to “judge of distance or space” (W, 7:57) in the real world, Waverley moves on to the more promising terrain of more isolated parts of Scotland. Taking one generational step back, he first visits a friend of his uncle's youth. Here he moves, as he did at home, from his uncle's memories into the land of legends. In Rose Bradwardine, Waverley is astonished to find himself talking with someone whose experience in real time corresponds to his experience in the purely narrative time of “day-dreams” and “ancient times.” Instead of appreciating Rose's experiences in terms of real time, however, Waverley can see them only in terms of the narrative time they tell to him, and he responds like a reader of romance whose “curiosity” and “sense of danger” are piqued (W, 15:136). Because it “seemed like a dream to Waverley” (W, 15:137) that the violence of the Highland clans should occupy real rather than narrative time, he becomes involved like one in a dream, and only gradually awakens to the sobering truth that mistaking real time for narrative time can be a matter of life and death.

Like one in a dream, Waverley is drawn deeper and deeper into an unknown world as he moves farther and farther into the Highlands.10 Journeys within journeys enact his deepening entanglement in circumstances and events beyond his control. All his comings and goings serve merely to reinforce his helplessness, and all the activity merely to ratify his neutrality of spirit into a confirmed passivity.11 This passivity that has the air of activity is dramatized forcefully when his injury places him in very much a dream-like state: wounded, blind, and unconscious, he is carried about in an unknown place by unknown beings, who could be enemies disguised as friends or friends disguised as enemies. This incident could serve as a metaphor for the paradox that defines Waverley's situation: any action he takes is negated or inverted by his ignorance of or removal from its context. However well-intentioned, all his actions are ineffectual because they are always untimely and ill-informed. He is victimized by time both as the monolithic force of official history, in whose hands he is a pawn, and as the random medium of mundane social life, when he suffers because of delayed and waylaid letters and newspapers. His ignorance and absence then allow for interpretations that condemn as treachery what really is simply bad timing.

Waverley's vulnerability to treacherous interpretation is enacted in different forms of narrative as the time and space that separate an action and its context (or consequences) are used to produce false interpretations until he finally begins to appreciate the difference between real time and narrative time. Only then, when he finds himself falsely written into the narratives of others—characterized as a traitor and a parricide in letters and newspaper articles, for example—does he begin to feel impelled to narrate his own time. But to become the narrator of one's own story at this late date—and, more important, in the middle of an ongoing story—proves impossible. There is no such thing as a simple personal narrative, Waverley learns, as even his own narratives betray him. Written as they are from a false position, his letters renouncing his commission serve merely to ratify a false position. Even more incriminating, his stolen seal is being used to authorize the false narratives of others. Then, when he is arrested on his way to correct false reports, his story becomes the subject of the two conflicting interpretations, an ambiguity in which he is complicit since he still compares himself to the hero in Flora's romantic narrative. All these narratives underline Waverley's naive inability to interpret his experience, as he is overcome by seeing “circumstances of truth” become the context for “gross falsehoods” (W, 31:20).12

Significantly, Waverley cannot recognize and begin to rectify the falseness of his position until he materially inhabits it and finds himself literally clothed in its garb.13 Carried passively back into the Highland ranks once more, and then “personally solicited for assistance” by a prince who “answered his ideas of a hero of romance,” Waverley is virtually compelled by circumstances (and certainly by Scott) to enact the role he must ultimately reject (W, 40:85). Once again, real time and narrative time seem to converge as real events take the form of story. Face to face with a prince and caught up in the emotion of the moment, Waverley is again without the perspective required to narrate real time. As real time and narrative time are compressed together in this single climactic moment, experience and story become as one for him. “The time,” says the narrator, “admitted of no deliberation” (W, 40:86). There is no time for choice when there is no differentiation between time-as-experienced (real time) and time-as-told (narrative time).

In this moment when Waverley meets the Prince and commits himself to his cause, the public time of history and the private time of Waverley's personal life also converge. A real historical prince becomes a figure in his personal life, and for the first time Waverley begins dimly to sense the historical reality in which he is involved. Although this moment disallows reflection, it is only once he has used this moment to take a side in the conflict (and thus make his real time count) that he gains a foothold that allows him the perspective necessary to have a choice. Only then does Waverley gain the point of view that he needs in order to narrate his time and to begin to gain some understanding of his experience. This process starts in the very next chapter, “The Mystery Begins to be Cleared Up,” when Fergus explains Waverley's time with Donald Bean Lean. With this narrative, Waverley begins to gain the understanding necessary for him to begin to narrate his own time.

Even as Scott carefully dramatizes the conspiracy of time and circumstances that undermines Waverley's ability to make a significant choice, he dramatizes just as carefully the contrary reality that Waverley does make a choice—and a choice of momentous consequences. Only when he makes this choice does the physical impression of its incongruity provoke a change. The two battles of the campaign mark the two crises that propel Waverley out of what has become his untenable position as a follower of the rebel cause and back to the world from which he came, but with a new sense of its historical context and of his own place in history. The working of both voluntary and involuntary memory is crucial here, as Scott dramatizes what he will later analyze more explicitly in Chronicles. On the eve of the battle of Preston, Waverley's memory of his home is sparked by an encounter with a man from his troop who addresses him with the “common phrase” by which Waverley had been known at home. Like Chrystal Croftangry, Waverley finds that the contrast between an alien setting and a familiar impression (initially auditory for Waverley and later visual, like Croftangry's) stirs his involuntary memory, susceptible as it is to sensuous promptings. The sound of Houghton's voice “now thrilled to his heart with the thousand recollections which the well-known accents of his native country had already contributed to awaken.” The remembered sound, together with the explanation the dying man brings, “forced many unavailing and painful reflections upon Waverley's mind” (W, 45:132, 134).14 Shortly thereafter, Waverley's memory prompts another revelation. As the English troops approach for battle, his memory is stirred by the familiar sights and sounds of his former troop, and “[i]t was at that instant, that, looking around him, he saw the wild dress and appearance of his Highland associates, heard their whispers in an uncouth and unknown language, looked upon his own dress, so unlike that which he had worn from his infancy, and wished to awake from what seemed at the moment a dream, strange, horrible, and unnatural” (W, 46:139-40). Memory draws much of its power, in both these incidents, from the sensuous impressions which make the past concrete. Drawn by the familiar sights and sounds (which he has set himself against) and repelled by the unfamiliar sights and sounds (which now command his allegiance) Waverley is overcome by a sense of discontinuity with his very self, as memory delineates a jarring contrast between past and present.

In both these incidents, memory registers the falsity of Waverley's position by allowing him to step back from his immediate experience in order to view it from a different perspective.15 In other words, with memory comes a separation between the percipient and the event which allows for the possibility of seeing in two ways and therefore for the possibility of choice. In a kind of epiphany during the battle, memory illuminates for Waverley his own nature and the absolutely “unnatural” nature of the world he has joined. What has been until now involuntarily summoned to consciousness, prompted primarily by an emotional response to sensuous impressions, now becomes the material for the working of the voluntary memory, which demands a rational, moral, and volitional response. The opportunity for choice is posited but still not offered to Waverley in the climax of this incident when one of his associates takes aim at Colonel Gardiner, and “ere [Waverley] could say ‘Hold!’” another choice is made for him (W, 46:140). Here, prompted by memory's forcing the incongruity of his position upon him, Waverley is able to imagine himself an “unnatural” parricide and, in revulsion from that image, to make a gesture towards a fully conscious voluntary response. He is still allowed only to see the choice he would make, however, rather than to choose. Nevertheless, combined with Colonel Talbot's report of the negative effects of his actions on his family, these incidents at Preston begin to provide Waverley with a context and a perspective which radically alter the narrative of his experiences that he had composed.

The culmination of this change comes with the skirmish at Clifton when the Highland army is in retreat, and Waverley makes his own retreat from the stage of history. Circumstances again act for him. Having lost his place with the Highland troop (chap. 59), he begins to find another self, a process that is underlined when he is mistaken for another Edward: “Edward, is't thou man?” (W, 60:250). He is indeed becoming another Edward, one who will take up the narrative of his own time instead of merely acting out the parts assigned to him in the narratives of others. When “a tremendous fall of snow” forces him to remain for “more than ten days” in a “lonely and secluded situation,” the conspiracy of time and circumstance to render him inactive and reflective is complete (W, 60:254-55). Thus withdrawn from active experience Waverley reads of public events in the narrated form of sporadic newspaper reports. Now, however, the separation in time and space from the events of which he reads provides a safe and necessary distance that affords a perspective for understanding.

Waverley makes use of this period for the “deliberation” that time had not “admitted” before. He reflects not only upon the public events but also upon his own personal history as it has intersected with public history. What takes “more than ten days” of Waverley's real time occupies very little of the novel's narrative time because of the minimum of action and event with which he is filling it. Instead he fills it with reflection: a mental repetition of the preceding action of the novel. Waverley is reviewing his experience from the perspective of his new understanding in order to realize it in a way that he had not done at the time of experiencing. In other words, he is exercising his memory in order to transform his experience in real time, which has been narrated only in the terms of others or in terms of romance, into his own narrative time. As Waverley activates his memory to narrate his experience, he learns what his program of random and passive reading could not teach him, and he acquires “a more complete mastery of spirit tamed by adversity.” Experience itself—real time—is not enough to shape a spirit: only in the process by which one narrates real time, negotiating what White calls “the conflicting claims of the imaginary and the real” to produce a discourse, does one account for one's time and oneself. At this point, Waverley negotiates these opposing claims by resolving to denounce the claims of the imaginary and to embrace those of the real: he decides “that the romance of his life was ended, and that its real history had now commenced” (W, 60:256). But the accompanying “sigh” is telling, of course, and Waverley never has to forsake his ideal world completely.16 Instead, by learning to re-order the relation between memory and imagination so that imagination serves memory, he achieves a reconciliation of the imaginary and the real that is more salutary than either romance or real history.

These ten days, as Jane Millgate has pointed out, are a crucial turning point for Waverley in a number of ways.17 When he activates his voluntary memory to review his experience, he for the first time realizes (in an active sense) the real time that makes up history, the real lives that are lost. He also learns here to use his memory to narrate his experience: to contain, order, and tell it in a form that can be incorporated as narrative time into the real present and future. In a sense, Waverley is also here refusing to accept the received narrative of official history, which does not take real time into account, and is instead taking up the responsibility of negotiating the opposing claims of public and private life, as well as those of real time and narrative, to produce a consequential discourse. Because voluntary memory works by means of narrative, mediating experience through a kind of discourse, such memory by necessity changes experiences, translating action and event into word with the help of imagination. With imagination no longer the “predominant faculty” of his mind, then, Waverley learns that it is nonetheless a necessary and salutary adjunct of his memory.

Imaginative capacity, in fact, distinguishes the members of the community of survivors at the end of the novel.18 Lacking this imaginative capacity, Fergus and Flora do not survive, because their literalism makes them unable to separate values and beliefs from a particular mode of representation (the Stuart claim), and they lose their lives rather than accept an alternative embodiment of the ideals by which they define themselves. The Baron, by contrast, is the consummate survivor because he can separate ideals from particular embodiments by accepting symbols as substitutes for the realities that cannot subsist in the present in any but symbolic form.19 Waverley, too, survives because he accepts substitutes—a barren aunt and uncle as surrogate parents, a domestic Rose for the archetypal Flora, and, of course, a “substitute” King. For him, accepting substitutes is also a matter of accepting words as substitutes for deeds—a substitution that for Scott typifies the modern world and will be requisite for all his survivor heroes. The execution of Fergus represents the death of the possibility of heroic action,20 and the text stresses that Waverley's alternative is words when it focuses on his transforming the event of Fergus's death into narrative in letters to Rose. Waverley's technique here signifies the way in which he will survive by framing his memories in imaginative terms. The “impression of horror” which he receives from Fergus's death is “softened by degrees into melancholy—a gradation which was accelerated by the painful, yet soothing task of writing to Rose.” Disregarding his own feelings, he changes the impression of the event for her, endeavouring “to place it in a light which might grieve her without shocking her imagination.”21 His tendency to romanticize has been overcome by his sense of shocking reality, and that sense, in turn, has been subordinated to his concern for Rose. Concern for Rose, in its turn, then motivates a different exercise of his imagination from the kind in which he had indulged at the beginning of his adventures.22 This process of narration is salutary for them both, as if the very act of narrating the impression is an experience that creates another impression with an effect of its own. The result of Waverley's narrative efforts is that the “picture he drew for her benefit he gradually familiarised to his own mind,” and he is able to turn his mind cheerfully to the future.

Imagination also comes into play when Edward is received home as one of “the vaunted heroes” of the Waverley line, and all “real circumstances” which would have “tarnished” his image are eschewed (W, 70:345, 348). But although survival in Waverley necessitates imaginative adaptations of the past, memory persists, resisting a complete remodelling of the past. Amid the solace of “Dulce Domum,” Waverley retains the memory of a grim experience. Once again, memory is stirred and sharpened by contrast, this time between the “verdant, populous, and highly cultivated country,” and the “scenes of waste desolation, or of solitary and melancholy grandeur” that have been the places of romance and strife (W, 70:344). Here the familiar scene of home is enhanced by the contrast, and Waverley's appreciation of it focuses the change that has occurred in him since leaving home.

Scott draws attention to the persistence of memory and the inadequacy of imagination by heightening the sense of temporality in the last stages of the novel when Waverley is entering upon a new life. This sense of time is largely translated into spatial movement: just as Waverley has journeyed into the public world of romance and history, so he has to travel back into the private world of mundane domestic life. These return journeys, however, are noteworthy for their uneventfulness and their pedestrian but salutary motivations. During the journey from Carlisle (scene of Fergus's execution) to Waverley Honour, for example, Waverley gradually adjusts to his friend's death, and the time it takes is measured in geographical terms (which, since he is journeying from a hero's death homeward, are also metaphorical): “Edward had reached his native country before he could, as usual on former occasions, look round for enjoyment upon the face of nature” (W, 70:344). This is but one stage of Waverley's return from the land of dreams, a return which involves a long and complicated series of journeys—to London, to Tully Veolan, to Carlisle, to Waverley Honour, back to London, back to Tully Veolan. All these journeys do lead to the conventionally comic conclusion of hero and heroine's marriage, but by the very time it takes to achieve this end Scott makes clear that Waverley is learning to value real time. For all his “urgency,” real time—represented in the real space Waverley must traverse—cannot be hastened or curtailed. Commensurate with this experience, Waverley also learns, however, to narrate this time with the help of memory and imagination in a way that allows him to move forward into a future that is chastened and enhanced by the sense of the past that he carries with him.


The reader of Waverley sets out on the novelistic journey knowing history in terms of narrative and public time. Scott employs various tactics in order to break down the reader's sense of narrative time so that one might know the past in terms of its existence as real time. In the closing paragraph of the introductory chapters, just before Waverley is about to set out on his journey from home, Scott invokes the conventional metaphor of reading as a journey. This geographical image makes the reader's situation comparable to Waverley's, of course, but it also converts the temporality of reading into spatial terms. While engaging “to get as soon as possible into a more picturesque and romantic country,” the narrator warns readers that they will make the journey, not in “a flying chariot,” but in “a humble English post-chaise.” The latter vehicle, he notes, is subject to all the “terrestrial retardations” that will later delay Waverley's “romantic” journey (W, 5:42-43): “My plan,” the narrator says, “requires that I should explain the motives on which the action proceeded; and these motives necessarily arose from the feelings, prejudices, and parties of the times” (W, 5:42). In conventional realist fashion, Scott refuses to narrate the time of the novel in romantic terms that do not take the real time of character and reader into account. Even as the reader's romantic desires must defer to the exigencies of terrestrial grounding, the character's actions and motives will be seen to be functions of his social and historical context. Scott is here making a double epistemological and generic claim. On the one hand, he is claiming fidelity to historical reality; on the other, fidelity to a truth achieved by what he calls in a late chapter the “narrative” of “events,” as opposed to the “duller medium of direct description” of characters in abstract and static terms (W, 70:347). It is by such a concrete, dynamic, and circumstantial narrative that Scott tries to take real time into account.

For the reader, of course, the actions and events of the novel and of history are purely narrative and do not constitute one's real time. But while Waverley learns to use his memory and imagination to compose a consequential narrative of his time, the reader, who has begun the novel with a sense of history as purely narrative time, gains from its unfolding a sense of the real time of the past. By sharing Waverley's narrative journey, the reader's sense of narrative time becomes reconstituted, incorporating a sense of the private real time of individuals. Scott's aim, we recall, was that he and his contemporaries “fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have been drifted.” Another way of putting this is to say that he asks his readers to experience history as real time. Scott's main tactic in this strategy involves our being introduced to Waverley in a way that encourages us to associate with him. The “earlier events” of the novel are “studiously dwelt upon” (W, 70:347) so that “we fix our eye” on him and then begin with him to see his world. But although readers are informed of “the feelings, prejudices, and parties of the times” (W, 5:42) as these impinge upon the Waverley family, they also accompany Edward in an upbringing and education which seem designed to decontextualize him in “real time” and allow him to fabricate for himself a purely narrative context in the “ideal world” of romance. Even as Scott is busy at the seemingly conflicting but actually dialectical tasks of historicizing and dehistoricizing Waverley's context, he is at work on the congruent task of historicizing and dehistoricizing his readers. Partly in order to make credible Waverley's ahistorical perspective (especially incredible for a period like 1745 and for his contemporary readers), Scott begins in the very title of the novel to simulate for the reader a sense of this dehistoricized context. Wishing to activate readers' “preconceived associations” as little as possible (W, 1:1), he self-consciously entitles the novel with as neutral a name as possible and proceeds to catalogue the literary genres to which it does not conform. His subtitle acts in a parallel way to neutralize readers' expectations for a work of history.23 Unlike the charged “1745,” which would provoke an automatic and even perhaps violent response in most of his readers, “'Tis Sixty Years Since” disarms them by assuming a connection between them and a past time that is at once accessible and remote, datable and indefinable. “'Tis Sixty Years Since” renders the narrative time of official history in terms of the real time of personal memory. The crucial “since” both establishes the pastness of the past and places it in what Lukács calls a “felt relationship to the present.”24 It also implies that the writer and his readers are products of this time and able to perceive it only in a way that is inevitably retrospective and contingent.

This mutual position of writer and reader becomes all the more ambiguous when it is seen to be contingent upon the “fixing” of a date that is itself entirely contingent. When Scott resumed the writing of Waverley after a hiatus of some nine years, he chose to retain the present of his initial writing, declaring to his readers of 1814 that he was writing from “this present 1st November, 1805” (W, 1:3). This undoubtedly preserves the poetry that would have been spoiled by a prosaic “'Tis Sixty-Nine Years Since” and bespeaks an equally poetic reluctance to tamper with what is written. But this redefinition of the readers' present may also suggest a bid (however playful) to disorient readers in an effort to prevent their automatic “fixing” on unwanted historical associations that would mitigate the novelty of first impressions. Of course, the consequent disorientation is only temporary, as even the most naive of readers, then and now, is led to the realization of that historical date, 1745. At the same time, in maintaining the discrepancy between the writing present and the reading present, Scott is writing into his narrative the evanescence of the “now” that will inevitably be written into it by time. Scott's historical subject certainly is a particular, identifiable one for which “the '45” can serve as a kind of metonymy, but the blatant varying of the ostensibly fixed time of the story brings into focus the more abstract underlying subject: the relative or proportionate distance between the readers/writer of the tale and its “actors.” “Sixty Years Since,” in its highly fictionalized truth, becomes a metaphor for the ideal time for memory's knowing of the past, the time during which memory is converting real time into narrative time, experience into history.25

This tactic of withholding the crucial date of the action and playing with the date of the writing and reading present has the effect of demythologizing history and drawing the reader into an unusually intimate relationship with the past. That relationship is in large part a function of Scott's attempt to break down the reader's conventional categories of order, of his deliberate disorientation of his readers as well as of his hero. Like Waverley, readers are deprived of the crucial names, dates, places, and circumstances that would provide the historical context and significance of events. Without the privileged understanding that comes with historical perspective, the reader has only Waverley's experience to go on. As Waverley is being carried about by unidentified persons or lying disabled without being permitted a look at his captors, the reader, also blind and in the hands of an unknown narrative, shares his experience. Bereft of their sense of history and perspective and usual categories of time and place, friend and enemy, the readers of Waverley come to know the past in a new way. Along with its hero, readers learn only retrospectively through the activity of memory where they have been and what they have been involved in.

Scott further breaks down the reader's sense of history (experience known as narrative time—1745) into real time (experience that comes within the range of memory—sixty years since) by disrupting the conventional categories of time. Throughout the novel he strives to open up the closed book of history—to challenge the reader's perception of history as finished and irrecoverable, like time already narrated—by recovering the sense of the potentiality of time as it is experienced. He enriches the reader's understanding of historical time in both the national and personal sense by re-investing time with a sense of latent possibility that makes any event or action at once decisive, in that it determines what follows it, and arbitrary, in that it is one of a multitude of might-have-beens. The narrator makes clear, for example, that it is because of fatal timing that Fergus MacIvor exemplifies a tragic heroism that establishes his status as a historical figure: “Had Fergus MacIvor lived sixty years sooner than he did,” he would have lacked the sophistication that makes him such an unusual chieftain; “had he lived sixty years later,” his world would not have afforded the circumstances for his remarkable powers of leadership (W, 19:175). Only at that particular moment do time and circumstances intersect to produce his fatal character, just as they have intersected to make Waverley what he is.

Throughout the novel, readers are reminded that history is only a temporal configuration: only the unaccountable play of time and circumstance makes history out of moments. One such moment occurs at the beginning of the novel when Sir Everard comes close to changing his will and signing over his heritage to the family's traditional enemies. “Had Lawyer Clippurse … arrived but an hour earlier,” the narrator says, Sir Everard would have done the deed, spurred on by the impulse of the moment. But “an hour of cool reflection” allows him to go beyond the immediate situation, to employ the larger perspective of memory and of future prospect. Even so, his decision is finally determined non-rationally and by misinterpretation when he reads reproach in the lawyer's innocent action of producing materials for writing and then himself looks up to see the sun lighting up the family crest. His legacy remains in the family and eventually, through a combination of other such circumstantial moments, falls to Waverley. “All this was the effect of the glimpse of a sunbeam,” the narrator wryly comments, “just sufficient to light Lawyer Clippurse to mend his pen” (W, 2:11-12). Thus in a moment of what is later called “real time,” so slight as to hold the mending of a pen, history is made. In the novel, Waverley and the reader come to see history as always consisting of “real time” and “real time” as always consisting of potential history. It is only with the narrative prospect afforded by memory that one can understand the conjunction of real time and narrative time.

The point is made especially clear in Scott's next novel, Guy Mannering, where the young hero, Harry Bertram, returns home after an absence of seventeen years. The novel dramatizes his return as a recovery of lost time, filling in what he experiences as a “blank” (Mannering, 50:249) and the narrator describes as a “gap” and a “space” (M, 11:99). Easily covered in narrative time, these seventeen years remain abstract: because they have not been made concrete in real time, the seventeen years (lived under false pretences) in real terms have not happened. The attempt of the simple Dominie, whose understanding is concrete, to “resume” the past (“to take up Harry pretty nearly where he had left him” [M, 51:259]) focuses on the irrecoverable loss of this time. But the narrator shows how narrating the time can recover, though never replace, that time. As in Waverley, space fills in time. Scott's epigraph for chapter eleven of Guy Mannering is a quotation from A Winter's Tale in which Time expresses his role in terms of space: “I slide / O'er sixteen years, and leave the growth untried / Of that wide gap.” The narrator immediately echoes the epigraph and, in the echo, suggests again that the completed literary text mediates between space and time: “Our narration is now about to make a large stride, and omit a space of nearly seventeen years” (M, 11:99). This position assumes both the privileges of “narrative time,” striding over “real time,” and the liabilities entailed in omitting growth and change. But the narrator suggests that the “gap” can be filled (that is, that narrative time can be realized) if the reader draws from his own experience. As in Waverley, a comparison between the character's “real time” and the reader's reading time discloses the potential for narrative in real time and the substance of real time in narrative. “The gap is a wide one;” the narrator says, “yet, if the reader's experience in life enables him to look back on so many years, the space will scarce appear longer in his recollection than the time consumed in turning these pages” (M, 11:99). Real time is at once both substantial and ephemeral enough that it can be “consumed,” if only by reading; narrative time, on the other hand, is so insubstantial and abstract that, isolated from real time, it can itself be only a gap. Memory brings real time and narrative time together by negotiating their mutual claims. While involuntary memory stores the sensuous data of real-time experience, voluntary memory narrates this material, collecting and completing it (as Chrystal Croftangry finds) so that it is both preserved and benevolently changed. When memory brings the two kinds of time together, narrative time converts real time into something abstract enough to be called “space.” In the conjunction of real time and narrative time a space is made which memory fills by its “recollection.” Memory converts time into something comparable to reading time in which a whole world unfolds during the course of a few hours and, conversely, a few hours expand to encompass a world of experience.


  1. In the absence of a standard scholarly edition of Scott's novels, there is no common method of citation. All quotations are drawn from the Border Edition (48 vols., ed. Andrew Lang [London: John C. Nimmo, 1892-94]). To facilitate reference, I cite the chapters as consecutively numbered in most modern editions, followed by page number. All citations are incorporated parenthetically in the text.

  2. Claire Lamont draws attention to the fact that in the manuscript Scott originally wrote “we set out,” changing it to “we have been drifted” for the published text. Walter Scott, Waverley, ed. Claire Lamont (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), p. 417.

  3. Lukács established Scott as the exemplary historical novelist, arguing that the distinction of his work lay in his presentation of the past both in its own terms and as the “prehistory of the present.” Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (London: Merlin Press, 1965), p. 53.

  4. Richard Waswo shows that Scott's “literary activity” projects in fiction “a vision of the past the basis of whose creation is enacted in the continual present of every reader.” Richard Waswo, “Story as Historiography in the Waverley Novels,” ELH [Journal of English Literary History] 47, 2 (Summer 1980): 304-30, 326.

  5. Shaw identifies the underlying pattern whereby readers, along with Edward Waverley, “move from spectatorship to an unsettling engagement with the past, but they make a crucial retreat back to spectatorship again.” Harry E. Shaw, The Forms of Historical Fiction (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1983), p. 185.

  6. Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” CritI [Critical Inquiry] 7, 1 (Autumn 1980): 8.

  7. For a discussion of the realist disenchantment plot of Waverley, see in particular George Levine, The Realistic Imagination: English Fiction from Frankenstein to Lady Chatterley (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981), chap. 4.

  8. Millgate notes that having completed his education, Edward is “almost totally lacking in historical awareness, or, for that matter, in any very adequate means for proceeding from the particular to a more general understanding of what he observes.” Jane Millgate, Sir Walter Scott: The Making of a Novelist (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1984), p. 37.

  9. Levine notes that Waverley “is hardly mistaken in thinking the world corresponds to his dreams … the narrative seems almost to sanction the romantic dream while making us aware of its absurdity.” Levine's analysis of the novel as a whole stresses the way in which it “transforms action into dream, drives a wedge between narrative and desire, between language and action.” Levine, pp. 83, 84.

  10. Welsh notes the prevalence of dream in romance, but points out the ambiguous nature of the dream and Scott's use of the motif. “Though the total action of the romance may be construed as a wish-dream,” notes Welsh, “the incidents affecting the hero are usually fearsome or unpleasant.” The experiences of the Waverley hero, he argues, “are more like fragments of a nightmare than logical constructions of a hopeful dream.” For Welsh these nightmarish experiences are symptomatic of the anxiety characteristic of the Scott hero, who “propitiates authority and represses all unacceptable passions.” Alexander Welsh, The Hero of the Waverley Novels (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1963), pp. 151, 174.

  11. See Welsh for a full exploration of Scott's passive hero.

  12. Waswo cites this incident (Waverley's appearance before the stern Major Melville and the more sympathetic Mr. Morton) as an example of “the inexorable importance of reputation, the conferring of identity and value by social interpretation” in the Waverley Novels (p. 316). Bruce Beiderwell also analyzes this scene in terms of Scott's sense of the complexities of justice and civil disobedience. Bruce Beiderwell, “The Reasoning of Those Times: Scott's Waverley and the Problem of Punishment,” Clio 15, 1 (Fall 1985): 15-30.

    See also Judith Wilt's provocative discussion of Waverley's loss of identity and reputation. Judith Wilt, Secret Leaves: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 32-34.

  13. Welsh comments that “dress figures in Waverley as a symbol of a romantic adventure that may be put on or off—thus confirming the excursion by which the hero can experience the world of romantic action without actually performing any” (Welsh, p. 161).

  14. Graham McMaster identifies this as one of “two or three strongly marked scenes in which the reader is clearly asked to make moral judgements.” Graham McMaster, Scott and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), p. 13.

  15. In her study of realism and perspective, Elizabeth Ermath notes that “the mnemonic act of recovery is crucial for perceiving the patterns in events.” By the act of remembering, Ermath argues, perceived discontinuities eventually give way to a “hidden order,” and realistic fiction promises that “given enough time, enough distance, one can fit any anomaly into its proper place in the system.” Elizabeth Ermath, “Realism, Perspective, and the Novel,” CritI 7, 3 (Spring 1981), 499-520, 514-15.

  16. Commenting on this scene, Welsh notes: “The romance, of course, is not over. By ‘romance’ Waverley means the romantic episode, which … is characteristically finite. By ‘history’ he signifies an equally imaginary construction of infinite future time—a part of the reality by which the hero conceives himself to be supported” (Welsh, pp. 147-48). Levine agrees, commenting that in the novel “Scott turns the romantic past into a comprehensible and recognizable experience and yet sustains romance to the end” (Levine, p. 94).

  17. Millgate, pp. 53-54.

  18. Brown argues that these survivors have two things in common: “the ability to compromise with the inevitable” and “the ability to forget.” I would contend that more crucial is their ability to remember in a new way, one that involves compromising and forgetting but is still a remembering. David Brown, Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 23.

  19. The ceremony of drawing off the prince's boot is the most obvious of these symbols.

  20. Fergus also dies, of course, because he is a threat to civil order, but Beiderwell is right to emphasize Scott's discomfort with the manifest injustice of the disparity between the fates of Fergus and Waverley and his dissatisfaction with (though endorsement of) a system of justice in which “[q]uestions of security and the general public good outweigh the more abstract concerns of fairness and human sympathy” (Beiderwell, p. 16). This discomfort is far more serious than his discomfort with the death of romance. For a discussion of Waverley and Fergus as doubles, see Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 145 f.

  21. Cottom notes: “Perspective, memory, and writing all serve to tame sensations and events; they are all civilizing tools that withdraw one from the dangers of immediacy as they withdraw one from action; they are supposed to put an end to disorder.” While affirming such civilizing tools, however, the Waverley Novels, Cottom points out, concentrate on exciting in the reader “the very dangers [the tools] are designed to eliminate.” Daniel Cottom, The Civilized Imagination: A Study of Ann Radcliff, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985), p. 143.

  22. On this point see Millgate, who argues that the novel does not so much reject as transcend “youthful romanticism” and that Scott, far from rejecting the imagination, affirms it as the source of knowledge and wisdom (Millgate, pp. 55-57).

  23. For recent analyses of the subtitle, see Millgate (p. 37) and Wilt (p. 27).

  24. Lukács, p. 53.

  25. This is a point frequently made in Scott criticism. A. O. J. Cockshut, for example, argues that Scott is at his best when he is working within the range of memory, “within about 100 years of his own boyhood.” A. O. J. Cockshut, The Achievement of Sir Walter Scott (London: Collins, 1969), p. 104.

    Wilt comments: “each man's own ‘now’ is romance time inevitably, as is his great-grandfather's time. His father's time is ‘real’ time, not ‘my story’ but ‘history’” (Wilt, p. 28).

Claire Lamont (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5155

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 defeated.1 A battle is presented in Waverley; but it is not Culloden. The battle that occurs in the novel is that fought at Prestonpans in September 1745, which was a Jacobite victory. Culloden is conspicuously absent. My purpose in what follows is to ask what is the consequence for our reading of Waverley of the subordination of the battle of Culloden?

Waverley was published in 1814 in three volumes. The first volume ends with chapters in which the young English hero, Edward Waverley, is introduced to the traditional and Jacobite culture of the Scottish Highlands in the household of the clan chieftain Fergus Mac-Ivor. The second volume ends with chapters describing the battle of Prestonpans in which Prince Charles Stuart with his Highland followers defeated a Hanoverian army. It is in the third volume that the balance of power shifts from the Jacobites to the Hanoverians. The Jacobites had entered Edinburgh and established Prince Charles at Holyrood, the palace of his ancestors. But they had never entirely captured the city: the Hanoverian garrison of Edinburgh Castle held out. Jacobite rejoicing is disturbed by the periodic eruption of canon-fire from the Castle. The future of Scotland, if not of Britain, is in the balance as the opposing sides hold the two symbolic sites which mark the extremities of the High Street of Edinburgh, Holyrood Palace to the east and Edinburgh Castle to the west, right of birth versus actual power. As those holding the Castle are gradually revealed to be invincible, the fortunes of the Jacobites start to turn. Ominously, the march into England is undertaken only when the Jacobites weary of besieging the Castle.

It is in volume II, chapter 17 that Edward Waverley finds himself at the court of Prince Charles at Holyrood on the eve of the march which led to the battle of Prestonpans. Waverley joins the Jacobite army, and the novel then follows that army to the battle and on its subsequent march into England. On the retreat from Derby the Jacobites were involved in a skirmish at Clifton, near Penrith, where in the novel Fergus Mac-Ivor is captured and Waverley is separated from the army in the dark and confusion. Between volume II, chapter 17 and volume III, chapter 12 the progress of the Jacobite army is followed through Waverley's participation in their march. (Although one has to notice that neither his joining it nor his leaving it is premeditated). Once Waverley is separated from the army we do not hear directly of its fate. It was a bitter one. The army retreated further and further north. It won a defensive battle at Falkirk; and then was crushingly defeated at Culloden, near Inverness.

The battle of Culloden, the last battle on British soil, was fought on 16 April 1746. It was a defeat from which Jacobitism as a political force never recovered. But the significance of the battle for the Highlands of Scotland was not just that it was a defeat; it was a defeat after which the victor took particularly savage vengeance against his opponents. The fright that the episode had given to the government in London caused it to follow Culloden with a series of measures designed, by destroying the culture from which such unruly forces had erupted, to prevent any repetition. When one mentions Culloden one refers not only to a battle, but also to its savage aftermath, and to painful social consequences for Highland Scotland in the decades that followed.

It could be argued that a historical novelist setting a work in 1744-46 might consciously try to avoid dealing with the consequences of a battle, and might invite the reader to see these years as an island of time. But that is prevented in Waverley by the device of the narrator—albeit a vestigial narrator in comparison with Scott's later ones. This narrator self-consciously starts his novel on 1 November 1805,2 and after a semi-humorous rehearsal of the options gives it the subtitle 'Tis Sixty Years Since (pp. 3-4). These indications of the date of writing, not to mention several subsequent interpositions by the narrator, bring into the novel the gap in time since the events it describes took place. The treatment of Culloden in the novel cannot be explained by supposing the narrator unaware of the implications of his subtitle.

My concern is with the ending of the novel. The tale is told from the point of the hero. At the end he receives a pardon from the government and marries the simpler and less heroic of the two heroines. The end of Waverley seems to be concerned with reconciliation and reconstruction, and with marriage as a symbol of harmony restored. Does the reader in the midst of this remember Culloden?

Scott's historical novels commonly bring together a romance plot and a historical theme. It is not therefore surprising that the moment of closure should present some difficulty. A reading of the end of Waverley that finds its closure satisfactory is one which concentrates on the romance plot of the novel. According to that reading a young man sets out on his first adventure into the adult world. He is seduced by his romantic tastes into offering his service to Flora Mac-Ivor and Prince Charles Stuart. After living through the painful consequences of these allegiances, he finds himself ‘A sadder and a wiser man’ (p. 296). He hopes ‘that it might never again be his lot to draw his sword in civil conflict’ (p. 283) and discovers the domestic side of his character with Rose Bradwardine. The ending of the novel is full of episodes implying closure: the marriage of Edward and Rose; the repair of Tully-Veolan, the house damaged by the civil war; the reclothing of the poor retainer, Davie Gellatly, who had been left destitute during the fighting. The old paintings in the house, used by the invading soldiers for target-practice (p. 297), are replaced by this:

a large and spirited painting, representing Fergus Mac-Ivor and Waverley in their Highland dress, the scene a wild, rocky, and mountainous pass, down which the clan were descending in the background.

(p. 338)

Waverley's arms, given him by Prince Charles, are set on the mantelpiece as an ornament (pp. 196, 338). These elements of the narrative all have one tendency, they endorse and celebrate peace. But they do more than that. They seem to rejoice in the loss of certain features of the old Scotland. The fact that the soldiers had burned ‘the stables and out-houses’ at Tully-Veolan is seen as a good opportunity to replace them with ‘buildings of a lighter and more picturesque appearance’ (pp. 296, 334). We are now moving into a culture in which the proper place for a sword is a mantelpiece. The place for young men in tartan is in paintings. This ‘symbolic’ reading of the ending of the novel projects the mind into the future. It celebrates prospectively the peace and prosperity to come to Scotland through the defeat of the Jacobites. The new Hanoverian world will treat the old Scottish culture as a romantic ornament. The future dimension of its symbolism is betrayed by the narrator's compliment to the painter of the portrait of Fergus and Waverley:

Raeburn himself, (whose Highland Chiefs do all but walk out of the canvas) could not have done more justice to the subject; and the ardent, fiery, and impetuous character of the unfortunate Chief of Glennaquoich was finely contrasted with the contemplative, fanciful, and enthusiastic expression of his happier friend.

(p. 338)

Henry Raeburn was born in 1756; his portraits of clan chiefs are of Scott's period, not of the 1740s. This interpretation might be called humanist in that it seeks to find satisfactory strategies of closure, is willing to see large themes mediated through the individual, and sees the novel as making a positive comment on life. But can the symbolic reading of the end of the novel as a celebration of peace and prosperity be sustained if the reader remembers the other theme of the novel, not the romance but the history?

To remember the historical theme is to deconstruct the romance ending. While the romance plot of the novel is being rounded off in a series of positive symbols, what is the fate of the Jacobites? Waverley is separated from the Jacobite army at Clifton, and as he lies in hiding in Cumberland news filters through to him of the Jacobite retreat and the battle of Falkirk. When a few months later he reached the borders of Scotland,

he heard the tidings of the decisive battle of Culloden. It was no more than he had long expected, though the success at Falkirk had thrown a faint and setting gleam over the arms of the Chevalier. Yet it came upon him like a shock, by which he was for a time altogether unmanned. The generous, the courteous, the noble-minded Adventurer, was then a fugitive, with a price upon his head; his adherents, so brave, so enthusiastic, so faithful, were dead, imprisoned, or exiled.

(p. 293)

A friendly Edinburgh landlady gives him news of Fergus Mac-Ivor, which she had heard from one of his followers:

‘The poor Hieland body, Dugald Mahony, cam here a while since wi'ane o' his arms cut off, and a sair clour in the head—ye'll mind Dugald, he carried aye an axe on his shouther—and he cam here just begging, as I may say, for something to eat.’

(p. 294)

Waverley asks about his other friends, and she replies, ‘Ou, wha kens where ony o'them is now? puir things, they're sair ta'en down for their white cockades and their white roses’ (p. 295). Waverley soon sees the consequences of war for himself:

As he advanced northward, the traces of war became visible. Broken carriages, dead horses, unroofed cottages, trees felled for palisades, and bridges destroyed, or only partially repaired; all indicated the movements of hostile armies. In those places where the gentry were attached to the Stuart cause, their houses seemed dismantled or deserted, the usual course of what may be called ornamental labour was totally interrupted, and the inhabitants were seen gliding about with fear, sorrow, and dejection in their faces.

(p. 295)

Waverley visits Fergus Mac-Ivor in prison in Carlisle on the morning of the day on which he was to suffer the penalty for high treason. The chieftain recommends his clansmen to Waverley's protection:

‘… when you hear of these poor Mac-Ivors being distressed about their miserable possessions by some harsh overseer or agent of government, remember that you have worn their tartan, and are an adopted son of their race.’

(p. 325)

And he adds, ‘Would to God … I could bequeath to you my rights to the love and obedience of this primitive and brave race’ (p. 325).

The bitter social consequences of the defeat of the Jacobites are certainly not omitted from Waverley. The end of the novel, however, gives diminishing attention to them. The novel turns away from the Highlanders in a post-Culloden world to present us with Waverley's marriage, his newly restored furniture, and his pictures. We are not invited to consider that possession of the arms which Waverley places on the mantelpiece would have been illegal under the Disarming Act of 1746. The end of the novel puts side by side an individual's achievement of responsible adulthood and measures designed to destroy a culture. The two come together awkwardly. Tully-Veolan is speedily repaired. It is restored by waving a wand—or as the Baron suggests by ‘brownies and fairies’ (p. 339). The reader of the historical plot knows that the wand, if it was not entirely out of the world of romance, was a southerner's money, and that there was no such wand in the rest of the Highlands. The problem is that the romance theme looks forwards, and the historical theme looks backwards to what has been destroyed, and the end of the novel risks a clash between them.

It may be objected that the novel has to proceed by metonymy, letting the part stand for the whole. It cannot be said that Scott flinched from introducing into his novel the horror of civil war, and the atrocity with which the '45 was suppressed. The death of Fergus Mac-Ivor by the horrible death for high treason is sufficient evidence that the novel does not seek to deny suffering. Surely Scott has represented the violence and loss of the '45, and the novel is allowed to end with celebration and hope for the future? The trouble is that the history of the novel has established itself with a remorseless continuum which will not allow itself to be forgotten: Prestonpans, Derby, Clifton, Falkirk … Who cares about the recovery of the Blessed Bear of Bradwardine, the Baron's favourite drinking-cup, in the aftermath of Culloden? Once you have mentioned the penalty for high treason (which was hanging, drawing, and quartering) and the battle of Culloden, the positive symbols which close the romance plot are seriously undermined.

This interpretation of the ending of Waverley has not been a dominant one, but it has been there from the beginning. A reviewer in the Caledonian Mercury, an Edinburgh newspaper with a Jacobite ancestry, on 29 October 1814 wrote this, after mentioning the death of Fergus Mac-Ivor:

But the reader, wholly absorbed in the interest of the preceding scenes, which are indeed nobly described, turns with some degree of aversion from the story of Waverley's marriage, and the merriment by which it is followed. The fate of the unfortunate Chieftain, and his faithful companion Evan Dhu—their heroism in suffering, and their noble contempt of death, with all its tragical apparatus, leaves the mind in too solemn a mood to follow so trifling a character as Waverley through the lighter scenes of this prosperous life.

The difference between these two readings of the end of Waverley is the difference between criticism written from the supposed point of view of the writer and that written from the point of view of the reader. The writer is in one account free to choose where to start and end the narrative, to substitute one act of violence for another, and to end with symbolic episodes which look further forward than the period in which they are set. The reader in the other account is free to dislike the result. And the reader is more likely to dislike the result in an historical novel than in one that is not apparently historical, because in such a novel the reader is part-possessor of the subject-matter. There is the risk of a clash at the end of Waverley between the romance plot, which ends optimistically, and the historical theme, which ends tragically. For some readers at least, what they know about the history, the narrative of the nation, clashes with the narrative of Edward Waverley. The sovereignty of the author over history works only where either the reader does not know the history or is willing to see it reinterpreted. Most audiences of Shakespeare's history plays do not know where he has altered history. The only difficulty comes when they do, and when they refuse to yield their interpretation to his. There are those who will not accept his presentation of, for instance, Joan of Arc or Richard III. In historical fiction at least, history is what you remember. And many people remember the '45. For those who do, the end of Waverley is not just forward-looking symbolism, it looks dangerously like Whig propaganda.

The argument so far has derived an unsatisfactory pair of alternatives from the conclusion of Waverley: either the romance ending is imposed on history or the history mars the romance ending. A way out of this dilemma is shown by Mary Lascelles in a passage which reconciles the claims of both writer and reader. In her book on historical fiction, The Story-Teller Retrieves the Past (Oxford, 1980), she writes:

The marriage of history with invented narrative poses its own problems. History will accept romance as partner, if the reader will but withdraw his critical faculties from the conclusion, as Scott requires. This is a comfortable convention, and, if we are inclined to demur at such a regard for our comfort, we shall not be reading this kind of book. Nevertheless, it shows a want of literary good manners in the writer if he treats a grave historical situation otherwise than seriously, before this separation of the partners, as it were by mutual agreement, frees him from any such obligation.

(p. 76)

This presents the reading of historical fiction of Scott's type as a bargain between reader and novelist. The reader must ‘withdraw his critical faculties’ at the end. Such withdrawal is assisted by the unique bookishness of the novel as a genre: readers of the conventionally-published novel have always been able to see, by the small number of pages left, how close they are to the end, and make adjustments to their reading accordingly. Under this interpretation the reader acquiesces in the constraints imposed by both novel and book.

Does Waverley help us to read its ending? To borrow terminology from Wolfgang Iser, what is there in the structuring of the text which would ‘imply’ the reader of its conclusion? Iser addresses the problem of the conclusion of Waverley:

While the hero's function is to bring past reality to life, history itself does not come to any end—as Scott's subtitle indicates—and so the novel can only come to a stop if the main figure once more steps into the foreground. But this would mean a total change of emphasis as regards the subject matter of the novel, with Waverley taking precedence over events and history supplying only the trappings for the hero's development. Scott deals with this problem by adopting an ironic style in depicting his hero at the end.3

Iser suggests that irony in Scott's description of Waverley's marriage deflects attention away from the hero and on to history. (He does not say anything about the significance of that history; history may not come to an end, but it is not an uninflected continuum). There is certainly irony in the last chapters of the novel, the sort of irony appropriate to bystanders at a wedding, and to a narrator closing a novel with conventional symbols. But does such irony have the effect of leaving ‘historical reality … properly situated in the foreground’? I suggest on the contrary that the attention of the novel is not directed back to the historical theme at its end, because in the ‘prestructuring of the potential meaning’4 of the conclusion some techniques of closure have already been applied to the historical theme.

In writing historical fiction Scott established a model which has been followed by many later historical novelists: his historical characters make brief but significant appearances. The hero or heroine, and the other leading characters are fictitious. If the novel is to have Queen Elizabeth, Oliver Cromwell, or Prince Charles Stuart in it, Scott will ensure that the scenes where they appear are brief, intense, and self-contained. In Waverley the focus on history is comparably treated. The subtitle indicates the period at which the novel is set. Beyond that, time is only vaguely indicated during the first two volumes. Waverley leaves Waverley-Honour to join the army in Scotland in the Autumn of 1744 (pp. 4-5, 22). ‘The arrival of summer’ caused him to visit Tully-Veolan (p. 31). When the Jacobite army gathered in King's Park, Edinburgh, ‘the autumn was now waning, and the nights beginning to be frosty’ (p. 212). The famous dates of the summer of 1745 are not mentioned: Prince Charles raised his standard at Glenfinnan on 19 August and entered Edinburgh on 17 September. The dating in the novel is perhaps too reticent for those who do not know the succession of events in the '45; slight hints are enough for those who do. The battle of Prestonpans is described in detail at the end of volume II, and the historicity of it is stressed by the mention of the first of a series of dates marking the Jacobite campaign of the autumn of 1745 (p. 239).5 The Jacobites began their march into England ‘about the beginning of November’ (p. 263); the retreat was determined upon on 5 December (p. 274); and the skirmish at Clifton occurred on 18 December (p. 274). From then on there are only slight indications of time passing, and that time is passed in the story of Edward Waverley. It is only incidentally and without dates that we hear of the events of 1746, the battle of Falkirk (17 January) and Culloden (16 April). Waverley needs time to make the sober reflections which are part of his growing-up process; but that time cannot be measured against the stern calendar of 1746. In the novel, history and romance come together for the second half of 1745. After that, history recedes into the background and there are no specific time references. The time at the end of the novel is personal time, not historic time. At its end the novel moves out of the orbit of history, and many readers have made no demur.

What I have referred to as the end of the novel starts at volume III, chapter 23. It is the chapter after the death of Fergus Mac-Ivor and it starts with a passage of transition from history to romance, and from content to closure:

The impression of horror with which Waverley left Carlisle, softened by degrees into melancholy, a gradation which was accelerated by the painful, yet soothing, task of writing to Rose; and, while he could not suppress his own feelings of the calamity, by endeavouring to place it in a light which might grieve her, without shocking her imagination. The picture which he drew for her benefit he gradually familiarized to his own mind, and his next letters were more cheerful, and referred to the prospects of peace and happiness which lay before them.

(p. 329)

This is a short history of survival. Without going fully into the delicate distinction that Scott makes in the words ‘which might grieve her, without shocking her imagination’, it could be said that the death of Fergus is described in a way to make it endurable. The description intended for Rose is then adopted by Waverley himself. The placing of the passage seems to indicate that the reader is invited to accept it too.

I have tried to describe some ways in which the end of Waverley might be read. One cannot do so, however, without reflecting on just what historical event it was that Scott subordinated at the end of the novel, the battle of Culloden.

Scott's own views are well enough known. He declared himself to have been ‘a valiant Jacobite at the age of ten years old’.6 In his autobiographical fragment he wrote, after mentioning Culloden: ‘One or two of our own distant relations had fallen on that occasion, and I remember detesting the name of Cumberland [the Hanoverian commander] with more than infant hatred.’7 In adult life his judgement ‘inclined for the public weal to the present succession’, but he never swore the oaths required of magistrates, which involved ‘abjuring the Pretender’, without ‘a qualm of conscience’.8 In his fiction, Waverley is the nearest he ever came to writing about the battle of Culloden. Of his other Jacobite novels, Rob Roy (1817) is set earlier in the century; Redgauntlet (1824) and “The Highland Widow” (1827) later. He did, however, write about Culloden in his non-fiction, in two reviews9 and in the history of Scotland which he wrote for his grandson, Tales of a Grandfather.

Despite the fact that it was ‘Sixty Years Since’ (almost seventy by the date of publication) the '45 was not an easy matter to treat in a novel. The reviewer for The Antijacobin Review noted that ‘the writer takes upon himself a task of peculiar delicacy, and attended with peculiar difficulty.’ The delicacy was caused by the possibility of a lingering sensitivity to the political loyalties displayed in the novel. The reviewer congratulates the novelist:

The author, however, has performed this difficult task with considerable skill and ability, steering clear of every thing which could give offence to the reigning family, and yet not disgracing himself by the sacrifice of truth, or by the abject servility of a time-serving parasite.10

By the time Scott wrote, various ways of referring to the '45 had been established. Whig rejoicing at the removal of the threat to the Hanoverian succession had been countered by the development of the Jacobite lyric, to which Burns made a distinguished contribution, in which the defeated Prince is described in the highly-charged language of love-poetry.11 In Waverley, Scott side-steps this tradition: he presents a picture of the Jacobite claimant which is both sympathetic and astringent. The novel is not Jacobite in the political sense: it does not wish for a different monarch nor does it romanticise the dispossessed heir. The much-romanticised escape of the Prince after Culloden is alluded to only in the briefest manner in Waverley (p. 325). The way that the battle of Culloden was described in the late eighteenth century depended on the politics of the writer. To illustrate one can compare the Whig travel writer, Thomas Pennant, and the Tory, Samuel Johnson. Here is Pennant describing his visit to Culloden: ‘Passed over Culloden Moor, the place that North Britain owes its present prosperity to, by the victory of April 16, 1746.’12 After a reference to the aftermath of the battle he remarks: ‘But let a veil be flung over a few excesses consequential of a day, productive of so much benefit to the united kingdoms.’ Johnson's travel book about Scotland was written partly in answer to Pennant. In his reflections on the condition of the Highlanders in 1773, the year of his tour, he sees them as a conquered people: ‘Their pride has been crushed by the heavy hand of a vindictive conqueror’.13 Yet his references to Culloden itself are reticent. Restraint, almost silence, is perceptible in both Johnson and Scott when writing of the battle which signalised the change they record in Highland society. There is in the work of both writers then and now, and reticence over what caused the difference between them.

This sense of a watershed is present in Scott's Jacobite works which are set after 1745. In both Redgauntlet and “The Highland Widow” there are indomitable characters who seek to deny the realities of the post-Culloden world; in both works, the younger generation has to try to come to terms with the world as it is. A momentous event in the past divides the generations. In Waverley, Scott's first novel, he came dangerously near to that event to which he elsewhere only alludes. When he took Jacobite subject-matter in later works he distanced it so that he merely had to indicate a source in the past of grief and dispossession, one which is the more powerful for being indicated rather than specified.

Culloden is Scott's watershed. And it is largely absent from his fiction. In Waverley, Scott presents a pre-Culloden view of the Highlands. Reviewers noticed that, and appreciated it.14 They too did not allude to what had destroyed this world. The reader of Waverley is not simply reading about a society outside his or her experience; but a society that once was and no longer is. The novel is reticent about the battle of Culloden, but because of the vantage point of narrator and reader sixty or more years later, the silence is eloquent. It is out of the silence, and the gap in time, that the subject-matter comes, the loss of a culture. The unspoken in Waverley is heavy with mythical significance.

Waverley was published in 1814. Romanticism is frequently described as giving renewed value to traditional cultures. Scott in Waverley portrayed the paradigmatic destroyed culture. He presented Highland Scotland to our consciousness as Troy had been to the classical world: as the value-charged place which was destroyed. Scott's contribution to the modern consciousness was to write what hostile commentators present as a small rebellion-turned-civil-war as a modern myth. It was the story of the Europe of the Napoleonic wars, and is the story in perhaps all the continents in the modern world, where the history of the dominant culture is written on top of the unwritten histories of the smaller cultures it defeated. I started by suggesting that the question of the battle of Culloden depended on how we read a historical novel. I suggest now that it is a matter of how the novel reads the modern world. The ‘absent’ battle of Culloden is the fact that is most centrally present in Waverley.


  1. Walter Scott, Tales of a Grandfather, 3rd series (Edinburgh, 1830), vols II and III; John Prebble, Culloden (London, 1961); Bruce Lenman, The Jacobite Risings in Britain 1689-1746 (London, 1980); Jeremy Black, Culloden and the '45, (Stroud, 1990).

  2. Walter Scott, Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since, ed. Claire Lamont (Oxford, 1981), p. 4; hereafter by page references in the text.

  3. Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Baltimore and London, 1974), p. 98.

  4. Iser, p. xii.

  5. The date is given as ‘the 20th’. The battle of Prestonpans was fought early on the morning of 21 September 1745. Scott's error probably arose from a sentence in the book he was consulting for the details of the battle, John Home, The History of the Rebellion in the year 1745 (London, 1802), p. 112. It is curious that Scott does not give the month, which was September; presumably an oversight, unless he expected his reader to know it or thought the reference to frosty autumn weather told all that was needed.

  6. In a letter to Robert Surtees, 17 December, 1806: The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. H. J. C. Grierson (London, 1932-7), Letters 1787-1808, p. 343.

  7. J. G. Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (Edinburgh, 1837-8), I, 18.

  8. In a letter to Margaret Clephane, 13 July, 1813: Letters 1811-1814, pp. 302-3.

  9. In his reviews of The Culloden Papers and of The Life and Works of John Home in The Quarterly Review, XIV, 1816, and XXXVI, 1827.

  10. The Antijacobin Review, XLVII (1814), p. 218.

  11. William Donaldson, The Jacobite Song: Political Myth and National Identity (Aberdeen, 1988).

  12. Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland MDCCLXIX (London, 1771), p. 158.

  13. Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, ed. Mary Lascelles (Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, New Haven, 1971), p. 89.

  14. E.g., the reviewer in the British Critic, ns II (1814), pp. 189-211; and Francis Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review, XXIV (1814), pp. 208-43; both reprinted in John O. Hayden, Scott: The Critical Heritage (London, 1970), pp. 68-9 and 80.

Paul Hamilton (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10899

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 problem of recovering a universal subject-matter in front of a modern audience sensitive to contemporary generic options. Like Friedrich Schlegel, Scott characterizes his audience as “this critical generation.” Like Wordsworth, he wishes to restore an understanding of “the human heart” through a historically colored reading of “the great book of nature, the same through a thousand editions” (5). Cervantes and Calderon, favorites of the romantic ironists, provide him with a background of larger, fashionable models of novelistic understanding. During his Jacobite experiences, Edward Waverley frequently feels that la vida es suena, a dream from which he awakes like Coleridge's Wedding Guest, “A sadder and a wiser man” (170, 296). But if its allusions to contemporary literary expectations suggest Schlegel's ironic reflexivity, does Waverley also share Schlegel's agenda for deploying this ironic understanding as the one best suited to representing an age whose most tendentious political event was the French Revolution? In his Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, Scott describes the French Revolution as “peremptorily necessary and inevitable” insofar as it recovered rights and liberties alienated during the breakdown of feudalism.1 Here, Lukács could have found ample justification for reading into Scott's novels “necessary anachronisms” for exhibiting “the prehistory of the present.”2 Despite the Schlegelian ironies, though, Lukács wishes us to transpose from Schlegel to Goethe and Hegel. We must move into the orbit of a typifying model of historicism distanced from the immediate realities of the French Revolution, either as French experience or as English spectacle. To tie Scott's patriotism, for example, more closely to what might be his contemporary class interests is, Lukács famously claims, to pander to “vulgar sociologists”; it is to lose the wider perspective of The Historical Novel in which Scott is the novelist of revolutionary crises in general, and so to lose, also, the novelist of “human capacities” definitively displayed for Lukács in such upheavals (53).

Lukács appears, then, to return to Scott's concept of “the human heart” announced at the start of Waverley as the ideal text from which the novel will translate. In effect he recovers Coleridge's praise for Scott's depiction of “the two great moving principles of social humanity”; his romantic reader keys into a universal humanism which overcomes any dialectic of historical difference. Lost in this submission to Scott's romantic ideology is any sense of Scott's, or Lukács', relativism. The local tactics of Lukács' Hegelian period, with its dramatic appropriation of high art to its side of the argument, no doubt explain his comparatively uncritical identifications. Sacrificed, though, is a feeling for the way in which Scott's romantic reach for the universal might be specific to a historical moment of self-understanding, and, less obviously, the way in which such universalism masks his own local incoherencies in managing the representations of revolution. If we return to Schlegel as the intended ironic reader of Scott's dilemma we can certainly recuperate Scott's historicism. For the romantic ironist, crises in representation are the means by which what fails to be represented is alternatively evoked. Recently, though, the post-structuralist road out of this self-righting romantic ideology has aggressively questioned the nature of such alternative figuration: to find, instead of an allegory of revolution, an allegory of reading. In such crises we are made aware not of the difference between writing and something outside writing, but between one form of writing and another; the critical moment simply raises our consciousness of the versatility or generic vocabulary required of the reader. In other words, failure in representation turns out to be a kind of writing and nothing more. The ironists are neither failing more authentically than this, nor are they describing a new mimesis of the recalcitrant event: they are merely switching literary kinds or genres. This deconstructive formulation is an anachronism beyond even Scott's powers. In Waverley, however, it is through an incipient critique of romantic irony that the text's historicism produces its own moment.

James Hogg, mascot and butt of Scott and the young Blackwood's Tories, claims in his justifiably class-conscious Familiar Anecdotes of Sir Walter Scott that Scott “had a settled impression in his mind that a revolution was impending over this country even worse than that we have experienced.” This “dread of revolution,” if Hogg was right, localizes Scott's Lukácsian interest in discovering an explanatory revolutionary pattern in history. Now this concern looks like his displacement of an analysis he feared to apply to the present. However, the nervousness may not arise from Scott's belief that the Revolutionary analysis did presently apply, but from some underlying sense that his compulsion to apply it figured all too accurately an hiatus in his historical understanding. For example, his Journal entries for October 1831 record his quite fantastic fears that the Fitz Clarences might be proclaimed heirs by a Royalist party opposed to reform, unfolding a plot which “would be Paris all over.” This conspiracy would be foiled only if the Duke of Wellington absconded to the Highlands with the young Princess Victoria and raised the loyal standard there. As a Tory argument against reform, this beats most, and defeats ironic redemption in any genre I know. In my reading, the novels do confirm Hogg's private view; they contradict Scott's airy public remarks on contemporary political agitation and reproduce an incoherence which could have provoked the anxious consignment of his Revolutionary analysis to the past.3

Waverley enjoys a kind of writing in which the narrative of revolution figures the intrusion of an otherness beyond recuperation: by that I mean a subject-matter which remains unassimilable to the aesthetic forms of organization supposed to make sense of it. What I have in mind works mostly in the following way. Waverley is ostensibly critical of romanticism, the romanticism of its young hero, Edward Waverley, and of the Jacobite cause constitutionally attractive to someone of this disposition. Yet romanticism turns out to be the very stuff of the Jacobite rebellion, the deep truth for which the narrative must find an image. The narrator disingenuously tells us that “it is not our purpose to intrude upon the province of history” (263), a sleight of hand unmasked when he also tells us, after Waverley's Jacobite adventure, “that the romance of his life was ended, and that its real history had now commenced” (283). The real history of the Jacobites presented here is one of misplaced romance: chivalric, visionary and imaginary—the “great game” (274) of Charles Edward Stewart and the feminine genius of Flora Mac-Ivor. Waverley hovers or “wavers” between alternatives, enjoying a well-endowed “indolence” (in the Baron Bradwardine's Latin gloss on Tory leisure [57]) as richly indeterminate as that of any romantic ironist. The Chief of the Mac-Ivors, Fergus, also describes his class as living a life of irony under legislation which allows the Highlander “a sword which he must not draw, a bard to sing of deeds which he dare not imitate,—and a large goat-skin purse without a louis-d'or to put into it” (103). The clans, simmering on the edge of rebellion, frequently demonstrate to Waverley and the reader their own self-government, a legislation unacknowledged by the Hanoverians, but about to be put into visionary practice in '45 under the romantic Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart. It is a romantic discourse which turns the Jacobite entitlement de jure, as Waverley's uncle Sir Everard saw it, into one de facto, thus pretending to create a political solution in typical romantic fashion by finding a necessity for it in the realm of ideas (25).

The romantic discourse of Scott's novels, then, is perhaps not imaginative simply because the pastness of its subject-matter obliges it to be so. Imagination may be more partisan than that. The novels' consciously imaginative reconstructions, even in the most painterly of the set-pieces, are never innocent, always uncanny. Retrospectively they turn out to have been part of a plot. The naive spectator of Fergus Mac-Ivor displaying his troops or of a Highland deer-hunt is always implicated and potentially incriminated by an ulterior purpose. Display turns out to have been military manoeuver, the hunt a clandestine mustering of the clan chiefs. Hospitality in a reiver's cave, described with a deceptive drop from the romantic picturesque of Salvator Rosa to a realistic register, later transpires to have been Edward's cunningly wrought undoing by Donald Bean Lean. With Gothic regularity, the ordinary and familiar prove to have contained another meaning. But, more than this, the imaginary character of reconstruction has had a part to play in the novel's historical recall, both interpreting the events so described and historicizing that interpretation. The narrator claims that:

I have embodied in imaginary scenes, and ascribed to fictitious characters, a part of the incidents which I then received from those who were actors in them. Indeed, the most romantic parts of this narrative are precisely those which have a foundation in fact.


But this attempt to lock romanticism in the archive, and to restrict its sense of history as play or drama to “Sixty Years Since,” produces its own uncanny when it resurfaces as Scott's description of revolution in his own time. Scott seems to follow Lord Kames and a host of Scottish Enlightenment theorists when he describes the literary as “that internal sorcery by which past or imaginary events are presented in action, as it were, to the eye of the muser” (17). But the Enlightenment deals in a universal, animal psychology contrasting with Scott's highly topical institutional sensitivity to the adequacy of any mode of representation to epochal change. Scott discovers, I would suggest his formulation here implies, that the literary impugns the object with which it intends to legitimate its imaginative authority. Critical breakdown in the intentional structure of the romantic image is already there to be elicited in Waverley.4

One of the more persuasive emphases of recent criticism of romanticism has been to improve our understanding of the extent to which its matrix concept, “romance,” was especially unstable in Scott's time, peculiarly fraught with a burden of self-criticism arising from its conspicuous literariness. In the Reviews, Scott's problematic conjunction of Romance and History was frequently discussed, but in terms of his tailoring of their respective proprieties to a new kind of writing: once more, that is, in terms of irony, of recuperation of referential failure within another genre, of the intentional structure of the romantic image. Hazlitt was unusual in anticipating the critical effort perhaps most helpful today. He too steps outside the economy of irony to recover political meanings effaced by irony's exculpation of historical failure:

Through some odd process of servile logic, it should seem, that in restoring the claims of the Stuarts by the courtesy of romance, the house of Brunswick are more firmly seated in point of fact, and the Bourbons, by collateral reasoning, become legitimate! In any other point of view, we cannot conceive how Sir Walter imagines ‘he has done something to revive the declining spirit of loyalty’ by these novels. His loyalty is founded on would-be treason: he props the actual throne by the shadow of rebellion.5

There are no allegories of reading, no saving generic innovations countenanced here. Hazlitt attributes a crudely Legitimist motive to Scott's contrariness. He does not, however, raise the question of whether or not the servility of Scott's logic could indicate a crisis in historiography rather than merely Scott's own tendentious evasion of historiographical responsibility. Yet we can, surely, share Hazlitt's sense of something gone irrecoverably wrong here without having to believe that a shift to Hazlitt's own contradictory stance—Napoleonic radicalism—would restore the authority of historical description.

How might Waverley's ostensible critique of romanticism generate a positive representation of history? In Waverley, the generous ironies of Wordsworthian idleness or Keatsian indolence register a local class inflection. The “dignified indolence” of Edward's Tory uncle, Sir Everard, goes with his “narrative old age,” an undemocratic preservation of the past in a medium “the very reverse of amber, which, itself a valuable substance, usually includes flies, straws and other trifles” (9, 15). Edward's romantic lucubrations clearly share a sublimating mechanism with Sir Everard's selective historical understanding. Both, although suspected as the etherialization of history by imagination, are sure signs of a landed leisure grown precious under the pressure of the times. “A lettered indolence,” Flora Mac-Ivor contemptuously calls Waverley's elegant background, temporarily forgetful of the leisured situation forced on her as a woman but necessary for her own cultivation of the culture of the Gael. Flora is impatient with a poetry which does not appear to be practically and politically imperative, simultaneously conjuring rebellion and nationhood. Of course what seems to her a poetry of velleity is precisely the reality of her Jacobite allegiance from the novel's perspective “Sixty Years Since.” Eventually she can only experience this realism as tragedy. Contemplating her brother's impending execution, she discovers that a fanciful truth has ceased to represent cultural self-fashioning; it has separated out once more into its originally incompatible categories: “I do not regret his [Fergus Mac-Ivor's] attempt because it was wrong … but because it was impossible it could end otherwise than thus” (323). Because, that is, it was an impossible attempt; because although “I ought” may imply “I can,” de jure can never be a deduction de facto, as the most sceptical Scottish Hanoverian Tory of them all, David Hume, had proved in a publication of 1739, largely ignored at the time.

In Waverley, then, literature seems inherently romantic, and is so in the reading-experience of any of the characters. Literature's visionary and imaginary allegiances are what make it expert in delineation of the '45 rebellion. This happens through a double movement which enhances literature's historical mimesis by restoring it, within the same realist account, to its own status of what can never be. Yet within this ironic delineation of romantic action, critical of Jacobite characters through its realistic application to them, lie the seeds of a further critique. To view irony as a successful alternative to representation, as a kind of “higher” realism, effaces another kind of contemporary history whose literariness records its failure not its enrichment; a history which inculcates in us the sceptical sense of being determined to view things in such a way that a deceptive fictional coherence occurs. Again, it is helpful to recall Hume's static epistemological scepticism, in contrast to the dynamic scepticism of Schlegelian irony. Consistent with Waverley's Burkean grasp of the history of revolution, is its relinquishing of Kant's supposed advance on Humean philosophy: it reverts from the logical necessity of believing in valid representation to Hume's strictly psychological explanation of why we do so.

Philosophically considered, Hume's external world is experienced only as psychological necessity; a compulsion from whose potential uncanny we have to be rescued by the ordinariness of convivial company and billiards. Furthermore, denied the power to represent, Hume's epistemology does not even figure an external world but is a figure of that alternative to representation. Its success is in giving an image of what it might be like to liken one thing to another from among an actually unconnected stream of impressions. We are thus placed at as uncanny a remove from our figurations as from our representations. In fact, for Hume, the world-building resemblances we are compelled psychologically to imagine between impressions are themselves internal impressions, and so, by a disabling reversal, add to the numbers from which they are meant to abstract.6

Waverley's aestheticization of the Jacobite rebellion connects this philosophical defeatism with a Burkean history by defaillance. This history was epitomized for Scott's generation by Burke's valorization—feminized, victimized, Gothic—of the fleeing Marie Antoinette as the bearer of real historical significance, figured as compulsion, rather than active pursuit. The implication is that change or history can sometimes only be grasped in a kind of understanding which abandons claims to mastery, even the mastery residing in an ironic superiority to ironic failure. History, for once, is the story of the defeated, not the victors. Otherness, then, is not the outer edges of what we must know, but the alienation of what we do know without any ironic compensation. The Schlegelian tactic of conceding that our representations are incomplete and fanciful may itself be the fiction by which is masked Hume's and Burke's deeper truth—the utter incommensurability of contemporary events and their history. Radical condemnation of Burkean rhetoric repeated Paine's attack on its “chivalric nonsense.” But Burke's heroine remains a target for Hazlitt, perhaps because he realizes that Radicals had to press home their attack to counter the historicist irony otherwise available to Tories: the claim that the capitulation of Burkean history to rhetoric bypasses representational failure to figure successfully the adverse effect of the Revolution in alternative form. But Scott's novel suggests that Burke's pessimism went deeper than this, equating the imaginary mode his history was obliged to use with its own loss of authority. Arguably it is this tougher scepticism which is felt so sharply, for example, by Wordsworth at the end of the 1799 Prelude (repeated in Book 2 of the 1805 version), when he follows Coleridge's advice to make recuperation of the visionary mode the poem's aim.7


Writing in this vein is very different, I am arguing, from the optimism of an ironic discourse which, like Friedrich Schlegel's, was complicit with Revolutionary enthusiasm. However, the imbroglio of Revolutionary and romantic ideology can only be teased out strand by strand. Universal progressive poetry was not to be the method of those whose attempts at authoritative Revolutionary narrative were feminized as fanciful surrenders of mastery. Their figurings of determination by an otherness beyond textual recuperation returned the obliquest of ironies to the role of failed representation. A premise of this kind of historical discourse is that not only were genetic explanations or teleologies superficially similar to Scott's, like Hegel's, curtailed from the start; Schlegel's ostensibly more flexible irony was comparably deluded; or, delusion rather than provisionality was its prime significance. Schlegel's encouraging prospect of successive plenitudes made visible through a series of ironic disclaimers, a continually restructured consensus, gives way to Revolutionary divisions.8 Such modulations record changes in an ideology of progress. For Lukács, Scott was above all progressive. The contradictions of his allegiance to progress released him from selfish class-interest and gave his writing truly historical range, allowing it to be necessarily anachronistic in its prophecies of the present without ever becoming a narrowly partisan success story. More specifically, one might say that this is what characterizes Scott's historical narrative as Tory and distinguishes it from a Whig interpretation of history.

My point, contra Lukács, is that Scott's Tory freedom from Enlightenment logic and its romantic teleological successors is won at the cost of any philosophical control at all: his writing is disciplined simply as the description of that breakdown. His otherwise “servile logic” discredits rather than connives at its own romance. As Gary Handwerk has recently argued, Schlegel's irony is ultimately ethical, its exposure of the limitations of any single viewpoint the simultaneous establishment of a community of viewpoints, its paradoxes evocative of a wider intersubjective experience within a fundamentally Kantean economy (Handwerk 41-43). Tory historical narrative of the Revolution abandons this tendentiousness and, like our own contemporary revisionists, refuses to see the Revolution as the logical prosecution of a pre-existent bourgeois class interest.9 The interest and the class may have been there, but the revolution itself was a reactionary thing, sui generis, the spectacle of whose own momentum politicized the participants rather than vice versa. As William Doyle puts it baldly: “The principles of 1789 … cannot be identified with any one of the pre-revolutionary social groups.” He draws the only conclusion: “… the French Revolution had not been made by revolutionaries. It would be truer to say that the revolutionaries had been created by the Revolution” (Doyle, Origins 210, 213; see also Schama 62, 116). If this is true, or if a writer thinks so, narrative of a Lukácsian kind has had to give way to another: one which will forego the bold explanatory schemes it may appear to adopt for the rootless imaginings in which its failed authority lies.

Similarly, the changed emphasis of revisionist historians, attributing original Revolutionary agency to the ill-fated liberal nobility rather than the bourgeoisie, intensifies the picture of a rebellion so self-defeating as to render the notion of “agency” make-believe or imaginary. Revisionist stress on the reactionary and economically disastrous outcome of revolutionary initiatives does the same for historical causality. Simon Schama goes beyond Doyle to give more flamboyant shape to the thesis that the Revolution somehow abstracted itself from historical narrative to cast its own actors and tell its own story. The Revolution thus determined the political composition of its participants rather than vice-versa, rather in the way that public spectacle and art of the late 18th century could realize its audiences independently of inherited social decorum (Schama 124-25, 133, 181-82). Francois Furet had already written that the Revolution “marks the beginning of a theatre in which language freed from all constraints seeks and finds a public characterised by its volatility.” Indeed, the possibility that poetic spectacle might be a more appropriate genre for the historian of the French Revolution than sober chronology is a live issue for Carlyle and his reviewer, John Stuart Mill, as early as 1837.10

Unlike some other revisionists, and unlike Scott, Schama does not feel his authority as historian to be in conflict with his perception of the power of rhetoric and imagination to generate their own occasions. One can, as does Schama, imply method in the new formations by calling them “the cultural construction of a citizen”; but then his (post-modern?) point is that something “volatile” has taken over which allows “revolutionary utterance,” as he calls it, to escape from the determining “discourse” required by grand narratives of historiography, instead producing history by gossip and anecdote. Illuminating arbitrariness is thus the essence of Schama's truthful “chronicle” (xix-xv). Only if one was, like Scott, committed historiographically to some kind of progressive teleology, genetic or structuralist, would this concession appear embarrassing. Yet the alternative implied by Scott's writing is to take Revolutionary gossip as the norm, consequently to view history as something not in possession of its own explanations, and reflexively to describe this dilemma through the delusions of its actors and audiences to the contrary. As historians, Scott and Schama agree about a number of things, such as the Revolution's reaction against the modern, and the politicization of the financial crisis of the ancien régime rather than the crisis itself being of prime significance (Scott 1: 213-14, 105; Schama 47, 62). They differ where Scott (as I will elaborate in more detail) shows this crisis in historiography to be not redemptively historicist—so that the failure of historical grand narrative ironically becomes historically informative—but the Revolution's rebuff to historical understanding.

From this perspective, then, Lukács' patient recorder of gradual change and explicator of the long revolutionary march from feudalism to capitalism is ultimately disabled by a contemporary historical picture. The narrator of Waverley insists that the reader is “introduced to the character rather by narrative, than by the duller medium of direct description” (331). But my reading finds Scott's narrative art to be descriptive, its progressiveness frozen in scepticism, and its historicism in the character of its own times. After all, the passage in which this privileging of “narrative” over “description” occurs itself describes narrative, likening it to “the progress of a stone rolled down hill by an idle truant boy.” In his “Preliminary View of the French Revolution,” with which he begins his Life of Napoleon, Scott ascribes the same momentum to the Revolution, without the initiating figure of the romantic idler. The Parlements' refusal to levy the King's new taxes “was the first direct and immediate movement of that mighty Revolution, which afterwards rushed to its crisis like a rock falling down a mountain” (1: 105).11 Nevertheless, the implied author of the “Preliminary View,” the British spectator of the French Revolution and plotter of its narrative, cannot but appear as an idler by comparison with the active participants; and Scott concedes that after Burke's Reflections “the progress of the French Revolution seemed in England like a play presented on the stage” (1: 280-81). Again, the historical narrative requires a saving “higher” realism, both to compensate for its own concessions to the volatile nature of its subject, and to answer Radical criticism, from Paine to Hazlitt, of the histrionics of its Burkean rhetoric. But once more, as we shall see, there is a way of reading Waverley which critiques the saving ironies of historicism.


One can work towards a fuller sense of Scott's Revolutionary “play” through the character of the main heroine of Waverley, Flora Mac-Ivor. Initially, Flora seems sidelined by the interest in the clan chief, her brother Fergus. In good Scottish Enlightenment fashion, Waverley concentrates primarily on the genealogy and anthropology of feudal patriarchy, but silently maps Tory historiography of the French Revolution on to its novelistic account of the Jacobite rebellion, with all the conundrums for the former genetic historical explanation which this latter displacement entails. For Flora constantly outdoes her brother on his own terms, romanticizing and unrealizing his authority in a movement which first seems to contribute to and then to displace Fergus' framing of the novel's historical interpretation.

Her love of her clan, an attachment which was almost hereditary in her bosom, was, like her loyalty, a more pure passion than that of her brother. He was too much a politician, regarded his patriarchal influence too much as the means of accomplishing his own aggrandisement, that we should term him the model of a Highland chieftain.


Throughout the novel, Flora increasingly “models” the Jacobite interest, a role for which she is paradoxically fitted by her female lack of hereditary entitlement. She cannot escape the character of “romantic imagination” (101), fascinating to Waverley, a character whose political representativeness is enhanced by the novel the more impossibly she identifies with Jacobite patriarchy.

Her refusal to marry Edward stems from an excessive romanticism. Fergus laughs at the theatricality (109) which Maria Edgeworth thought a fault in Scott's characterization of Flora: “she should be far above all stage effect or novelistic trick.”12 But unrealistic presentation is the clue to her seriousness. Fergus dismisses her coyness with Edward as foolishness “in what regards the business of life” (132); but for Flora “the business” is political, not domestic, and her foolishness is his, distilled to its essence. She is “a triumphant spectator” of early Jacobite successes in a novel where, as already suggested, the spectator is always retrospectively implicated in the action. She finally tries explicitly to assume responsibility as a historical agent on the eve of Fergus' execution. She describes her idealism as gaining a practical application, but only to unrealize its own action: “there is a busy devil at my heart, that whispers—but it were madness to listen to it—that the strength of mind in which Flora prided herself has—murdered her brother” (322).

There is certainly a potential irony or higher realism here, in which Flora's paradox figures without representing the political inefficacy of the Jacobites. But justice has also to be done to Flora as the historical agent contemporarily figured as a disempowered woman whose action can only be experienced in the uncanny reversal of her idealism. To appreciate this timeliness more sharply, and with it the significant abdication implied by Scott's use of Flora as a kind of model of revolutions without a model, it is helpful to look further at the figure of the woman in some of the Revolutionary discourses of Scott's time, both pro- and anti-. The common feature is the denial of political efficacy to women in the face of apparently incontrovertible evidence.

The obvious example to pick is the march on Versailles of the 6th and 8th October 1789. Most accounts of the October days describe how a large body of Parisian working women marched to the Hotel de Ville and from there to the Palace of Versailles principally to demand that the King safeguard the supply of bread to Paris. Almost immediately, though, in both favorable and hostile accounts, the agency of the women is discredited. In the pejorative descriptions, a rhetoric in which Scott's “Preliminary View” participates, the women are either depicted as monsters—“half unsexed by the masculine nature of their employments, and entirely so by the ferocity of their manners” (Scott 1: 185)—through familiar abuse ascribing to them the supposedly male violence of furies, bacchantes, amazons and so on. Or else, they are prostitutes whose loose character not only makes them inherently untrustworthy, but lends credence to the idea that they were the easily bought instruments of others, not autonomous actors but suborned by the Duc d'Orleans. The most blatant detractions from the women's initiative come from accusations that many men disguised as women were the really effective agents provocateurs in their ranks. The murder of some of the National Guard at Versailles, before Lafayette came to the rescue, could then be safely ascribed by both conservative and radical writers either to men, or to women whose unnaturalness or hire by men effaced sexual difference.

The polemical cross-dressing of the character of Revolutionary women continues its politically ambiguous story up until about 1795. Feminism at that time, as now, crossed a number of social barriers, but not unproblematically. As Levy, Applethwaite and Johnson show in their collection and explication of the documentation of women in Revolutionary Paris from 1789-95, feminist interventions ranged from the Enlightened appeals of salon women for legal, educational and financial reforms to the spontaneous insurrections of the poissardes or market-women in response to immediate scarcities. The Société des Républicaines-Révolutionaires was a short-lived women's pressure-group at the lower end of this social register, but in 1793 it succeeded more than any other formation in aligning radical middle-class feminism with the interests of working women. Once more, the demise of this initiative comes in a discursive impasse in which feminist politics are rendered unthinkable. The Société was finally proscribed after a disturbance in which some of its members had tried to persuade the women of the Marché des Innocents to adopt the red pantaloons and bonnets of the Jacobins and Montagnards in their struggle against the Girondins. The report to the National Convention on this failed recruitment drive records that “a mob of nearly 4000 women gathered. All the women were in agreement that violence and threats would not make them dress in a costume [which] they respected but which they believed was intended for men.”13 The Convention duly banned the Société on the grounds that “a woman should not leave her family to meddle in affairs of government.” At the Paris Commune, Pierre Chaumette silenced a deputation of protesting républicaines by calling the bluff of their cross-dressing: “Since when is it permitted to give up one's sex?” (Women in Revolutionary Paris 220). Clearly, by showing her ability to perform as a political activist, a woman in those accounts loses out both ways—her sex impugns her activism or her activism her sex. Chaumette's play on these uncanny reversals reaches its climax in his casuistical disposal of the predictably embarrassing precedent of Jeanne d'Arc. She was only justified, it transpires, as a corrective to Royalist cross-dressing, as confirmation of a proleptic guillotine: “if the fate of France was once in the hands of a woman, that is because there was a king who did not have the head of a man” (Women in Revolutionary Paris 220). Within the regime of Revolutionary discourse, whether from counter-Revolutionary, Jacobin or eventually Thermidorean perspectives, female agency is ruled out of court and turned into costume theater through its alleged unnaturalness, vicariousness or inauthenticity. While this is a recurrent feature of patriarchy, it achieved such unusual intensity and visibility at this moment as to characterize for many the general problematic of Revolutionary action.

Scott, in his “Preliminary View,” described the egalitarianism of the French Revolution as “a gross and ridiculous contradiction of the necessary progress of society … a fruitless attempt to wage war with the laws of Nature.” Burke's response, according to Scott, had been one of colorful hyperbole which “ought to have been softened … On the other hand, no political prophet ever viewed futurity with a surer ken” (1: 213, 278-79). Burke's histrionics are excused as identifying the Revolution's lapsus naturae with its affront to historical logic. Within Scott's own writings, the Revolutionary aberration is corrected not only by the restoration of the Bourbons but by the resumption of a historian's confidence after a definite hiatus. Writing to Henry Francis Scott in January 1831, betraying his private tendency to identify Reform with Revolution, Scott is more forthcoming about that Revolutionary caesura in historical logic which Burke's imagination rushed to fill.

About 1792, when I was entering life, the admiration of the godlike system of the French Revolution was so rife, that only a few old-fashioned Jacobites and the like ventured to hint a preference for the land they lived in; or pretended to doubt that the new principles must be infused into our worn-out constitution. Burke appeared, and all the gibberish about the superior legislation of the French dissolved like an enchanted castle when the destined knight blows his horn before it. The talents, the almost prophetic powers of Burke are not needed on this occasion, for men can now argue from the past. We can point to the old British ensign floating from the British citadel; while the tricolor has been to gather up from the mire and blood—the shambles of a thousand defeats—a prosperous standard to rally under. Still, however, this is a moment of dulness and universal apathy, and I fear that unless an Orlando should blow the horn, it might fail to awaken the sleepers.14

Here, the initial evocation of the Jacobites as counter-Revolutionaries suggests, given Waverley, that you counter fantasy with fantasy, the unreal principles of radical projectors with a different kind of unreality. The untenable Jacobite claim therefore opposes the Revolution's rationalization of itself, but with a self-confessedly disreputable anachronism. This ambiguity shapes the characterization of Burke's prophecy as a kind of divinatory recourse before reasoning from the past can be rehabilitated. Burke, as “the destined knight,” is a character in the romance he is there to demystify. His effort, however successful its outcome, is compromised by the discourse in which it is obliged to identify its subject. That discourse is a dispensable makeshift before the power to argue inductively from the past is regained and the revolution can be understood as the prehistory of its own disaster, evincing the need for alternative, constitutional reform.

The last sentence, though, alluding to the impending Reform Bill, vindicates Hogg's “anecdotal view” of Sir Walter by having him suggest that another uncharted historical lacuna may be at hand. In his Journal, Scott described turning out to vote for Henry Scott in May of that year amid cries by the dissident Border weavers, “the bra lads of Jeddart,” of “Burke Sir Walter,” a slogan referring by an unintended but rich irony not to the great polemicist but to the fate of William Burke the murderer, Hare's collaborator, recently hanged in Edinburgh. The entry reads like a conflation of Edinburgh under the barbaric Highlanders and Revolutionary Paris agitating for uncountenanceable reforms.15

In a letter to Robert Southey of September 1824, Scott had asked his Tory friend:

By the way, did you ever observe how easy it would be for a good historian to run a par[a]lell betwixt the Great Rebellion and the French Revolution, just substituting the spirit of fanaticism for that of soi disant philosophy. But then how the character of the English would rise whether you considered the talents and views of great leaders on either side, or the comparative moderation and humanity with which they waged their warfare. I sometimes think an instructive comparative view might be made out, and it would afford a comfortable augury that the restoration in either case was followed by many amendments in the constitution.

(Letters viii: 376)

In Scotland, the “Great Rebellion” against Charles i lived on in resistance to the constitutional solution by the ultra-Presbyterian Covenanters. Scott's extended analysis of this, to his mind, unrealistic persistence is of course to be found in Old Mortality. In Waverley, though, there is a significant conjuncture in which a group of surviving Cameronian Covenanters serving the Whig cause is detailed to take Edward into custody to Stirling Castle. Mr. Morton, a moderate Presbyterian, recounts the history of Richard Cameron's sect to Edward while they await the Covenanting escort, recalling its “unnatural” support for the Catholic Jacobite opposition to the Union of the English and Scottish Parliaments in 1707 (169). Again, resistance to constitutional change creates analogies between otherwise dissimilar groups who, because they refuse to move with the times, share the same anachronistic, imaginary space. In giving these figures literary houseroom, Scott's fictions again characterize themselves as alternatives to historical explanation, or as places staging the fanciful interregnum between accredited historical discourses.

Chronologically, therefore, the intervening theater is inherently unstable. Edward, perceiving the leader of these belated Cameronians with his captor, Major Melville, “was irresistibly impressed with the idea that he beheld a leader of the Roundheads of yore, in conference with one of Marlborough's captains” (172). Characters are plucked from different periods of history in order to historicize a particular period: the different narratives thus invoked are absorbed in a single descriptive function. As we have seen, this tactic ostensibly belongs to a “higher realism” within history, comparable to that within romantic philosophy when irony is held to compensate for failures in representation. Here, failure of chronology is translated into history by analogy: a failure generating an ironic discourse in which anachronism informs just because of rather than in spite of its breaks with history's self-defining sequence. For Scott, this theatrical licence reaches its apogee, perhaps, when he stage-manages the Highland pageantry for George iv's visit to Edinburgh in 1822. Historicism competes so successfully with history on this occasion that the Hanoverian King wins applause as the Jacobite Pretender's successor, and the Tory Edinburgh Observer can announce that “we are now all Jacobites, thorough-bred Jacobites, in acknowledging George iv.”16 In the novel, however, it is an analogy Waverley draws with the new contemporary Revolutionary period which scotches the traditional romantic alibi. This final analogy evolves, as the narrator concedes, from what “may be held a trifling anecdote.” As Gifted Gilfillan and his motley, even quaint Cameronian volunteers march into Cairnvreckan to take Edward into custody, the drummer symptomatically falls far short of martial authority in his beating because he has been asked to accompany the 119th Psalm rather than any march known to the British army. The narrative waxes heavily sarcastic at the Covenanters' expense and then, in a final swipe, notes that “the drummer in question was no less than town-drummer of Anderton. I remember his successor in office a member of that enlightened body, the British Convention. Be his memory, therefore, treated with due respect” (171). The sarcasm implies continuity between the narrative and the “respect” Scott himself would have liked to have shown to the Scottish “Friends of the People” who organized the meetings of the “British Convention” in Edinburgh in 1792 and 1793. But Scott's analogy here needs prefacing with more about the knowledge he assumed when presenting his Covenanters.

The Covenanters fuel Scott's historicism with their displaced loyalties, uncanny alliances and anachronistic potential. When Charles ii disingenuously subscribed the two Covenants to secure Scottish support, the Covenanters threw their weight behind the Stuart cause and fought Cromwell at Dunbar in 1650. It was the residue of this interest which joined with the Jacobites against the Act of Union fifty seven years later. Extremes met in the two groups' opposition to the legacy of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which offered religious hegemony to neither. After 1688, the idea of a Whig was detached once and for all from its originals, the radical Covenanters of the Whiggamore raid on Edinburgh of 1648. The ideology of a new moderate Legitimacy deserving of support from Whig and Tory alike was established.

The incoherence covered by this consensus, however, is quite considerable. It provides the necessarily unreliable grounds for historians of 17th- and 18th-century England proposing their own controversial revisionism, a once more self-impugning (Tory) history, weirdly recalling Scott's Burkean moment. For instance, Jonathan Clark argues plausibly that after 1688, far from enforcing Jacobite submission to a new ideology, the successful Whigs accommodate the Jacobite “dynastic idiom” to bolster their monarchical idea. This strategy simultaneously explains the post-1688 consensus, why it lasted, and the ease with which people could change sides. The Whig settlement becomes indistinguishable from its opposite, and thus merits Dr. Johnson's verdict that “Whiggism is a negation of all principle.”17 Clark, however, feels no embarrassment in making this difference without distinction the test of his historical discrimination. He describes how public and cryptic loyalty are expressed in the same words, and in the same homiletic asseverations of monarchic allegiance (Clark, English Society 159). But, unlike Scott, he gives no sign of recognizing the threat to a history whose factual basis, the language of established loyalty, has therefore become as uncanny as any post-Freudian view of the normal. This is the Hanoverian Toryism inherited by Scott which represents an inadmissible division by lying about it: that is, by failing to represent it, employing instead a language whose dream-like, fantastic working mechanisms have been modelled from Freud to Lyotard as alternatives to representational theories of meaning. Scott clearly has an interest in locating this uncanny entirely in the Jacobite idiom or its extreme Covenanting counterpart. Nevertheless, the inherited contradiction in the original reconciliation of Tory and Whig will out, and surely resurfaces in the nonsense of Scott's Jacobite Hanoverian pageantry of 1822.

In his early novels, though, it is the Covenanting opposition to the Revolution Settlement which Scott presents as a fantastical equivalent to the Jacobites. Either party could therefore figure for him the reactionary wrong-headedness of contemporary radicalism. “Education and property,” progressive assimilation rather than an alternative “politics” outmoded by definition, were Scott's proclaimed remedies for lower-class discontent (Journal 28, 245, 678). The Covenanting spirit condenses into the democratic radicalism of Scott's own day, again because of rather than in spite of the anachronism involved.18 Scott, commenting on 1790s radicals and on post-war agitators, possesses the antiquarianism if not the zeal of an Old Mortality retouching the past. The historicism that makes sense of his anachronism is more fully developed in Old Mortality, where the Biblical jargon and plebian crudity of the Covenanters seem intended to cast them already in a primitive light. But it is in Waverley that we are first invited to imagine the saving ideological connection between past and present. The imaginary quality of this reenactment not only contrasts Scott's Hanoverian latitude with the dogmatic anachronisms of the Covenanters' Biblical applications to their own actions (259); it also allows his writing to imply room for critical manoeuver beyond the historicist solution.

To fill out the modern end of Scott's sarcastic analogy between Covenanters and French-inspired radicals we must remember that in the early 1790s Scotland was used as a testing-ground for how far Government repression against the latter could go. It was, E. P. Thompson claims, the prospect of “an alliance between English and Scottish reformers and the United Irishmen that determined the Government to act.”19 The National Conventions of 1792-93 to which Scott alludes seemed to offer at least the first half of that possibility, an alliance between Scottish and English radicals. The ferocious Scottish judges, of whom Lord Braxfield (the dedicatee of Scott's thesis for the Faculty of Advocates) became the most famous, went into action, and deportations and executions quickly followed. The potential for a further alliance with the United Irishmen was experienced by Scott in all its implausibility at the playhouse. In the “Preliminary View,” the description of the way in which the French Revolution appeared like a play to English spectators continues with a description of the theater-goers themselves, which actually incorporates his own experience.

From this period the progress of the French Revolution seemed in England like a play presented upon the stage, where two contending factions divide the audience, and hiss or applaud as much from party spirit as from real critical judgement, while every instant increases the probability that they will try the question by actual force.

(i: 280-81)

This is what Scott himself did in 1794, conspiring with other hearty young Tory friends to beat up Irish medical students who had been disrupting performances with vociferously anti-loyalist sentiments. Scott and other ringleaders of the playhouse riot had to find bail and were bound over to keep the peace (Letters i: 30; Johnson i: 102). Scott later writes of the Radical War and the Boroughmuir Skirmish of 1820 much in the spirit of his 1790s escapades:

the whole Radical plot went to the devil when it came to gun and sword … the Edinburgh young men showed great spirit … Lockhart is one of the cavalry and a very good trooper. It is high to hear these young fellows talk of the raid of Airdre, the trot of Kilmarnock, and so on, like so many moss-troopers.

(Letters vi: 234-35, 209)

It is the same unpleasant mixture of high japes for the educated youth playing at militias and hangings for the lower-class radicals.

However, the 1794 brawl grows in seriousness when one discovers that later in the same year it is cited at the trial for high treason of Robert Watt, as “one link of the scheme” for which he is sent to the gallows. To find the life of irony, the theater, realistic in this instance is surely to connive at injustice. The brawl's significance should instead have been to reflect on the admissibility of the evidence on which he was condemned for conspiring to foment “a general rising in Edinburgh.” Watt was an unreliable witness, an ex-Government spy alleged to have joined the cause he was investigating. The most lurid, unconvincing but deadly testimony comes from his own confession. The charge that he and others plotted to establish a provisional Republican government in Edinburgh, armed with a few pikes, in concert with London Corresponding Society activists such as Hardy, Thelwall, Holcroft and others, seems risible.20 Yet Scott, who stayed in town specifically to witness Watt's execution, ingenuously thought that, on the scaffold, “the pusillanimity of the unfortunate victim was astonishing, considering the boldness of his nefarious plans” (Letters i: 34-35). The theatricality common to Scott's violent overthrow of sedition in an Edinburgh playhouse and the revolting spectacle of an exemplary execution could only be thought of as the realistic exercise of justice in a state which was corrupt.


Like other leaders of the Scottish culture of his day, Scott was a trained lawyer, and one might expect there to be a detectable symmetry in the economies of his legal, aesthetic and historical discourses. Latitude in interpretation of the universal rule of law, such as exonerates exemplary or deterrant exceptions, is as likely to produce opportunism and tyranny as it is to lead to liberal discretion. The power of a judicial institution to survive its failure to implement its own principles does not necessarily redeem its practice, no more than irony necessarily saved epistemological breakdown, nor historicism failures in historical narrative. My insistence on recognizing collapses in the intentionalism of these discourses is finally focused by the pronouncements of two characters within different discourses, legal and novelistic—one a judge, the other a fictional victim of exemplary justice.

Lord Swinton, one of Braxfield's henchmen, remarked during the trial of Thomas Muir, leader of the Scottish Friends of the People, that since sedition included “every sort of crime … If punishment adequate to the crime … were to be sought for, it could not be found in our law, now that torture is happily abolished” (E. P. Thompson 136). Swinton's statement, regretfully one imagines, identifies the romantic failsafe in contemporary legal discourse. He acknowledges that there is no longer a motivated relationship of retribution or fit between punishment and crime. This, “happily,” is the reason for the law's leniency in only transporting Muir to an early death. Yet it is precisely the new measure of justice, taking over from the old representational theory, which licenses the law's use as a Government tool, increasing its scope to the point of oppression. This is the other, darker side of that Burkean view of the law learned by Scott from the lectures of Baron David Hume, in which constitutionalism takes precedence over moral principle, and the law's function as a register of social cohesion identifies its nature more surely than do principles of natural justice. At the end of that road, we find the excesses of Braxfield, discounting Jesus as a justly hanged reformer, and the taking of Joseph Gerrald's able defense as proof positive of his danger to the State and as justification for condemning him to deportation.21

Toward the end of Waverley, Fergus Mac-Ivor contemplates his fate under a law by which, according to Swinton's judgment, the punishment still fits the crime of high treason. Fergus is quite clear that his execution at Carlyle by hanging, drawing and quartering will last “a short half hour.” He also notes that such torture was not a penalty originally belonging to Scottish law but imposed by England after 1707. Fergus' speech at this moment provides us with a means of seeing through Swinton's sophistry to the way in which, under pressure of coping with the Revolution, the exercise of law, however much it clings to a notion of fitting retribution, collapses into instrumental theatricality of a piece with the aberration it is putting down.

“This same law of high treason”, he continued, with astonishing firmness and composure, “is one of the blessings, Edward, with which your free country has accommodated poor old Scotland—her own jurisprudence, as I have heard, was much milder. But I suppose that one day or other—when there are no longer any wild Highlanders to benefit by its tender mercies—they will blot it from their records, as levelling them with a nation of cannibals.”


The legal principle, then, is conveniently effaced, along with the people whom it was its actual purpose as social engineering to devour. Mac-Ivor, though, sees what an ass all this realpolitik makes of the law. He continues, “The mummery, too, of exposing the senseless head—they have not the wit to grace mine with a paper coronet; there would be some satire in that, Edward” (326). A law which refuses to acknowledge its own polemical, ideological design is like a “mummery” which stops short of “satire”; its departure from its own principles is unexonerated by rhetorical compensation in another genre.


Fergus' execution is not witnessed by Edward. The narrative sends Mac-Ivor out of sight under “a deep and dark Gothic arch-way” to his death and remains with Edward. Its silence or blindness here is perhaps its most open admission of the force of its failure to represent the process of revolution. The words with which Mac-Ivor reprieves Edward from the culminating spectacle of his rebellion epitomize literally the instabilities and reversals with which a spectator is undermined: “But what a dying man can suffer firmly, may kill a living friend to look upon” (326).

We have to be careful in deciphering what is rhetorically at stake here. The empowering of spectacle is at the expense of the objectivity of difference. The distance necessary for us to understand power rather than be subject to it is erased. Words which kill have failed to represent. Scott's finally reticent narrative fails to represent this failure of representation which, as theorized by a modern revisionist historian of the Revolution like Francois Furet, is the Revolution in its contemporary characterizations, for and against. Furet argues in explicitly Rousseauistic manner that in the pre-Thermidor period, especially during Robespierre's ascendancy, “language was substituted for power, for it was the sole guarantee that power would belong only to the people, that is, to nobody.” The “basic nature” of revolutionary consciousness was “an imaginary discourse on power” generated when “the field of power, having become vacant, was taken over by the ideology of pure democracy, that is by the idea that the people are power, or that power is the people” (Furet 48, 54). Rousseau's unrepresentable general will is imagined in a performative language recognized by devotees and detractors alike. The crisis of representation perceived by Burke to be consequent on the legitimate representatives' loss of power, precipitating his own history's loss of mastery, is related to the Revolution's own discourse about itself. Critique and defense are housed within the same problematic: the more authentic, the more imaginary. This is the confused performance in which Waverley finally refuses to participate.

In Furet's scenario, both supporters and antagonists appear locked into the same “revolutionary ideology” which, he argues, also characterizes the work of the first historians of the Revolution: “amazement at the strangeness of the phenomenon” (Furet 84). Imprisonment by this idea of a radical break with the past, one unintelligible unless as the imagined reincarnation of a temporally discontinuous period (Robespierre's republicanism, Scott's Jacobitism), was of course exactly Marx's target in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and elsewhere. He both characterized and attacked the persistent reproduction of the French Revolution as a unique break with the past which set the ground rules for all revolutions to come.22 Blindness to the historicism and ideological coloring of this interpretation reduces, Marx claims, its later proponents to parody. To see their farcical degeneration also as the apt characterization of their historical moment is to turn historicist recuperation into something indistinguishable from its failure. It is like the Hanoverian Jacobites all over again: Scott's pageantry of 1822 for George iv parodies his novel of 1814, in the way that Louis' coup in 1851 parodies, pace Marx, almost sixty years since.

Revolutionary ideology parallels romantic ideology in its power to coerce its interpreters into seeing its problematic entirely on its own terms. More precisely, both ideologies share an incorrigible intentionalism which unerringly finds its object. Scott's Waverley exposes this common structure and, in his inaugural novel, preserves ideological incoherencies from being utterly obscured by the saving realisms of irony and historicism. Later, his writing could succumb to those recuperations, as in the sentimentalized success of a Jeanie Deans; or in the unconsciously parodic working-up of Jacobite interest again in Redgauntlet's unhistorical figure of a portly revenant, Charles Edward Stuart, in his priest's frock, twenty years on. Redgauntlet was published only two years after Scott's “fat friend,” George iv, came so implausibly into his Jacobite inheritance in Edinburgh.23 Darsie Latimer's cross-dressing in the same novel adds to the farcical mockery of the Revolutionary figure of female agency in Charles' disguise. In Waverley, though, the imaginary treatment of an historical subject still counts as an insuperable paradox: one in which otherness is evoked, not through successful irony, but through a sense of the novel's having been determined by it in such a way as to misdescribe it.

To summarize, then: Scott on the French Revolution is not Lukács' geneticist. The displaced narrative of Waverley shows him to be an historicist. But his historicism expresses the failure of geneticism, not its recuperation in another genre. His ironic use of the imaginary does not save but emphasizes his failure to represent this period in history, finally refusing even the ideological glossing of that failure, offered by both sides, as Revolutionary epistemological break. The quarrel between geneticism and historicism is still alive in the writings of our contemporary historians of the French Revolution, visible in the tripartite debates between revisionists, proponents of the old geneticist view of a bourgeois Revolution, and Marxist reformulations. Furthermore, in his use of the ironic imaginary Scott demonstrates an internal distance from romantic ideology as much as from Revolutionary ideology. In this he contributes to an anti-intentionalist strain in romantic writing which recent critical concentration, however salutary, on exposing the reach of romantic intentionalism has made it increasingly difficult to recognize.24


  1. Sir Walter Scott, The Life Of Napoleon Buonaparte, Emperor Of The French. With A Preliminary View Of The French Revolution. By The Author Of “Waverley”, &c. In Nine Volumes (Edinburgh: Ballantyne & Co., 1827) 1: 63. The edition of Waverley used throughout is edited by Claire Lamont (Oxford and NY: Oxford UP, 1986).

  2. Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, translated from the German by Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (London, 1962) 61-63.

  3. James Hogg, Memoirs of the Author's Life (1807) and Familiar Anecdotes of Sir Walter Scott (1834), ed. D. S. Mack (Edinburgh and London: Scottish Academy Press, 1972) 129, 132; The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, ed. W. E. K. Anderson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972) 644.

  4. See especially, Paul de Man, “Form and Intent in the American New Criticism,” “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” both reprinted in the second edition of Blindness and Insight, Introductions by Wlad Godzich (London: Methuen, 1983) 20-36, 187-229, and “The Intentional Structure of the Romantic Image,” originally published in French in 1960, revised English version reprinted in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia UP, 1984). There is a good, accessible exposition of de Man on intentionality in the first chapter of Tilottama Rajan's Dark Interpreter (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1980).

  5. William Hazlitt, “The Spirit of the Age” in Complete Works, ed. P. P. Howe (London, 1930-34) xi: 65. Amongst recent examinations of “romance” see Rajan and Marjorie Levinson, Keats's Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988).

  6. David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature (1739), ed. L. C. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1888, 1968) 264-65.

  7. William Wordsworth, The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. J. Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and S. Gill (New York and London: Norton, 1979) (1799) 2: 473-96; (1805) 2: 435-66. I take my view of Hazlitt here to complement David Bromwich's fine account of why “Hazlitt, alone of Burke's rivals, saw that an anti-rhetorical prejudice would be no help in defeating him,” Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1983) 292-96.

  8. See Gary J. Handwerk, Irony and Ethics in Narrative: From Schlegel to Lacan (New Haven: Yale UP, 1985) 15.

  9. Revisionism is usually described as starting with Alfred Cobban's inaugural lecture as Professor of French History at London University, “The Myth of the French Revolution” (1955), expanded as The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1964). Cobban's work is still abrasive enough to remain the presiding idea of very recent studies, like William Doyle's Oxford Book of The French Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989) and Simon Schama's Citizens (London: Viking, 1989). Henri Lefebvre, Albert Soboul and Claude Mazauric were the main targets for the brilliant French Revisionist, Francois Furet. Marxist reformulations rather than defenses of the idea of the “bourgeois” Revolution are propounded in G. Comminel's Rethinking the French Revolution, Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge (London: Verso, 1987). There are useful general summaries and introductions to this vast area of historiography going back, after all, to Tocqueville and Michelet, in the first chapter of Doyle's Origins of The French Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980) and in T. W. Blanning's The French Revolution: Aristocrats versus Bourgeois (London: Macmillan, 1987).

  10. Francois Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Elbourg Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981) 46; see Blanning 41-42. In his review of Carlyle's The French Revolution, John Stuart Mill attributes Carlyle's success to “showing” rather than “reasoning.” Mill worries, though, that Carlyle's spectacular epic power will replace entirely inductive reasoning from general principles (The London and Westminster Review [July, 1837] xxvii, 10: 27, 48). In his recent book on the subject of 19th-century spectacle, Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1983), Martin Meisel likens Carlyle to Scott and argues that “Carlyle's protagonist is the people as such,” therefore, we might add, Rousseau's unrepresentable general will, and so a moving force which Carlyle must strive to let us experience immediately. From Meisel's discussion it emerges that what Carlyle can represent is just this dilemma for representation: so a reality experienced in his undistanced way becomes one which we readers experience as if we were thrust into a play. Carlyle's realism, if we try to understand it through conventional oppositions of life and art, or spectacle and action, becomes self-defeating. “It is perhaps,” concludes Meisel, “only the reflective irony that keeps the style sane” (212-13).

  11. Marilyn Butler has pointed out (Studies in Romanticism 28, 3 [Fall 1989]: 345-46, 350-52) that Burke's “plot” is to foreclose other possible narratives of the Revolution, and that our postmodern use of narrative to unseat philosophical seriousness therefore connives at this pessimism, denying us academic critics and historians a voice as powerful as Burke's. My paper tries to keep visible the Troy condemnation of the Revolution as an event undermining all kinds of historiography.

  12. John O. Hayden, ed. Scott: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970) 78.

  13. Women in Revolutionary Paris 1789-1795, Selected Documents Translated with Notes and Commentary by Darline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applethwaite, Mary Durham Johnson (Urbana, Chicago, London: U of Illinois P, 1979) 185, 213.

  14. The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. H. J. C. Grierson, assisted by Davidson Cook, W. M. Parker and Others (London: Constable and Co., 1935) xi: 455.

  15. Journal 656; see also Edgar Johnson, Sir Walter Scott—The Great Unknown (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970) ii: 117-18.

  16. Quoted by John Prebble in The King's Jaunt: George iv in Scotland, August 1822 (London: Fontana, 1989) 206. Prebble's polemical account effectively juxtaposes actual contemporary radical disturbances and the Highland Clearances with the make-believe Jacobitism of George's visit. See also Basil C. Skinner, “Scott as Pageant-Master—The Royal Visit of 1822” in Scott Bicentenary Essays, ed. Alan Bell (Edinburgh and London: Scottish Academic Press, 1973), 231-32; for a more general and witty account of the fraudulent “tartanizing,” as J. G. Lockhart called it, of Scotland, see Hugh Trevor-Roper, “The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland,” in The Invention of Tradition, ed. E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983) 15-43.

  17. Jonathan Clark, English Society 1688-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985) 143; Revolution and Rebellion (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986) 111-16; James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, rev. ed. D. Fleeman (Oxford, London, New York: Oxford UP, 1970) 305. Scott's most explicit description of the “public confusion” caused by the alliance of Covenanting and Jacobite interests around the time of the Union of the Parliaments is in chapter i of The Black Dwarf.

  18. This might explain the otherwise puzzlingly religious orientation of the impression Scott gave to Hogg that “he was always keeping a sharp look out on the progress of enthusiasm in religion as a dangerous neighbour [to revolution]” (Familiar Anecdotes 129).

  19. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working-Class (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968) 134.

  20. Letters i: 35; Marianne Elliott's exhaustive study, Partners in Revolution, The United Irishmen and France (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1982), suggests that genuine complicity between the LCS and the UI's revolutionary republicans took place much later in 1797-98 as a result of the LCS's decline (173-76, 185-88).

  21. See John Gibson Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott (Edinburgh: Constable, 1837-38, 1902) i: 60-61; E. P. Thompson 140.

  22. Francois Furet, Marx et La Révolution Francaise (Paris: Flammarion, 1986) 98 ff. The use by modern French philosophers, most famously by Bachelard, Althusser, and Foucault, of the idea of epistemological “breaks” to explain philosophical and historical difference can be understood as incidentally attacking the uniqueness claimed by their inherited Revolutionary model of the “break” in a way that, say, Thomas Kuhn's theory of successive scientific paradigms could not. For Althusser on the “reactionary tradition” in French philosophy since the Revolution which he takes his own work (after Jean Hyppolite) to oppose, see Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx—Politics and History, trans. B. Brewster (London: Verso, 1982) 163 ff. J.-F. Lyotard once offered advice, intriguing in this context, to Richard Rorty on the necessity of understanding French thought under “the sign of the crime,” the execution of Louis xvi, which necessarily raises questions of legitimacy. Lyotard calls this French discourse “tragic,” a description which, I think, catches at his sense of trying to escape an original determination threatening to shape every intellectual departure precisely in proportion to its radicalism or break with the past. (“Discussion entre Jean-Francois Lyotard et Richard Rorty,” Critique [May, 1985]: 583-84).

  23. I think Kathryn Sutherland implies this interpretation in her excellent Introduction to Redgauntlet (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1985) xvii. Hugh Redgauntlet and Charles's other Jacobite supporters fear that he is presumed upon by his mistress whom they happily demonize. They thus apparently displace, but in fact reemphasize, their leader's womanish inefficacy. Judith Wilt cleverly retraces this pattern of Jacobite recrimination to the unexpiated original sin with which began the myth of Scottish Kings' legitimacy—Robert Bruce's sacrilegious murder of his rival for the crown, the Red Comyn. The feminization of Jacobite rebellions and Pretenders, depriving them of legal entitlement or personage, also damns them with too true a lineage. “The crime being expiated in the feminizing of the last Scottish King is not the degrading of power by association with women but the outlaw grasping of power by the red hand of man” (Judith Wilt, Secret Leaves: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott [Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985] 129).

  24. Compare Jon Klancher's adventurous argument in “Romantic Criticism and the Meanings of the French Revolution,” Studies in Romanticism 28, 3 (Fall, 1989): 463-91. Klancher gains a perspective from which he can see romantic criticism's vested interest in having “‘English Romanticism’ … reproduce its own circuitous history of making ‘the meanings of the French Revolution’” (491).

Saree Makdisi (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15392

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 Scott's first novel, Waverley. Scott started writing Waverley in 1805, though he dropped it for several years and only completed it in 1814. The novel, which is set mostly in Scotland during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, not only presented to its nineteenth-century readers a romanticized view of the Jacobite rebels and their leader, Bonnie Prince Charlie; it offered, virtually for the first time, an altogether new series of images and representations of the Scottish Highlands. Beginning with Waverley, in other words, Sir Walter Scott's image of the Highlands has in cultural terms virtually taken over from and supplanted “the real thing,” by which I mean something stronger than that Scott's representation has precluded other views of the Highlands.

For this raises the question, not simply of what that “real thing” was or is, but rather of how today's Highlands were brought into being as a reality—or as a set of at once material and symbolic realities—at a certain specifiable moment in the violent cultural history of the United Kingdom. The question that lies at the heart of my interest in Waverley is this: how is space, as a fluid and simultaneously material and political process, produced or re-produced during the process of colonial conquest? Or, to what extent can the violent and productive process of colonialism be understood as spatial—as a process not merely involving the coding and recoding of conquered territories and peoples, but the virtual reinvention of the colonized territory as a space that can be put to use in various ways? Moreover, if we do want to understand colonialism as a spatial operation, can we see the resistance to colonial rule in spatial terms, as an anti-hegemonic attempt to either limit or to contest the hegemonic territorializations undertaken in colonialism? The answers to these questions may depend on the extent of the spatial project undertaken in any given historical instance of colonization. But—even given that this may be a matter of degree or extent—what is for me the most urgent question here is this: what happens to a people, a history, a culture, that falls victim to a colonial project whose objective is not only to exploit its victims, but to dispossess them and claim all of their land in order to re-encode it, re-name it, to literally re-write it and re-invent it? What happens to the history of such a dispossessed people? And what, finally, are the relationships between the material processes of such spatial reinventions and broader cultural ones? To what extent does symbolic production play a role in the endless creation of space? With these questions in mind, what I want to argue in the present essay is that Scott's Waverley contributed not only to the invention of a new Highland reality, but also to the construction and colonization of a Highland past to go with it.



Having arrived at the border of the Scottish Highlands, Edward Waverley arrives at a symbolic border dividing one world from another, and one epoch from what is posited as the next. The village of Tully-Veolan, and with it the great estate of the Baron of Bradwardine, lies in the shadow of the Highlands, which during Edward's approach “had appeared a blue outline in the horizon, but now swelled into huge gigantic masses, which frowned defiance over the more level country that lay beneath them.”1 As Edward enters the village, he becomes increasingly aware of the proximity of the border, and of the fantastic charge that this proximity carries with it, and his forward movement in space seems to take him ever backwards in time. “The houses seemed miserable in the extreme, especially to an eye accustomed to the smiling neatness of English cottages. They stood, without any respect for regularity, on each side of a straggling kind of unpaved street, where children, almost in a primitive state of nakedness, lay sprawling, as if to be crushed by the hoofs of the first passing horse” (74). The frowning mountains pose a limit to this movement in time, just as they do to movement in space: a limit that the novel posits only in order for it to be transcended, as Waverley leaps beyond it and into a space of cultural otherness. For this border is also one between cultures and nations, and although even here on this side of the border there prevails a sense of poverty, wretchedness and “backwardness,” we are still on the firm ground of the knowable, a ground symbolically defended from the predatory raids of Highland caterans by the loopholes and arrowslits of the baronial estate. Beyond the dim line of the mountains, however, not even the awkward and broken English of the border region is spoken, and if the Lowlanders of the border resemble Italians and the folk “of Minerva,” the people beyond are scarcely assimilable to such reassuring European (even Southern European) standards.

Edward Waverley is, of course, immediately tempted to venture into the unknown. And, as if in answer to Edward's inquiry “whether it was possible to make with safety an excursion into the neighboring Highlands, whose dusky barrier of mountains had already excited his wish to penetrate beyond them,” Evan Dhu Maccombich makes his appearance: the first appearance, indeed, of a Highlander in the novel:

… the door suddenly opened, and, ushered in by Saunders Saunderson, a Highlander, fully armed and equipped, entered the apartment. Had it not been that Saunders acted the part of the master of ceremonies to this martial apparition, without appearing to deviate from his usual composure, and that neither Mr Bradwardine nor Rose exhibited any emotion, Edward would certainly have thought the intrusion hostile. As it was, he started at the sight of what he had not yet happened to see, a mountaineer in his full national costume. The individual Gael was a stout, dark young man, of low stature, the ample folds of whose plaid added to the appearance of strength which his person exhibited. The short kilt, or petticoat, showed his sinewy and clean-made limbs; the goatskin purse, flanked by the usual defences, a dirk and a steel-wrought pistol, hung before him; his bonnet had a short feather, which indicated his claim to be treated as a Duinhéwassel, or sort of gentleman; a broadsword hung upon his shoulder, and a long Spanish fowling-piece occupied one of his hands.


Evan Dhu serves as Waverley's (that is, the novel's as well as the character's) guide into the Highlands and into the imaginary terrain of the past. With his strength and rugged features, his air of indomitability, and above all the latent violence expressed through his layers of weaponry (“the usual defences”), he appears here as a representative figure: more than a spokesman, he is a personification of the Highlands. His “claim” to be treated as a “sort of gentleman,” a claim which in the narrator's view is clearly misplaced, is really backed up not by the feather in his bonnet, but by his broadsword and rifle. And while his “national costume” makes him a fit national representative, the novel establishes the represented nationality not as British, nor even as Scottish, but as Highlander (“mountaineer”) and Gaelic.

Thus, the novel re-launches itself and begins anew, as Waverley leaves behind the relative safety of Tully-Veolan and pushes into the vast and rugged Highlands of Scotland. When Waverley awakens on his first full day in the mountains, in the cave of the robber Donald Bean Lean, he emerges to find himself on the “wild and precipitous shores of a Highland loch, about four miles in length, and a mile and a half across, surrounded by heathy and savage mountains, on the crests of which the morning mist was still sleeping” (145). His Lowlander and English standards of measurement cannot mean much here, though, and rather than assimilating the surroundings, such standards are overwhelmed by the “heathy”—which suggests both heathen and healthy—savagery of the mountains. In his tour, Waverley appropriates the rugged landscape of the Scottish Highlands. But Waverley is an Englishman, a gentleman and an officer in the service of the Hanoverian king, intruding on the Jacobite and Gaelic heartland of Scotland; thus, as James Kerr points out, Waverley's tourism “is not a politically innocent activity.”2

The novel begins to “slip” in between its invented background of landscape and its equally invented (that is, produced rather than reproduced) background of Highland Nature, culture, and society. Earlier, while pausing in the border region before entering the Highlands, the narrator tells us that the Lowland borderers—the people themselves—somewhat “resembled Italian forms of landscape” (75; my emphasis). Once the novel has gained the fastnesses of the Highlanders, particularly the domain of clan Vich Ian Vohr, distinctions between natives and landscape collapse altogether, and Waverley begins to consume the culture and activity of the Highlands just as he had already consumed their landscape. In other words, people and land are reduced not only to one another, but to the level of aesthetic objects to be taken in and consumed by the eager eye of the “tourist:” the character, the narrator—and the reader.3 It is an alienated consumption, however; and just as Waverley can appreciate the wildness of the Highland scenery only to the extent that he is charmed by (or afraid of) it, he can enjoy the great clan feast and other cultural events only to the extent that he feels a revulsion towards them and towards the clansmen themselves.4

While sitting on the banks of the loch outside Bean Lean's lair, Edward finds himself reflecting on his romantic situation “on the banks of an unknown lake, under the guidance of a wild native, whose language was unknown to him, on a visit to the den of some renowned outlaw” (138). Indeed, just as Waverley had established a comparison—as if to establish points of reference for the reader—between the Lowland borderers and Greeks and Italians, the novel continually compares the Highlanders not just to their “wild” surroundings, but to the natives of Africa and America, India and the Orient.5 The narrator reinforces this comparison, on the one hand by repeatedly denying that his is anything like an Oriental tale:

Mine is an humble English post-chaise, drawn upon four wheels, and keeping his Majesty's highway. Such as dislike the vehicle may leave it at the next halt, and wait for the conveyance of Prince Hussein's tapestry, or Malek the Weaver's flying sentry-box.


On the other hand, however, the novel repeatedly dredges up Oriental and Orientalist allusions, including a passing reference to Flora in her capacity as a “dragoman” (the corrupted English version of the Arabic word for an interpreter and guide for foreigners in the Arab lands of southwest Asia) as she interprets the Gaelic language and folklore of the Highlands for Waverley—and for the reader (see 174). The cumbersome notes about the Highlands and Scotland, as well as those addressing the history of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, add to the novel's exaggerated exoticism, in the same way as the notes to an Oriental tale amplify not only its own variety of the exotic but also its claims to authenticity.6

Edward Waverley's tour of the imaginary terrain of the Highlands also involves a kind of time-traveling, in which the movement from Lowlands to Highlands is a movement back in time (so that, with his contrary movement, Evan Dhu appears in Tully-Veolan as little short of a ghost from the past, just as the cateran raids on the Lowlands are like vestigial hauntings from bygone days). In other words, the novel's leap into the Highlands of “sixty years since”—expressed in spatialized terms as an incursion into the Jacobite and Gaelic heartland—is also registered as an imaginary leap “backwards” in time to the space of a previous epoch. Just as the novel, then, is a spatialized “reclamation” of the imaginary terrain of the Highlands, it also reclaims the past through inventing “authentic” Highland cultures and traditions. Here, however, Scott's novel is caught up in the various movements in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Scotland literally to invent the traditions of a mythic Highland “past.” Indeed, Scott, a founding president of the Celtic Society of Edinburgh, was a major figure in these movements, which included Macpherson's Ossian (who has a Welsh equivalent in Iolo Morganwg), and also the creation of “traditional” patterned clan tartans and kilts (these were first developed—by an Englishman—in the 1720s, and firmly established only after the 1745 Rebellion).7


The imaginary map that underlies and sustains Waverley's tour—the “ground” on which the narrative is written, and towards which all referentiality is directed—involves the simultaneous creation and re-presentation of an imaginary terrain. It has been argued that, “whatever fictional gloss may be applied, when he is writing of Scotland, and especially of his own Border region, Scott is recording, not inventing; his vision grows out of an objective world, a place of time and the senses.”8 On the contrary, however, the novel's complex and fluid architectonic of space simultaneously constructs and presupposes its own conditions of existence. It does so, in the first instance, by positing a rigid dualistic structure of space, through which the narrative is channeled. This involves an opposition between the Highlands, on the one hand, and the Lowlands and England on the other. The Highlands-Lowlands opposition enables (and simultaneously rests upon) a matrix of other essentializing dualisms: thus, superimposed on this dualistic structure is an opposition between the fanciful and the realistic, the wild and the tame, the unknown and the known, the threatening and the reassuring, the turbulent and the level, the violent and the peaceful, the noble and the mundane, the heroic and the quotidian, the youthful and the mature. Other historical, symbolic, and political dualisms are similarly inscribed: feudal against modern; myth against Enlightenment; Jacobite against Hanoverian; revolutionary against counter-revolutionary; Catholic against Protestant; sympathies with France against anti-French sentiment; anti-Unionist against Unionist.

Waverley's map of Scotland is also a map of time, for the opposition between Highlands and Lowlands is temporally and historically coded as an opposition between past and present. That is, the novel's Highland space does not just open up into the past, and into the archaic trappings and rituals of (an invented) tradition; it is the spatialization of the past and of this tradition. At the same time, it is the temporalization of the Highlands, registering, merging, coupling, linking, relentlessly identifying the Highlands with the past. Waverley's Highland space is, indeed, a Wordsworthian “spot of time.” It is a fluid spot of time, one that can extend itself like the arms of an amoeba to enwrap and claim other areas; and one that can, conversely, be beaten back so that it can lose its hold over areas that it had once held firmly in its grip. Written retrospectively from the standpoint of the narrative's future (i.e., Scott's present), the novel maps out the Highlands as a space that was once unknown, that was once feudalistic, that was once violent, romantic, wild, inhabited by myth; the Highlands are reduced to a turbulent, but, for Scott, colorful and attractive albeit dangerous past, associated with the Jacobites, with feudalism, masculinity, backwardness, a hierarchical class-structure, Catholicism, and of course anti-Unionism. On the other hand, Waverley presents the identity of the Lowlands as true and valid not only for the past, but for the present as well as for the future.9 The Lowlands plus England—in other words, the modernizing core of Great Britain as opposed to the Celtic peripheries of Wales, Ireland and Scotland—are thus situated and constructed as the spaces that were then, still are, and will forever be peaceful, rational, scientific, enlightened, known, and civilized; this civilizational core, in other words, is associated with Protestantism, progress, rationality, Unionism, capitalism, a fluid notion of class-mobility, and finally with what is for Scott a supremely necessary but nevertheless uninspiring and even boring “feminine” domesticity. Coextensive with the overarching spatial opposition between Highlands and Lowlands is an overarching temporal opposition between past and present.10

The novel's map of space and time is supplemented with characters who serve as markers of the map's coordinates. Each character, with the exception of Edward Waverley himself, stakes out, marks, and defends a certain slice of the novel's symbolic terrain, and hence a certain political, social, temporal, and historical position.11 Edward is the exception; he alone can move through and between the novel's variegated terrains and territories: he is the explorer, the adventurer, the traveler who in his movements ties these symbolic territories together; for as other characters move, they necessarily stake out new terrain, so that the novel's imaginary map moves with them. Edward—the lone hero, the monadic traveler—is the only character who has neither a territorial identification nor a territorial limitation. The other characters are spread out in association with the territorial identifications allowed for by the imaginary map's dualistic epistemology, with the two extreme positions being held by Fergus MacIvor, on the one hand, and Colonel Talbot, on the other.

Talbot is the voice of the present. An officer and a gentleman, an Englishman, a Unionist, a Hanoverian, his territorial identification is with the Lowlands and England. His position is solidly reinforced, justified, validated and relentlessly proved correct by the narrator and the narrative, for Talbot does not just speak for rationality, progress, Englishness, justice (he “reminds” us all that “of all nations, the English are least bloodthirsty by nature” [424]), he speaks as well, of course, for the unity of the kingdom and nation. He speaks for what is correct and logical for and in the novel's own present: a correctness and logic inevitably validated by Waverley's retrospective narration, so that his “prophecies” are by definition “self-fulfilling.” Talbot is instrumental in showing Waverley the hopelessness of his situation as a Jacobite, and in providing help for his escape: an escape which the novel, as a prototypical Bildungsroman, defines as growth and maturity that are themselves enabled by Talbot's interventions.12 But he is also the signpost for and spokesman of the present and the future; his pronouncements on and judgments of the Highlands, Fergus, the Jacobites, the Baron, and the future of the United Kingdom are indistinguishable from the judgments and pronouncements of the narrator himself.13

At the other pole of this opposition stands Fergus MacIvor. Despite his Parisian upbringing, “few men,” we are told, “were more attached to ideas of chieftainship and feudal power” than Fergus MacIvor, Chief of the Clan of Ivor, Vich Ian Vohr (153). Indeed, his education has not changed his essential quality as a Highland laird, nor, in the novel's terms, could it have. Instead, for the most part it merely adds a gloss, a fine veneer that at first makes Fergus more “palatable” as a character, although it gradually and subtly undermines his position by reinforcing the notion that no amount of Continental education and manners could improve upon his stubbornly and immutably Highland mentality and physiognomy. Fergus is a perfect specimen of the species, plucked from what the narrator identifies as an ideal historical moment:

Had Fergus MacIvor lived Sixty Years sooner than he did, he would, in all probability, have wanted the polished manner and knowledge of the world which he now possessed; and had he lived Sixty Years later, his ambition and love of rule would have lacked the fuel which his situation now afforded. He was, indeed, within his little circle, as perfect a politician as Castruccio Castrucani himself. He applied himself with great earnestness to appease all the feuds and dissensions which often arose among other clans in his neighborhood, so that he became a frequent umpire in their quarrels. His own patriarchal power he strengthened at every expense which his fortune would permit, and indeed stretched his means to the uttermost, to maintain the rude and plentiful hospitality, which was the most valued attribute of a chieftain. For the same reason, he crowded his estate with a tenantry, hardy indeed, and fit for the purposes of war, but greatly outnumbering what the soil was calculated to maintain.


Found neither Sixty Years too soon nor too late, then, Fergus is the perfect embodiment not only of the Highland laird, but of the precise moment of the novel's historical setting “Sixty Years” since, or in other words 1745: one of the many crucial turning-points for the history of Britain, and perhaps the crucial moment in the history of the Highlands. (As the description of the clan makes clear with its ominous Malthusian language of population and resources, there are “too many” people for “too little” land; the events of 1745, which are chronicled by the novel, laid the historical pre-conditions for the events which were clearing the Highlanders off their land as Scott was writing his novel.) Fergus, of whom the narrator confides that “we should term him the model of a Highland Chieftain,” represents, like the Highland space which he personifies, the past (170). That is, just as he speaks for the Highlands, identifies the standpoints and positions of the Highlands (with its myths and legends, its romanticism and feudalism, its violence and instability, its Jacobitism and revolutionism) and defends the Highlands, he speaks for, identifies and defends the hopelessly beleaguered past spatialized in and through the Highlands.

Waverley thus territorializes its political, historical, temporal and chronological oppositions and dualisms, inscribing them onto its imaginary dualistic map of Highlands and Lowlands. As I have already suggested, however, the novel's Highland space is fluid: it and its associations are capable of movement out of and away from the Highlands “properly” speaking—just as, ultimately, the Highlands can be purged of these associations. In these terms, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 figures in the novel as an eruption of this imaginary Highland space into the imaginary space of the Lowlands and England; or, put differently, it is an eruption of the past into the present of industrializing bourgeois Britain; both spatially, in the Highlander's brief incursion into the Lowlands and down into England as far as Derby; and textually, in their arrival, through the novel, into the world of 1814 Scotland (or, Sixty Years later …).


The army and followers of Prince Charles Edward Stuart—Bonnie Prince Charlie—thus storm into Waverley's Lowlands like a horde of ghosts issuing forth from the past. The novel emplots the rise and fall of the final Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 “as it actually happened” sixty years previously (although it sometimes restricts historical events to the background in its emplotment of the events of the Rebellion into a diachronic “story”).14 The rebellion's vague beginning in the Highlands, where the Prince had landed with a force of half a dozen men, is transcoded into the novel in equally vague and uncertain terms.15 It moves quickly from being a barely “audible” background murmur—with the passing glimpse at strange movements and gatherings of people, of horses, of weapons—to the highest pitch of an attempted revolution, into which the novel's characters, including its distinctly English hero, Edward Waverley, are suddenly drawn. By the time Edward has joined the movement, however, the Jacobites have already taken over cosmopolitan Edinburgh, and are planning for their future campaigns from there. After winning the important battle at Prestonpans (or Gladsmuir), they collect themselves and begin the long march to London, reaching as far south as Derby. Suddenly the tide begins to turn, and just as the novel tracks the beginning of the revolt in a sudden switch in tempo, it transcodes the movement's demise in the same terms. The withdrawal back to the Highlands—against the wishes and counsels of many, including Fergus—takes place very quickly, and soon the Jacobite army, its morale having collapsed, is in full retreat, thinning and dissolving as it breaks up during the march back north. Finally, the rearguard, including Edward himself, are caught up by the forward dragoons of the British army and scattered in a skirmish near Clifton. Thus Edward is once again isolated from the full movement of “history,” which recedes into the background whence it had issued. Indeed, the Jacobite rebellion ends as it had begun—in the novel's background. The news from faraway Culloden16 enters the narrative and reaches Edward only as disembodied information.

Until its final annihilation at Culloden, whatever terrain is held by the Jacobite army under Prince Charles Edward during its doomed campaign in Waverley is quickly invested with the spatial forces and assemblages of the Highlands. Colonized by Highland rituals, feasts, dancing and singing, and of course by the Highland army itself, such territories effectively become Highland space (space understood, of course, not as an inert material given, but as a fluid political process). In other words, places reclaimed by Jacobitism, as a political movement in support of an absolute monarchic line whose “rights” had been “usurped” by the modernizing forces of nascent parliamentary democracy after 1688, are effectively reclaimed as sites of tradition and feudalism and are overlaid with rituals harking back to a mythic Highland past.17 When Edward first meets Prince Charles, in the palace at Edinburgh, the palace has been reactivated as a site of traditionalism, as if the past had been brought back to life in the dreams of the present—or, rather, as if the past had been reborn as a spatial enclave, a violent spatial eruption into the present.18 Indeed, the feudal ritual of homage to the Prince performed by the Baron of Bradwardine—and ridiculed by the novel in a chapter entitled “rather unimportant”—is presented precisely as the reemergence of the past in the present. The only account of the ritual is in a Gazetteer which is “quoted” by the novel:

“Since that fatal treaty [i.e., the 1707 Act of Union] which annihilates Scotland as an independent nation, it has not been our happiness to see her princes receive, and her nobles discharge, those acts of feudal homage, which, founded upon the splendid actions of Scottish valour, recall the memory of her early history, with the manly and chivalrous simplicity of the ties which united to the Crown the homage of the warriors by whom it was repeatedly upheld and defended. But on the evening of the 20th, our memories were refreshed with one of those ceremonies which belong to the ancient days of Scotland's glory. …”


Apart from these charmingly archaic rituals, which are confined to the nobles in the palace, it is the presence of the Jacobite army in Edinburgh that profoundly enforces the Highland territorialization of Lowland space. The army's encampment is repeatedly described from the vantage point of “present-day” Edinburgh, as though it were being superimposed on an 1814 map of the city; or as though the novel's imaginary spatial flows could invade and even occupy the space of the present, thus militarily occupying 1814 Edinburgh by claiming a certain space on its imaginary map.19 The Highland army's appearance in the Edinburgh of 1745 is described as though a Highland host were actually descending on the Edinburgh of Scott's own time—that is, as the ghostly apparitions of the “primitive” existence of the past. Indeed, it is above all the army that represents the eruption of the past into the present, for, apart from the vanguard (made up of the sympathetic Lowland-Jacobite gentry's tiny cavalry) it is overwhelmingly composed of “the common peasantry of the Highlands”:

Here was a pole-axe, there a sword without a scabbard; here a gun without a lock, there a scythe set straight upon a pole; and some had only their dirks, and bludgeons or stakes pulled out of hedges. The grim, uncombed and wild appearance of these men, most of whom gazed with all the admiration of ignorance upon the most ordinary production of domestic art, created surprise in the Lowlands, but it also created terror. So little was the condition of the Highlands known at that late period, that the character and appearance of their population, while thus sallying forth as military adventurers, conveyed to the south-country Lowlanders as much surprise as if an invasion of African Negroes or Esquimaux Indians had issued forth from the northern mountains of their own native country. It cannot therefore be wondered if Waverley, who had hitherto judged of the Highlanders generally from the samples which the policy of Fergus had from time to time exhibited, should have felt damped and astonished at the daring attempt of a body not then exceeding four thousand men, and of whom not above half the number, at the utmost, were armed, to change the fate, and alter the dynasty, of the British kingdoms.


This Highland levée en masse, this army of the people, effectively brings the people of the Highlands (in Scott's own time a people being burned off their land and scattered to the winds) into a direct and terrifying confrontation with the people of Edinburgh. This encounter takes place at two simultaneous spatio-temporal levels; for it is a confrontation between the Highland Jacobite and Lowland Hanoverians of 1745, and also symbolically between the forgotten Highlands of the early nineteenth century and the Lowlands trying to forget them. It is also, fundamentally, a confrontation between two different social formations (so that the Highlanders can be compared to Eskimos and Africans), and indeed the confrontation between the two armies at Gladsmuir is described as a confrontation between the “primitive” and the modern, “each admirably trained in its own peculiar mode of war” (332).20 Thus the disorganized and “primitive” Highland levée is pitched against the well-equipped British army, with its rationalized detachments and regiments, its squadrons and dragoons, its lines of battle, its artillery and infantry. The battle itself is quite brief, and the clans overwhelm the British army:

The English infantry, trained in the wars in Flanders stood their ground with great courage. But their extended files were pierced and broken in many places by the close masses of the clans; and in the personal struggle which ensued, the nature of the Highlanders' weapons, and their extraordinary fierceness and activity, gave them a decided superiority over those who had been accustomed to trust to their array and discipline, and felt that the one was broken and the other useless.


The Highlanders success is of course only temporary, and they are ultimately beaten back into the dark recesses of history in Waverley's background, so that their temporary eruption into the space of the present is contained and even reversed. The past is thus exorcized from the present.


Just as the eruption of the Highlands is spatialized in Waverley, this exorcism is also expressed in spatial terms, first as the containment of the eruption of the Highlanders into the Lowlands, and then as the political, military, economic and symbolic colonization and pacification of the Highlands themselves. Historically, and at the “overtly” political level, this process involved the containment of the Jacobite rebellion, and ultimately the Hanoverian victory at Culloden, where Prince Charles' forces were finally vanquished, and with them whatever hopes the Highland people may have had in the Jacobite movement. But this process in Waverley involves more than the Hanoverian reclamation of the Jacobite territories, which in any case—from the Highlands and Edinburgh south to Derby—are quickly recaptured by the forces of the (Hanoverian) state. Rather, expressed through this spatialized movement over the novel's imaginary terrain, there is the symbolic “resolution” of the dualistic structure underlying Waverley. Thus, inscribed in the containment and then the rollback of the Highland space, there is not only the victory of Hanoverian over Jacobite, but also the modern over the feudal, the civilized over the wild, the counter-revolutionary over the revolutionary, the “feminine” domestic over the “masculine” adventurous, and so forth—including the victory of the present over the past. In other words, the defeat of the Jacobite Rebellion is expressed spatially in the shift of the symbolic border between Highlands and Lowlands. If Waverley is an historical narrative, it narrates history through spatializing it, or rather through producing historically-inscribed space as a “background” upon which the novel's own narration and plot can take place: a background inscribed with a version of history which it has itself written. Waverley thus produces its own historical “context.”21 The novel's spatial movements are historical flows channeled through an imaginary terrain of its own construction.

In constructing its historical and imaginary-geographical background, the novel also establishes its own politicized contour lines, of which the symbolic border between Highlands and Lowlands is of crucial symbolic significance. For if, at the beginning of the novel, the border between Highlands and Lowlands defines a boundary between different spaces and times, this border is afterwards set in motion, like a shoreline during the sweep of the tide. By the end of the novel, the borderline has been pushed back out of sight, the “old” Highlands are cleansed of their associations, and what had been the old border region—in the novel's imaginary map, Tully-Veolan—has been relieved of the proximity of the old Highland space.

Tully-Veolan, especially the great estate of the Baron of Bradwardine, is therefore used in the novel as an exemplary space, in which the novel's larger spatial—and political—movements and flows can be represented. For the Highland shadow which had once darkened the village is lifted by the end of the novel. Moreover, the Baron's own status as a feudal lord (a status enabled and sustained by the proximity of the Highlands) is revoked, and he is reduced to the status of Mr Bradwardine—disarmed, like the Highland chiefs, and stripped of his Heritable Jurisdiction over land and tenantry. That he is allowed to retain his estate at all is due solely to the intervention of the benevolent Colonel Talbot; but even then the quasi-magical restoration of his property (which had been demolished by the Hanoverian army) can only take place once its ownership has passed through Talbot's hands. Indeed, this passage of the estate's ownership through Talbot enables a purification of the association of the old space. Having once been the center of a feudal estate, it is now merely a grand country house in the English tradition, and the Baron is astonished upon his return:

All seemed as much as possible restored to the state in which he had left it when he assumed arms some months before. The pigeon-house was replenished; the fountain played with its usual activity; and not only the Bear who predominated over its basin, but all the other Bears whatsoever, were replaced on their several stations, and renewed or repaired with so much care, that they bore no tokens of the violence which had so lately descended upon them. While these minutiae had been so heedfully attended to, it is scarce necessary to add, that the house itself had been thoroughly repaired, as well as the gardens, with the strictest attention to maintain the original character of both, and to remove as far as possible, all appearance of the ravage they had sustained.


Talbot immediately congratulates the Baron, adding that “your family estate is your own once more in full property, and at your absolute disposal, but only burdened with the sum advanced to repurchase it, which I understand is utterly disproportioned to its value” (487). The estate's sudden physical restoration is allowed by the pacification of the site's previous symbolic significance; indeed, its precise restoration, down to the last of its minutest details, suggests not so much that it had ever actually changed, but rather that its space had been symbolically and politically cleansed by an almost ritualistic passage through the modern economic system of the market. That is, the condition of possibility for the return (or the spatial reinvention) of Tully-Veolan to the person who was, after all, its original and “rightful” owner, is the commodification of its space and the obectification of its value—its sole burden being the mortgage which financed its repurchase from the past.

At the same time, the dark spell of the Highlands has been lifted from Tully-Veolan, so that the Highland line—and with it the threat of caterans and other raiders from the past—has been pushed back into an unbridgeable distance. Indeed, the novel does not return to the Highlands, it does not allow for the preservation of Highland space. On the contrary: once the eruption from the past has been contained, the Highlands cease to exist as a spot of time. Once the possibilities of this spot have been closed, once it has been cleansed, it is gone forever, and its imaginary terrain must be un-imagined, or rather, re-imagined in an altogether new spatial configuration (to which Scott returns in his next novel, Guy Mannering, set a decade or two after the Forty-Five). It cannot be transformed in Waverley itself.

As for the Highlanders themselves, they are trapped in their space: a space which was only ever accessible from the outside by those—notably Waverley himself—whose origins are on the outside. In other words, if the Highland space is a spot of time, it is one that can only be entered from the outside, and one that can only be left behind again, as it closes shut for the last time, by an outsider. For this spot of time allows access to another time, another mode of life and of society, whose members are apparently incapable of movement to a different time and a different mode of social and political organization. Fergus and Flora (despite their gloss of Continental taste and manners), Callum, Evan Dhu: none can make the transition from Highlands (feudalism, wilderness, the past) to Lowlands (the present and the future). Their evolution—or, more precisely, their modernization—is inconceivable as such.

Thus the Highland space produced in Waverley cannot be transformed: like those Natural bowers which appear so often in Wordsworth's poetry, it can be either preserved in its original state of difference, accessible through the magic of a spot of time, or else utterly destroyed in a “fall” into the modern; in either case, modernization amounts less to a transformative process than to a spatio-temporal annihilation and reinvention. The novel's imaginary map of the Highlands is not, strictly speaking, a map of the past, but rather a map of a possible past, an imaginary past that is forever spatially (and temporally) different and distinct. It is a past that can never become present because it cannot be modernized and remain identical to itself—it is necessarily anti-modern.

The novel, as a prototypical Bildungsroman, does however allow for the ontogenetic transformation of Edward Waverley himself. For it chronicles his growth and development from the immaturity and romance of youth to the steady rationality of adulthood. Politically, this development is coded in terms of Edward's maturation from his support of Jacobitism and its emotional and unrealistic claims to the throne, to a sober and independent outlook more congenial to Talbot and the Hanoverian and Unionist standpoint. That is, the novel directly equates his early affiliation with the Jacobite cause with an emotional and intellectual—as well as a political—immaturity. His gradual move away from the cause (which he effects without actually betraying his friends) is consonant with his emotional and intellectual growth and maturation under the guidance of Talbot. More generally, however, the novel equates Jacobitism with immaturity, emotion, irrationality and even romantic fancy (embodied by Bonnie Prince Charlie himself); and Unionism with rationality and maturity.22 Thus, although Waverley is shown to be the only character capable of movement from one position to the other, even at his early stage he is capable of rational insight, feeling “inexpressible repugnance at the idea of being accessory to the plague of civil war.” Indeed,

whatever were the original rights of the Stuarts, calm reflection told him, that, omitting the question of how far James the Second could forfeit those of his posterity, he had, according to the united voice of the whole nation, justly forfeited his own [in 1688]. Since that period, four monarchs had reigned in peace and glory over Britain, sustaining and exalting the character of the nation abroad, and its liberties at home. Reason asked, was it worth while to disturb a government so long settled and established, and to plunge a kingdom into all the miseries of civil war, for the purpose of replacing upon the throne the descendants of a monarch by whom it had been willfully forfeited?


That Edward does join the Jacobites is due partly to his emotional reaction at being (with his father) falsely accused of treason by the government, and partly to the romantic allure of the Bonnie Prince Charlie. Moreover, his attraction to the Jacobite cause is overlaid with his attraction to the Highlands and to Fergus—both, as I have already argued, embodiments of Jacobitism, feudalism, masculinity, and so forth.23

Here, however, the novel faces an impossible representational somersault, for Waverley's Highlands do not and cannot enter the present: they remain a space apart. That is, with Edward's maturity evolving with the unfolding of the novel's plot, Waverley's imaginary map confronts a representational crisis of its own making. For the Highland space does not and cannot become modern in the novel's own representational framework, and Edward must leave it behind. Waverley's Highland space is established as the space of the past, although the novel has brought “the past to life as the prehistory of the present” (Lukács 53). It repeatedly establishes the links between certain historical events or developments (including spurious Malthusian claims about the overpopulation of the Highlands, as well as the abolition of the Highland chiefs' heritable jurisdictions) and their ramifications and implications for the future (that is, Scott's own present). Yet, once the past has been closed off, the novel is unwilling to acknowledge the impact of these historical developments. The space of the past cannot enter the present, even though the novel has already traced lines of present historical development “back” into the Highlands.



Waverley does not quite close off all references to the Highlands, however, for even in the relentless present that closes in at the end of the novel, there does remain one aperture into the Highlands. This is the portrait of Edward and Fergus:

It was a large and spirited painting, representing Fergus Mac-Ivor and Waverley in their Highland dress; the scene a wild, rocky, and mountainous pass, down which the clan were descending in the background. It was taken from a spirited sketch, drawn while they were in Edinburgh by a young man of high genius, and had been painted on a full-length scale by an eminent London artist. Raeburn himself (whose Highland Chiefs do all but walk out of the canvas) could not have done more justice to the subject; and the ardent, fiery, and impetuous character of the unfortunate Chief of Glennaquoich was finely contrasted with the contemplative, fanciful, and enthusiastic expression of his happier friend. Beside this painting hung the arms which Waverley had borne in the unfortunate civil war.


The full-scale painting, hanging on a wall of the freshly reconstructed manor house in Tully-Veolan, appears as a window to the outside world, to the Highlands lying beyond the walls of the estate. But, as a window, it directs the viewer's gaze to the past; as a symbolic production, in other words, it draws attention to itself and away from other windows allowing views of the present Highlands (views which the novel itself does not access), it intervenes and intercedes between the viewer and the space of the present. As an imaginary production, it disrupts the referentiality of the “real” Highlands and claims this referentiality for itself.

Yet the novel does not claim the portrait's view of the past as an “accurate” representation. On the contrary, it emphasizes the artificiality of its reconstruction of the past. The portrait involves the final assembly of several prefabricated parts. The usual premise for the production of a portrait—the subject's presence—is here not only unfulfilled, it is at several removes from the artist who assembles the images. For the portrait, produced and assembled by “an eminent London artist,” is based upon a sketch of Waverley and Fergus taken (by an altogether different artist, “a young man of high genius”) while they were in Edinburgh. The London artist combines elements of the Edinburgh sketch with “typical” Highland scenery, “a wild, rocky and mountainous pass,” down which a clan, also as part of the background, is charging. The portrait thus consciously and artificially re-produces a past (from which it is alienated both because of its distance and its fictiveness) by appropriating it.24 Its claim to “authenticity” is based upon this appropriation of a past that had never “really” existed, this automatic and even tautological “seizure” of an imaginary terrain by virtue of having invented it. Whether such a past had or had not “really” existed does not matter as much as the fact that it has been claimed as a symbolic space. Once it has been claimed and mapped out, it “becomes” real: that is, it takes on political, cultural and symbolic significance on its own terms.25 It also becomes a contested space. The portrait's invention of the past is in this sense an allegorical restatement of Waverley's own production of the past, of the space of the past (the Highlands), and of the narration of the past (its version of the history of the Forty-Five). Alongside the portrait hang Edward Waverley's weapons from the “unfortunate” civil war and the revolution whose rise and fall the novel has documented. Waverley thus not only spatializes the past as the Highlands: it reifies the past and ossifies history, commodifying both and presenting them as museum-piece images and aestheticized icons for consumption in and for the present and the future.


What, then, of the Highlands in the novel's own present? Although Waverley is an historical novel, it remains self-reflexive about its own (and its reader's) standpoint in the present and the future. It is “aware” of what is happening outside its own pages as it is being written, and it draws these events into itself, textualizing them and sometimes simultaneously rewriting the present as the past.26 But, despite its obsession with the Highland past, and despite its many commentaries on the Lowland British present, it has virtually nothing to say about the present-day Highlands.

The Highlands are blank spots on the novel's imaginary map of the present. They are blank not only because they are neither scene nor seen, but because they have been cleansed, drained of significance and signification. The novel's present-day Highlands have been emptied out, darkened, silenced, and written over as the space of the past. The events of the present, the terrain of the present, the people of the present—who were being cleared off their land and forced at bayonet-point either to bogs on the wild coasts of Ross and Sutherland or to the farthest reaches of the far-flung British empire—are neither heard, nor seen, nor is their presence registered. Their presence is, rather, almost entirely written off and written over in Waverley's textual repression of the Highland present. The novel removes the people of the Highlands from its own pages and from its imaginary production of their space just as they were being removed in a more literal, concrete, material and abjectly miserable way from their land, from their ancestral homes, from the glens of their clans, all of which were quickly being claimed, purged and reinvented by politicians, by economists, by Lowland and English sheepfarmers, and by artists, poets, musicians, and writers, not least Sir Walter Scott himself.

What does it mean, then, to say that Walter Scott and Waverley participate in the history of the spatial reclamation of the Scottish Highlands? How can a work of fiction help to produce historical and geographical realities? The reclamation and reinvention of the Highlands took place in a number of simultaneously textual and contextual registers or discourses. The two overlapping and mutually-determining narrative fields that I am pointing to here are, on the one hand, the material re-production and re-utilization of the physical terrain of the Highlands during the Clearances; and, on the other, what we can call—by way of an apposition rather than an opposition to that process—the imaginary creation of a new Highland reality, a new history, a new series of images and associations, to cover over and replace the old ones as they were being literally wiped off the geophysical and cultural map of the United Kingdom. And it is in this register that I think Waverley can be usefully located, even though it defies any traditional encapsulation as a textual event distinct from a contextual “background.”

Waverley claims the referentiality of the Highland present by laying claim to its past; that is, it claims the right to narrate and represent (or not to narrate, not to represent) its present by having narrated and represented its past. But this past is also the past of the Lowlands: the relationship of Highlands to Lowlands, as I have already suggested, is that of the past to the present. In other words, in its assertion of the new national identity of Great Britain, the novel needs to associate a distinctly Scottish nationalism with the past, and hence it needs to translate what it has so far identified as (invented) Highland “traditions” into, more generally, Scottish “traditions.” Waverley's “postscript, which should have been a preface,” or in other words a present which has been retrieved and saved from a consignment to the past, is worth quoting at length.

There is no European nation which, within the course of half a century, or little more, has undergone so complete a change as this kingdom of Scotland. The effects of the insurrection of 1745—the destruction of the patriarchal power of the Highland chiefs—the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions of the Lowland nobility and barons—the total eradication of the Jacobite party, which, averse to intermingle with the English, or adopt their customs, long continued to pride themselves upon maintaining the ancient Scottish traditions and manners—commenced this innovation. The gradual influx of wealth, and extension of commerce, have since united to render the present people of Scotland a class of beings as different from their grandfathers as the existing English are from those of Queen Elizabeth's time. The political and economical effects of these changes have been traced by Lord Selkirk with great accuracy. But the change, though steadily and rapidly progressive, has, nevertheless, been gradual; and like those who drift down the stream of a deep and smooth river, we are not aware of the progress we have made, until we fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have been drifted.—Such of the present generation who can recollect the last twenty or twenty-five years of the eighteenth century, will be fully sensible of the truth of this statement;—especially if their acquaintance and connections lay among those who, in my younger time, were facetiously called ‘folks of the old leaven,’ who still cherished a lingering, though hopeless, attachment to the house of Stuart. This race has now almost entirely vanished from the land, and with it, doubtless, much absurd political predjudice—but also many living examples of singular and disinterested attachment to the principles of loyalty which they received from their fathers, and of old Scottish faith, hospitality, worth, and honour.


The sense of urgency underlying the novel's postscript (or preface) is derived from the imminent disappearance of the last vestiges of what the novel identifies as the “ancient Scottish traditions and manners.” The eradication of these manners and customs is due, in the novel's scheme of history, to “the gradual influx of wealth, and extension of commerce,” and at the same time to the annihilation of the clan system in the Highlands, as well as of the heritable jurisdictions of the border regions' gentry. These developments, in turn, were enabled by the victory of the Hanoverian state over the Jacobites of the Forty-Five, and hence to the “total eradication of the Jacobite party.” Thus, in the novel's political and historical terminology, the eradication of the Highlands' social formation stands for the eradication of a now outmoded Scottish national-historical bloc. And if the dying remnants of the previous social formation, exemplified by and embodied in the Jacobites, are unwilling to mingle with the English, it is due not merely to their retention of an archaic Scottish nationalism, but to the identification of commerce and wealth—that is, modernity—with England and the English. Here the narrator's own Scottishness is stretched to its limits; but in comparing the development of “the present people of Scotland” to that of the people of England since the time of Elizabeth, the narrator is registering the fusion of the two nationalities into a new and emerging nationalism, the newly invented “imagined community” of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.27

The “modern people of Scotland,” mingling and gradually fusing with the English, are thus distinguished by the novel from those dying holdovers from the days of Jacobitism, with their “old Scottish faith, hospitality, worth, and honour,” as well as their “absurd political prejudice.” The latter (especially the Highlanders) are unable to adapt and to evolve: an evolution which is, nevertheless, experienced by the former—the modern Scots—who can look back not only at the past, but at the remnants of the past in the present, in order to see how much they themselves have changed. Here the novel deploys, once again, a spatial figuration for time: “the change, though steadily and rapidly progressive, has, nevertheless, been gradual; and like those who drift down the stream of a deep and smooth river, we are not aware of the progress we have made, until we fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have been drifted.” It is only through identifying a certain spatial location with the past that “we,” who are privileged to have “been drifted,” can measure the temporal span of “our” drift by measuring the distance between us and those who are not so privileged, or who are incapable of “progress,” however “gradual.”

Waverley thus qualifies somewhat its earlier stance against modernization by granting it as a privilege rather than an inevitability. Its spatialized metaphor of a river representing a “stream of time” anticipates both later nineteenth-century views of evolution as well as later metaphorical uses of a river as the expression of slow and gradual, yet inexorable, progress.28 Johannes Fabian has pointed out how this temporal scheme, codified through such new disciplines as anthropology, lay at the heart of the Victorian colonial project, so that “all living societies were irrevocably placed on a temporal slope, a stream of Time—some upstream, others downstream. Civilization, evolution, development, acculturation, modernization (and their cousins, industrialization, urbanization) are all terms whose conceptual content derives, in ways that can be specified, from evolutionary Time.”29 But if Scott's novel invents this metaphor, it does so not by placing all societies on the same “stream of time,” as the post-Darwinian Victorian anthropologists would do, but by placing some societies and individuals on the stream, while leaving others fixed to the banks of the river, from which they cannot move or progress—although “we” can measure “our” progress by our distance from them. Such immobile and “ahistorical” societies, and their remnants in the present, are thus reduced in this historical evolutionary scheme to spatialized temporal reference points for those capable of movement and progress. They remain as museum pieces for the appreciation and self-comprehension of those who are supposed to have left them behind.

The Highland past—and hence its present—are thus appropriated by Waverley as the prehistory of the Scottish element of the British jetztzeit. In being consigned to the prehistory of the (historical) “present people of Scotland,” the Highlanders and the vanishing remnants of the “ancient” and Jacobite Scottish past are stripped of their own historicity, and left stranded on the banks of the river of Time. In other words, their history, and hence their space, is colonized by the novel; it is taken over and used for and by the Lowland present. Indeed, what Hugh Trevor-Roper and others have identified as the invention of Highland “traditions” involved not only the “artificial creation of new traditions, presented as ancient, original and distinctive,” but also the process by which these supposedly Highland traditions—the philabeg or kilt, the bagpipes, the clan tartans—were offered to Lowland Scotland and ultimately adopted by the Lowlanders as their own traditions (The Invention of Tradition 16). What had originally been devised as purely Highland traditions thus become appropriated as the traditions of the whole Scottish nation, which the Scots needed to wean themselves of in order to fully assimilate into the Union with England; or, rather, which the Lowland Scots could keep as the quaint museum-piece relics from their past, once they had been disinfected and emptied of any political and nationalist content.30

The final subjugation of the Highlands, enabled, as the postscript hints, by the results of the Forty-Five, took place at once in the military, economic, and political pacification and colonization of the Highlands; in the symbolic purification of the political content of supposedly Highland traditions—leaving only their emptied-out and hence reusable forms; in the temporal colonization of the history of the Highlands; and in the spatial colonization of the Highlands, that is, in the colonization of the signifying and productive capacity of its imaginary terrain. Georg Lukács has argued that Scott “was able to portray objectively the ruination of past social formations, despite all his human sympathies for, and artistic sensitivity to, the splendid, heroic qualities they contained. Objectively, in a large historical and artistic sense; he saw at one and the same time their outstanding qualities and the historical necessity of their decline” (Lukács 55). Yet Lukács, for all his claims of Scott's supposed “objectivity,” is unable or unwilling to see that these supposedly “past” social formations were not at all “past” in Scott's own time: that they were being finally eradicated and destroyed only in the early nineteenth century, and not—as Waverley pretends—immediately after 1745.


The aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion did, however, establish the historical preconditions for what happened later in the eighteenth century, and on into the nineteenth. The great highlands of western and northern Scotland, following the defeat of the clans at Culloden, were opened up to a process of colonization. Immediately after Culloden, several acts of legislation were passed by the British Parliament to facilitate the colonization of the Highlands, with particular reference to the re-division of its space, which lay now under direct military rule.31 Thus the old feudal and clan property divisions and inscriptions were erased as the Highlands were (spatially) literally, materially, politically, economically, socially and culturally redrawn and rewritten, in a manner often anticipatory of the enclosure process in England, though on a larger scale and usually through more brutal methods (see J. D. Mackie 266-315). The Highlands were looked upon as a wilderness requiring pacification and improvement; as early as 1748, for instance, the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge could say of the Highlanders that they “were not quite civilized,” and even that they were “wild and barbarous” (quoted in Richards 80-81). Indeed, the first acts of legislation designed to pacify the Highlands concerned not only directly political and military issues—such as the disarmament of the clans (1747), the abolition of heritable jurisdictions (1747), and the confiscation of lands belonging to clans or to Lowland gentry sympathetic to the Jacobites (1746)—but, all-importantly, cultural concerns. Thus, for instance, in a measure used very effectively during the subjugation of Wales and Ireland (not to mention India and elsewhere), cultural forms such as the bagpipes and kilt were banned in 1747, as one of the provisions of the Disarmament Act (despite the fact that the kilt had only been invented in the 1720s—indeed, it was this act that suddenly justified the kilt's claims to cultural authenticity, if not political potency).32

By the early 1780s, the Highlands had been sufficiently pacified for the ban on the kilt to be lifted (1782), and even for the confiscated Jacobite properties to be returned to their previous owners (1784), an event that Waverley anticipates by a few decades in the case of the Bradwardine estate. The basis of the Highland social structure—the clan system—had been destroyed by the disarming acts and the destruction of the old system of land tenure. Indeed, just as the British, following the trial of Warren Hastings, and through the Permanent Settlement Act, completely destroyed India's indigenous structure of land-ownership (by transforming the zamindars from revenue-collectors for the Mughal provincial governors to private landlords in the capitalist sense), they destroyed the old Highland land-tenure system, replacing it with the legal and juridical structures of private property sustaining capitalism.33 Under the old system, the clan chief granted tacks, or leases, on the clan's property. These leases were held by his closest supporters, his tacksmen, who officered the clan “army” and recruited companies from their own subtenants; rents were paid in kind or in service. Having, with his clan, been disarmed, the chief no longer needed officers or fighters; and, the land having been transformed into his own private property, his clan ceased being his “people” in the feudal sense, and became tenants in the capitalist sense. Thus, as John Prebble argues, “having ceased to be a king in his own glens, having lost by Act of Parliament the power of ‘pit and gallows’ over the clan, he slowly realized that he needed paying tenants, not officers.”34 Not only were the clans-people too impoverished to pay leases, but the returns that the landlord could gain from their subsistence economy were paltry compared to what returns would be made possible by large-scale “improvement,” especially given the lucrative option of leasing land to English sheepfarmers.

Ultimately, sheep proved to be more profitable than the clanspeople. Under the authority of the new landlords, and enforced by the power of the state, the Highlanders were forced off their land in great Clearances that swept northern and western Scotland during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: up to a third of Scotland's population was thus uprooted and dispossessed.35 Two of the earliest clearances, in 1782, involved land and people in Balnagowan and Glenquoich—both names that appear in altered form in Waverley, most notably in that Fergus MacIvor is the chief of Glennaquoich. The first large-scale clearance, however, took place in 1784, on the lands of Alistair Macdonnel of Glengarry, a close friend of Sir Walter Scott, with the help of the Duchess of Sutherland (also a friend of Scott), one of the most zealous “improvers,” and—with cruel and bitter irony—the founder of the so-called Society of True Highlanders.36 The Clearances, justified by a discourse of “improvement,” then accelerated through the Year of the Sheep (1792)—during which, in what proved to be the last major act of Highland resistance, the people of Ross revolted and drove the Lowland and English Cheviot sheep off their land, until the local landlords brought in the 47th Regiment of the Black Watch and suppressed them—and on to the Year of the Burnings (1814), by which time the Clearances had reached full pitch, and during which people were literally burned out of their homes by order of the Duchess of Sutherland.

This person, who had been well instructed in economics, resolved, when she succeeded to the headship of the clan, to undertake a radical economic cure, and to turn the whole county of Sutherland, the population of which had already been reduced to 15,000 by similar processes, into a sheep-walk. Between 1814 and 1820 these 15,000 inhabitants, about 3,000 families, were systematically hunted and rooted out. All their villages were destroyed and burnt, all their fields turned into pasturage. British soldiers [actually they were Irishmen of the 21st Foot Regiment, still bitter at the participation of Sutherland troops in the suppression of the 1798 revolt in Ireland! (Prebble 67)] enforced this mass of evictions, and came to blows with the inhabitants. One old woman was burnt to death in the flames of the hut she refused to leave [she was, according to witnesses, too weak to leave, and none of her family was present to save her (Prebble 79)]. It was in this manner that this fine lady appropriated 794,000 acres of land which had belonged to the clan from time immemorial.

(Marx 891)37

Unlike the enclosure movement in England, however, the Highland Clearances were not only justified by an ideology of improvement, but by a discourse of colonialism, in whose terms the victims of the clearances—the Highlanders—could only be capable of “improvement” once their old way of life had been annihilated; or, in other words, once their space had been cleansed of its otherness and absorbed into the world-system of the British empire, once the Highlands had ceased being a neutral zone and had been locked into this economy as a subdued peripheral region.38 Thus, and in addition, the Highlands' cultural associations with Ireland had to be entirely purged before their de facto union with Britain could be achieved. Indeed, an observer of the Highlands' colonial transformation in the wake of Culloden wrote in 1746: “it is remarkable that, in some districts bordering upon the Highlands, where within memory the inhabitants spoke the Irish language, wore the Highland dress, and were accustomed to make use of Arms, upon the accidental [sic] introduction of industry, the Irish language and Highland dress gave way to a sort of English, and lowland Cloathing; the Inhabitants took to the Plough in place of Weapons; and, tho' disarmed by no Act of Parliament, are as tame as their Low Country neighbors” (quoted in Richards 106). At a certain political level, the subjugation and colonization of the Highlands represented not only the conquest of a previously wild and unruly revolutionary zone, but also the reclamation of this zone from the cultural influence of Ireland, or in other words a cultural revolt against Ireland. Hugh Trevor-Roper notes that, from at least the fifth century onwards, western Scotland was “always linked rather to Ireland than to the Saxon Lowlands,” and even that the Scottish Highlands were, culturally, politically and linguistically, long seen as a colony of Ireland (Trevor-Roper 15).39 In other words, the Highlands had been one of those spaces referred to by Blake as the “spaces of Erin.”40 The colonization of the Highlands involved not only the appropriation of their territory (both material and symbolic), but the draining-away of their Irish influence, through which what had been culturally a part of Ireland was purged of its Irishness.

To this extent, the British colonization of the Highlands, and their political and cultural annexation after 1745 (only in name had they become part of Great Britain following the 1707 Union with Scotland), anticipated the official annexation of Ireland itself some fifty years later. Waverley's re-emplotment of the rise and fall of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, and ultimately its claim on the Highlands, is in this sense not only a symbolic reenactment of the demise of Ireland after 1800, but a spatialized allegory of the colonization of a space of Irishness—a space of Otherness—both outside and inside Ireland “proper.”41

Beaten, subdued and ultimately colonized, the Highlands became a site not only for the rehearsal of the multitudinous practices of “improvement,” which would become more general throughout Britain in the nineteenth century, but also a site for the rehearsal of Britain's larger colonial project: an imaginary zone in which the spatial processes of colonial penetration and development were practiced on a small scale before being brought to bear on much of Africa and Asia. The languages of improvement and of colonization are brought together by the man directly responsible for the Sutherland Clearances, James Loch, in the conclusion to his Account of the Improvements on the Estates of the Marquess of Stafford:

First: Nothing could be more at variance with the general interests of society and the individual happiness of the people themselves than the original state of Highland manners and customs.

Second: The adoption of the new system, by which the mountainous districts are converted into sheep pastures, even if it should unfortunately occasion the emigration of some individuals is, upon the whole, advantageous to the nation at large.

Third: The introduction of sheep farms is perfectly compatible with retaining the ancient populations in the country.

Fourth: The effect of this change is most advantageous to the people themselves; relieving them from personal services, improving their industrious habits, and tending directly to their rapid increase and improvement.

Lastly: The improvements … have had constantly for their object the employment, the comfort, the happiness of every individual who has been the object of removal; and that there is no single instance of any man having left this country on account of his not having had a lot provided for him; and that those who have gone have been induced to do so by the persuasion of others, and not from themselves, and that in point of numbers they are most insignificant.

(quoted in Prebble 106-7)

The improvement offered by the Clearances, in other words, is offered not only for the land and its owners, but for the people being cleared off the land. Using the same proto-evolutionary and utilitarian language that would later be used to justify the colonization of India (particularly after India passed from the East India Company to the Crown in 1858), improvers like Loch were arguing that the people could be transformed and improved through the transformation and improvement of their space. This is (partly) why Michael Hechter and others have insisted that “the incorporation of the Celtic Periphery into England can, with the partial exception of Cornwall, be seen to be imperial in nature, rather than national.”42

Waverley does not so much reorder the various “narratives” surrounding the Clearances as it suppresses them, partly by using a discourse of nationalism to describe a colonial process (as in the Postscript), and partly by writing over the Clearances in drawing blank its imaginary map of the Highland present.43 Yet references to the Highland present do leak out of the novel's politicized unconscious. It uses the same Malthusian language to describe the Highlands' overpopulation as was being used to justify the clearances, and it contains dark hints as to what would happen to the Highlands after the failure of the Forty-Five. The disarmament act enters the narrative, as do the abolition of heritable jurisdictions and the confiscation of property—all of which were instrumental to the Clearances—only in reference to Tully-Veolan, and the novel carefully isolates these issues from the Highlands “proper” as they fade from view. However, Fergus MacIvor's dying wish to Edward is that he take care of the clan in their time of need; and the novel mentions that Edward “amply redeemed” his pledge, which can only mean that the clan must have desperately needed his help, for which the memory of his name lives on—not in the minds of the clanspeople, but in “their glens.”

Waverley's colonial vision is never straightforward and unproblematic; its will to colonize the Highlands is partially undermined by its claims to a sentimental Jacobitism, to the trappings and rituals of a mythic Highland past. While the Highlands were being, in Waverley's own present, cleaned of their otherness and brought symbolically into the present by being colonized, the novel wants to negate this process—while at the same time it is nevertheless forced to acknowledge it—and insist on their retention of a charge of Difference and Otherness. While the efforts at colonization and improvement were sustained by a colonial discourse of discipline, industry, and progress, Waverley counters these with a nationalist discourse and a pre-evolutionary view of Difference: one which rejects the possibility of transmutation, transformation and development. Thus the novel wants to preserve the Highlands as a site of otherness; but the cost for this—a cost paid neither by the novel nor by its reader—is that their present cannot be admitted into the novel as a presence. Waverley thus simultaneously acknowledges the historical transformation of the Highlands, and negates this transformation by keeping the Highland space intact as the space of the past. In other words, it keeps the Highlands “alive” (in the past) by symbolically “killing” them (in the present).

Waverley can only cling to the Highlands as a site of difference and otherness to the extent that it can negate its loss of otherness, its fall from difference to sameness. The novel's Highlands are not only parts of Blake's “space of Erin”; rather, their claim to be parts of the space of Erin is enabled by their being—like the spaces of Erin—what Robert Gleckner terms a “residuum of ‘unfallenness’” (Gleckner 312). For, even though they are consigned to the past, Waverley's Highlands have not yet fallen: they are held in suspense, forever on the brink of their calamitous fall from difference.

A commentator on the subjugation of Ireland in the late eighteenth century wrote: “The husbandman must first break the ground before it be made capable of good seed: and when it is thoroughly broken and manured, if he do not forthwith cast good seed into it, it will grow wild again, and bear nothing but weeds. So a barbarous country must first be broken by a war, before it will be capable of good government; and when it is fully subdued and conquered, if it be not well planted and governed after the conquest, it will often return to the former barbarism” (quoted in Hechter 76). Although Waverley acknowledges the colonization of the Highlands, and, extending the above metaphor, its implantation with the “seeds” of modernity and of the present, the novel refuses to map the “actual” modernization of the Highlands (in which, as I have been trying to suggest, it “actually” participated). The colonization of the Highlands amounts to their symbolic “implantation” with the seeds of the present social order of capitalist modernity. Yet this “implantation” does not involve the fundamental transformation of the colonized space as such or on its own terms: it involves an appropriation and clearing-away of this space as a site in which modernity can then be planted by force. Modernity, in this historical schema, is not something that can be achieved by the colonized themselves: it is something that must be implanted in them as a germ, to work its own way out and into the flow of “history,” to alter its “host” society beyond all recognition. Hence this process does not exactly involve the transformation of anti-modernity into modernity, or the transformation of an anti-modern society into a modern one. Rather it involves the annihilation of one form of society (the anti-modern) and its replacement by another (the modern). For, ultimately, modernity—that teleological discourse of progress, of evolution, of process—turns out to be more about the sudden replacement of one state of being by another than about a gradual development; modernization as a process needs, therefore, to be understood as in some sense identical to modernity itself, rather than as process leading towards modernity.44 The beginning of the process of modernization, in other words, implies its “end” as well; for modernity is a process that, paradoxically, “leads” only to itself. As for those who, like Waverley's Highlanders, are “shown” to be “incapable” of modernization—their fate is shown to be “inevitable”: outside history and beyond even the margins of modernity, they end up serving merely as immobile place-markers along the banks of the river of time.


  1. Sir Walter Scott, Waverley (1814; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983) 73.

  2. James Kerr, Fiction Against History: Scott as Storyteller (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989) 24. Tourism is never politically innocent, so that this is, I think, a difference of degree rather than of kind.

  3. Just as workers and landscape are reduced to aestheticized background objects in other kinds of tours: see John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting, 1730-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980).

  4. “The bagpipers, three in number, screamed, during the whole time of dinner, a tremendous war-tune; and the echoing of the vaulted roof, and clang of the Celtic tongue, produced such a Babel of noises, that Waverley dreaded his ears would never recover from it” (164).

  5. See, for example, 56, 63, 91, 83, 139, 174 and 324.

  6. One result of this arrangement in an Oriental tale is the sense that the exoticism of the Orient cannot be approached simply by reading what is supposed to be an Arabic or Turkish (or Indian, or Chinese) text. Rather, the Orient fundamentally requires the mediation of the Orientalist, who alone is capable of understanding all of its complexities and dangers, and of communicating his or her understanding to other Europeans. This is precisely the effect of the enormous weight of the notes at the end of William Beckford's Vathek and each of Byron's Turkish tales, for these notes do not convey useful information about this or that detail of Oriental culture as much as they convey a sense of the “vast complexity” of the Orient to the sheltered European reader. Because each noted reference in the main body of an Oriental tale necessarily brings up a dozen other references, the overall effect of the notes is not to clarify things, but rather to make them more obscure—and hence to reinforce the need for the intervention of the knowledgeable or informed authority figure (the Orientalist).

  7. See Hugh Trevor-Roper, “The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland,” in The Invention of Tradition, eds. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983). He says that “the whole concept of a Highland culture and tradition is a retrospective invention,” developed after the 1707 Union with England, against which it was a protest. Also see the Introduction to Bernard Bailyn and Philip Morgan, eds., Strangers Within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1991) 27.

  8. James Reed, Sir Walter Scott: Landscape and Locality (London: The Athlone P, 1980) 6.

  9. Hence the novel contrasts the ahistorical essences of the Highlands with the historically-constructed identity of the Lowlands.

  10. Though, as I will discuss more fully later on, the Highlands are the spatialized past that cannot enter or become the future. They remain immutably past.

  11. This is one way in which the novel uses characters to embody social or historical positions. See Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1962) 33-39.

  12. “The character of Colonel Talbot dawned upon Edward by degrees” (366); indeed, Edward's appreciation of the Colonel is in a mutually-determining relationship with his own gradual maturation and development. The other proper English gentlemen (and officers) in the novel—notably Melville, Morton and Gardiner (given Scott's benediction in the Notes as “a good Christian and gallant man”)—hold the same “correct” attitudes as Talbot. As characters, they are virtually indistinguishable from one another, since their propriety, justice, warmth, loyalty and generosity fade into and blend with one another, just as the selfishness, crudeness, and fanaticism of some of the Highlanders—principally Evan Dhu, Callum Beg, and Fergus in his “Highland” mode—make each also indistinguishable from the others.

  13. See, for instance, 366, 387, 424, and especially 463, where Talbot pronounces judgment on Fergus' fate: “Justice … which demanded some penalty of those who had wrapped the whole nation in fear and in mourning, could not perhaps have selected a fitter victim. He came to the field with the fullest light upon the nature of his attempt. He had studied and understood the subject. His father's fate could not intimidate him; the lenity of the laws which had restored to him [after the 1715 Jacobite revolt] his father's property and rights could not melt him. That he was brave, generous, and possessed many good qualities, only rendered him the more dangerous; that he was enlightened and accomplished made his crime the less excusable; that he was an enthusiast in the wrong cause only made him the more fit to be its martyr. Above all, he had been the means of bringing many hundreds of men into the field who, without him, would never have broken the peace of the country.” Talbot's assessment and the historical assessment of the narrator in the opening and closing chapters of the novel are not only exactly the same, they even sound the same in tone, phrasing, and emphasis. From the Unionist/Hanoverian standpoint, Talbot is historically “correct” to point to the “lenity” of the laws following the 1715 revolt; and indeed after the Forty-Five, the Highland chiefs were stripped of their hereditary jurisdictions (and hence of their ability to bring fighters into the field), and ultimately transformed into landlords in the capitalist sense: a process which led to the great Clearances, whose full ramifications were being felt in Scott's own time.

  14. See Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974) 7-11. Emplotment, he says, “is the way by which a sequence of events fashioned into a story is gradually revealed to be a story of a particular kind.”

  15. Prince Charles had, with French assistance, attempted a proper invasion in 1744, but a violent storm scattered his fleet and ended that attempt. Having financed his own operation, he returned to western Scotland on 25 July 1745, in a small boat with seven men (of whom three were Irish, and one more a Macdonald from Ulster), to begin his attempt to topple the British government in the name of his father (James viii of Scotland/iii of England) and the House of Stuart. For more on the Jacobites, see J. D. Mackie, A History of Scotland (London: Pelican, 1978) 221-82; Christopher Haigh, ed., The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990) 197-222; and Christopher Hill, Reformation to Industrial Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969) 213-38.

  16. The battle of Culloden (16 April 1746) marked the end of the Forty-Five rebellion, and the final collapse of Jacobitism. Charles was spirited away by Flora Macdonald to the Isle of Skye, and thence to France, where he died in exile. His followers at Culloden suffered heavily; over a thousand were killed in the battle; a further 120 were executed afterwards; 1000 were transported; and 700 others disappeared.

  17. Thus the novel exaggerates the identification between Highlands and Jacobitism, since the latter stood for much more than the former. Indeed, this identification is merely the result of the defeat of the House of Stuart during and after 1688 in all of Britain, the Highlands merely being one of their last areas of support. But the novel collapses Jacobitism into the Highlands, so that the one becomes the other. It also collapses anti-Unionism into Jacobitism.

  18. “Unaccustomed to the address and manners of a polished court, in which Charles was eminently skilful, his words and his kindness penetrated the heart of our hero, and easily outweighed all prudential motives. To be thus personally solicited for assistance by a Prince, whose form and manners, as well as the spirit which he displayed in this singular enterprise, answered his ideas of a hero of romance; to be courted by him in the ancient halls of his paternal palace, recovered by the sword which he was already bending towards other conquests, gave Edward, in his own eyes, the dignity and importance which he had ceased to consider as his attributes” (295).

  19. When Waverley “had surmounted a small craggy eminence, called St Leonard's Hill, the King's Park, or the hollow between the mountain of Arthur's Seat, and the rising ground on which the southern part of Edinburgh is now built, lay beneath him, and displayed a singular and animating prospect. It was occupied by the army of the Highlanders, now in the act of preparing for their march …” (321).

  20. Gladsmuir is the Highlanders' name for the battle on 21 September 1745, which the English called Prestonpans, after the nearby town (southeast of Edinburgh).

  21. See Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981) 81-82.

  22. Thus, defending Edward from charges of treason, one of the novel's spokesmen for the rational present (Morton) says that “He whom ambition, or hope of personal advantage [i.e., Fergus], has led to disturb the peace of a well-ordered government, let him fall a victim to the laws; but surely youth [i.e., Edward], misled by the wild visions of chivalry and imaginary loyalty [i.e., Prince Charles], may plea for pardon” (252).

  23. At the same time, Waverley chronicles not only the growth and maturity of its hero, but the growth and maturity of the British nation away from what it posits as the irrationality of its “past.” The 1707 Act of Union was a necessary and beneficial act, in the novel's view. The Highlands and their people pay the price for being the “immature” area away from which the nation had to develop, or, put differently, the space that had to be sacrificed in order to achieve the unity of the nation. The novel, as Lukács suggests, uses personal feelings and attractions to express political attachments. Waverley's homoerotic attraction to Fergus, a supplement to his attraction to Flora, thus expresses his attachment to the Jacobites. His drift away from Flora and Fergus and his growing fondness for Rose express his gradual move away from Jacobitism. The homoerotic supplement to his attraction to Rose is Talbot himself, Waverley's “true” father-figure (since his own has had little to do with him). The novel's politicized sexual dynamics lead Waverley toward an Oedipal “crisis” which it suppresses.

  24. “Unreserved alienation is thus unreserved representation. It wrenches presence absolutely from itself and absolutely re-presents it to itself” (Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. G. C. Spivak [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976] 296).

  25. It is precisely in these terms that the invention of a Highland (or any other) tradition does not necessarily lose its “authority” and “authenticity” for being a forgery. On the contrary, it becomes a powerful political reference and referent.

  26. As, for instance, its concerns with revolution have to do not only with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, but also the revolutionary situation in Britain in the early nineteenth century.

  27. See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

  28. Good colonial examples of this is are the Thames and the Congo in Conrad's Heart of Darkness; a good postcolonial instance of writing this theme “back to the empire” is the river Nile in al-Tayyeb Saleh's Season of Migration to the North, which is in some ways a counter-narrative of the European voyage of exploration into the unknown.

  29. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (New York: Columbia UP, 1983) 17.

  30. A similar occurrence took place in Wales at about the same time, with the reinvention of the bardic meeting or eisteddfod, Druidism, and so forth. See Prys Morgan, “From a Death to a View: The Hunt for the Welsh Past in the Romantic Period,” in The Invention of Tradition 43-100. But if Wales and Scotland had been colonized by England and annexed into a Union with it long before the romantic period (1536 and 1707, respectively), Ireland was still facing the process of this incorporation, for its Act of Union with England was only legislated in 1800.

  31. Much of the post-45 legislation explicitly used the language of colonialism, calling, for instance, for “the better civilizing and improving the Highlands of Scotland, so preventing disorders there in future.” Quoted in Eric Richards, “Scotland and the Uses of the Atlantic Empire,” in Strangers Within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire 111.

  32. See Trevor-Roper 22. Indeed, earlier legislation to pacify the Highlands, after the Fifteen, had proscribed the Irish longshirt which had originally been worn by the inhabitants. The kilt was invented by Thomas Rawlinson, an Englishman.

  33. See Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History (Berkeley: U of California P, 1982) 239-52; J. D. Mackie 280-81; Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Vintage, 1977) 877-96. The French did precisely the same thing in Algeria later in the 19th century, destroying the old Berber and Arab family-property system and replacing it with the private ownership of land.

  34. John Prebble, The Highland Clearances (London: Penguin, 1963) 14.

  35. Compare this to the Dutch murder or eviction of the inhabitants of various East Indian islands, such as Banda, to make room for spice plantations worked by a few natives and supervised by even fewer Europeans. See Wolf 237-39.

  36. See Prebble 139-44; also see Christopher Harvie, “Scott and the Image of Scotland,” in Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British Identity, ed. Raphael Samuel (London: Routledge, 1989) 189.

  37. Also see Prebble 49-115; Mackie 289-91. After her clan's outcries against their eviction, the Duchess, then in London, wrote to a friend: “I hope to be in Scotland this summer, but I am uneasy about a sort of mutiny that has broken out in one part of Sutherland, in consequences [sic] of our new plans having made it necessary to transplant some of the inhabitants to the sea-coast from other parts of the estate. The people who are refractory on this occasion are part of Clan Gun, so often mentioned by Sir Robert Gordon, who live by distilling whisky and are unwilling to quit that occupation for a life of industry of a different sort which was proposed to them. London is more full and gay, if possible, than usual. A great many foreigners from Russia, etc., parlant bon anglais-russe” (quoted in Prebble 65).

  38. See Homi Bhabha, “The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism,” in Francis Barker, et al., eds., Literature, Politics & Theory (London: Methuen, 1986) 148-72.

  39. The invention of the Highland “tradition,” he goes on, had not only to do with the retrospective invention of cultural forms and their presentation to the Lowlands, but also with a cultural revolt against Ireland, a usurpation of Irish culture.

  40. See Robert Gleckner, Blake and Spenser (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1985) 311-18.

  41. Waverley can be read as a narrative of the colonization of Ireland, in addition to being a “map” of the colonization of the Highlands and of the suppression of insurgency in Britain. There are several—hardly surprising—connections between the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion and the doomed 1798 revolution in Ireland (although the Forty-Five arose out of the 1707 Union of Scotland and England, and the 1798 rebellion led to the 1800 Union of England and Ireland, as a better means of controlling the Irish). There are strong connections between the United Irishmen, one of the movements involved in the 1798 rebellion, and Jacobitism in general (partly through the UI's articulation of Defenderism, which is itself caught up with Irish Catholicism and Jacobitism). But there are also striking connections between the revolutionary situations in Scotland (1745), Ireland (1798), and Waverley's Britain (1805-14), in the underlying British fear in all three contexts (as was the case during the American Revolution) of French involvement, and ultimately the involvement of the French Revolution. Also the United Irishmen had strong connections to an English revolutionary organization (not surprisingly called the United Englishmen), who were actively involved in the 1797 Mutiny in the Royal Navy's Channel and North Sea Fleets at Spithead and the Nore.

  42. Michael Hechter, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, 1536-1966 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1975) 65. Hence his use of the term “internal colonialism.”

  43. In relentlessly using the same language of nationalism and national development as Scott uses in Waverley, Georg Lukács not only overlooks the colonial—rather than national—incorporation of the Highlands into the United Kingdom: he ruthlessly consigns the novel to English (not even British) literature, arguing in the course of his discussion of “English reality” and “English development,” that “it is no accident that this new type of novel arose in England” (31, 54). It seems to me, on the contrary, that it is no coincidence that this historical novel arose not at all in England, but in Scotland (with Walter Scott) and Ireland (with Maria Edgeworth).

  44. I discuss the significance and contemporary relevance of such an understanding of modernity in “‘Postcolonial’ Literature in a Neo-Colonial World: Modern Arabic Culture and the End of Modernity,” in Boundary 2 (Spring 1995).

Wolfram Schmidgen (essay date 1997)

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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 its meaning. His claim, however, that Waverley's transformation of the Bradwardine property culminates in the “recovery” of some earlier state is inaccurate. Like other critics who have emphasized property, Duncan fails to recognize that, under the guise of recovery and continuity, the transformed Bradwardine estate articulates a fundamental break with the past.1

The present essay seeks to identify the cultural and political meaning of this break. I will argue that the transformation of the Bradwardine estate in Scott's novel symbolizes Scotland's incorporation into Great Britain. My analysis will be guided by an examination of the different concepts of property in the English and Scottish legal traditions. Though crucial to understanding the political and cultural meaning of property's transformation, Scott's first novel has not been interpreted in light of these differences. They will help expose Waverley's concealed negotiation of English and Scottish national identities.2

I will further argue that the description of property in Waverley focuses the contradictions between two juridico-national ideologies associated with the construction of legitimacy in common and statute law. Waverley's descriptive strategies, as we will see, undercut the common law's model of legitimacy and its configuration of property. To those familiar with Scott's conservative political position, one of the more surprising results of this investigation will be Waverley's proximity—despite elaborate attempts at maintaining distance—to the legal philosophies of Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Paine.

My argument unfolds, then, on two levels. On one, I argue that the transformation of property in Scott's novel negotiates the nationalist conflict between England and Scotland. On the other, I argue that Waverley's description of property problematizes a change in the construction of legitimacy and nationality that affects Great Britain as a whole. While the conflict between England and Scotland is crucial to an adequate understanding of Scott's novel, the concentration on property also forces us to look beyond this conflict at meanings of a more general cultural and historical nature. Even though they occasionally overlap, these two levels of the property theme in Waverley have to be clearly distinguished.3

The main focus of Waverley's representation of property is Tully-Veolan, the landed estate of the Jacobite Scotsman Baron Bradwardine. It is described at three strategic points in Scott's text: before the Jacobite uprising of 1745, after its defeat, and after Baron Bradwardine is pardoned for his participation in the rebellion and regains possession of his forfeited estate. The first description of the Bradwardine property opens with the emblems of the Bradwardine family, a sign of ancestral right that recurs in the two subsequent depictions of Tully-Veolan:

In the centre of the exterior barrier was the upper gate of the avenue, opening under an archway, battlemented on the top, and adorned with two large weather-beaten mutilated masses of upright stone, which, if the tradition of the hamlet could be trusted, had once represented, at least had been once designed to represent, two rampant bears, the supporters of the family of Bradwardine.4

Under the surface of this unassuming passage one can decipher, I believe, outlines of the juridico-national ideology that is overturned in the course of Waverley's events. The important point of the description is that to an outsider, merely “mutilated masses of upright stone” are visible. Only the local villagers, immersed in the customary usages of this particular region, know that these masses of stone are really bears, emblems of the hereditary power of their lord. No one is concerned, it seems, about the illegibility of these signs of power or about the uncertain knowledge about them. Indeed, the passage suggests that knowledge of authority is not tied to the public recognition of some clearly visible and coherent representation. Authority is here a lived relation, something that is “known” through the continuity of local custom. Condensing its purport, one could say that this passage turns on a curious disjunction between the “visible” and the “knowable”: what is visible (the unshapely mass of stones) by no means defines what can be known (that they are heraldic emblems). Why is such disjunction important?

As I will argue in more detail later on, the epistemological separation of the visible from the knowable is a defining aspect of the common law's logic of legitimacy. Given this supposition, the deliberate destruction of the Bradwardine emblems after the defeat of the Jacobites by an invading English army gains in significance. I want to suggest that this attack aims not only at Scottish property, but also at this logic of legitimacy.

The bears that are “hurled from their posts” (3:223) during the English attack reappear in the third and final representation of the Bradwardine property. Ironically, it is the Englishman Edward Waverley who is responsible for restoring them to their former place: “the battlements were replaced, the ruins cleared away, and (most wonderful of all) … the two great stone Bears … had resumed their posts over the gateway” (3:343). If this sounds as if, by the end of the novel, everything has returned to its original state—an impression the text is very interested in conveying—this is not at all what happens in the novel's final scene. Far from recuperating the damages wrought by English soldiers, Waverley's speedy restoration of Bradwardine's ancient Scottish estate instead completes their work. By the end of the novel, the bears will have ceased to embody a customary regional order: the visible will have become coterminous with the knowable. This transformation, as I will show, has everything to do with the integration of Scotland into Great Britain, the replacement of one juridico-national ideology by another, and the possibilities of picturing property.


Property's involvement with such a wide-range of issues requires some explanation. The role property plays in Waverley becomes more comprehensible once we consider the centrality of real property in eighteenth-century constructions of legitimacy and nationality. Although such centrality characterizes both English and Scottish legal writing of this period, property's significance is far greater in Scotland. Despite similar constructions of legal legitimacy, it is in the most important area of common law, land law, that the English and Scottish traditions differ most. I wish to emphasize two basic aspects of this difference. The first has to do with concepts of landholding and title.5

Since landholding in eighteenth-century Scotland was based on the notion of dominium directum, the Scottish lord had a much stronger title to his land than his English counterpart, who enjoyed only a nominal title to an interest in land. The fiction of central ownership of all land by the king established itself early in England and gave rise to what English lawyers call “the doctrine of universal derivative tenure” (Kolbert and Mackay, p. 25). According to this doctrine, an English lord never has absolute interest in his property: his interest is always relative and in principle revocable.6 Derivative tenure promoted alienability at a comparatively early point in history. For instance, an English vassal in the eighteenth century doesn't have to appeal to his landlord in order to alienate his land. In Scotland, dominium directum prescribes such an appeal.7

The difference between English and Scottish concepts of landholding and title is further evinced by the fact that as late as 1685 Scottish parliament passed a law that encouraged dynastic landholding. The “Act Concerning Tailzies” strengthened the Scottish landholder's right to keep his property unalterably within the same family. It allowed for the entailment of land into strict familial perpetuity. The slightest alteration of the property, for example the indebting of the land, immediately dispossessed the current holder and turned the property over to the next in line. A comparable law (and a comparable reverence for dynastic landholding) simply did not exist in eighteenth-century England.8 A related difference that will become important later on is the fact that until 1747, Scotland retained a territorial system of jurisdiction, something that played an exceedingly marginal role in eighteenth-century England. In reaction to the Jacobite rebellion, these heritable jurisdictions were abolished by British parliament in 1747.9

The second aspect of the difference between Scottish and English legal traditions concerns the union of England and Scotland. The union of the crowns in 1603 had prompted several schemes for a legal unification of the two countries, but these plans met with increasing criticism in Scotland (as well as in England). The prospect of a complete fusion with England led Scottish lawyers to emphasize the unique national properties of their law, and Viscount Stair's Institutions of the Law of Scotland (1693) is the most influential early work that bears testimony to this new nationalist dimension of Scottish law.10 The contested Treaty of Union in 1707 further amplified this trend. As the Treaty protected Scottish independence only in the areas of education, church policy, and jurisprudence, Scottish law and its traditions became an important register for national sentiment in the eighteenth century. Scottish lawyers, in the words of Paul Henderson Scott, “felt themselves to be in a very particular sense the chief upholders of Scottish identity and tradition.”11 It bears emphasizing in this respect that, at least until the late eighteenth century, the landed classes completely dominated the Scottish legal profession.12 Since Scottish common law was fundamentally concerned with real property, not only Scottish law, but, more specifically, Scottish concepts of title and ownership acquired a distinctly national significance.

I do not mean to suggest that English legal discourse in the eighteenth century did not center on real property. That would be simply untrue. My intention here is to emphasize a crucial and frequently overlooked difference in the two legal traditions and the attitudes to land and title they register. The tension between England and Scotland in this respect emerges in exemplary fashion in a letter Lord Chancellor Hardwicke wrote to Lord Kames in 1757:

As to the general mischief of your strict entails, and the evil consequences of locking up the land of a country extra commercium, I have long been convinced of them, and rejoice to find a person of your knowledge and experience in the law and constitution of Scotland in the same way of thinking.13

It is to the same difference between England and Scotland that Lord Kames refers in 1777 when he states, more following his wishes than reality, that “even in Scotland … land is now restored to commerce, and is bought and sold like any other merchandise.”14

But Lord Kames is certainly an exceptional figure in the legal scene of the eighteenth century. It is no coincidence, for example, that Jeremy Bentham's early critique of William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) refers approvingly to Kames's Historical Law Tracts (1758).15 By contrast, Scott's law professor Baron Hume, though acknowledging Kames's work, finds him finally too much of a censor of the law in the Benthamite fashion to count for much as a promoter of a national Scottish law.16 Indeed, for Scott and most Scottish lawyers the transformation of land into merchandise would have been nothing less than a catastrophe. The majority of eighteenth-century lawyers (including the English side with Blackstone) adhered to the property paradigm that ruled their discourse. They would have agreed with Edmund Burke who in 1790 had forcefully expressed himself against the instability caused by a commodification of landed property. “By this kind of operation,” Burke had warned, “that species of property becomes (as it were) volatized; it assumes an unnatural and monstrous activity.”17

Despite Scott's closeness to Burke's position on landed property, the ‘volatization’ of landed property through its immersion into the real estate market and its consequent unlocking from a century-old Scots entail (thus clearing the way for English possession), is precisely the process we can observe in the case of the Bradwardine property in Waverley. And we can now also explain why property can function as such a significant register of political and cultural change in the novel. In the nationalist atmosphere of eighteenth-century Scottish legal discourse, property and the peculiarly Scottish modes of landholding, conveyancing, and succession became important definitional points for an indigenous legal tradition and a feeling of Scottish independence among the landed classes.18 Many proprietors held their lands by a title established long before the contested union, in the days of national independence, and maintained strong emotional ties to a Scottish past untainted by English influence. Given the fact that landed property focused national, historical, and, as we shall see, constitutional meanings, it can't surprise when any modification of Scottish property relations becomes, from the perspective of the Scottish gentry, immediately an issue with the most far-ranging implications.


The most eye-opening passage for a reading of property in Waverley is to be found in the final scene of the novel. After he has last seen his estate in the state of destruction referred to earlier, the pardoned Baron Bradwardine finally returns to his forfeited property. This is what he finds:

The marks of devastation, unless to an eye intimately acquainted with the spot, were already totally obliterated … Indeed, when he entered the court, … all seemed as much as possible restored to the state in which he had left it, when he assumed arms some months before. The pigeon-house was replenished; the fountain played with its usual activity, and not only the Bear who predominated over its bason, but all the other Bears whatsoever were replaced upon their stations, and renewed or repaired with so much care, that they bore no tokens of the violence which had so lately descended upon them. While these minutiae had been so heedfully attended to, it is scarce necessary to add, that the house itself had been thoroughly repaired, as well as the gardens, with the strictest attention to maintain the original character of both, and to remove, as far as possible, all appearance of the ravage they had sustained. The Baron gazed in silent wonder.


What is at stake in this passage? What can we make of its obsessive concern with the preservation of ‘original character’, a ‘total obliteration’ of the marks of the past, and its delirious suggestion that the Jacobite rebellion has meant no change for Scotland? I take this to be the central instance of a fantasy of total restoration that haunts Waverley's denouement in several guises. In the final scene of Scott's novel, the restored Bradwardine property promotes a fiction of inviolate return struggling to annul the historical change that divides the beginning from the end of Waverley. The passage sets the tone for a series of elaborate conceits designed to pass off historical difference as sameness. England continues to meddle with Scottish property: after the soldier's destruction it is two Englishmen, Waverley and his friend Col. Talbot, who are remarkably eager to engage in what will turn out to be a rather fateful restoration. Before anything can be restored, however, the Bradwardine property has to go through the neutralizing process of a sale that breaks the old hereditary order of Tully-Veolan.

After the forfeiture of Baron Bradwardine's possessions, the next heir in line, Malcolm Bradwardine, inherits the estate. Frustrated with the resistance of his tenants to their new lord, Malcolm decides to sell his inheritance. He is able to do so despite the limitations that an entailment usually imposes because he is “the last institute in this entail” (3:235). This sale is the turning point in the transformation of the Bradwardine estate. Malcolm's decision to “alienat[e] the family inheritance” (3:288) signals the translation of heritable property into monetary terms, delivering property from familial perpetuity. The fourteenth-century feudal charter from Robert the First under which Tully-Veolan had been in uninterrupted possession of the Bradwardine family is void once the estate has found a new owner (3:36-37). This transformation of immovable property into a quantifiable object of unlimited exchange effectively severs the line of inheritance secured by birthright. Baron Bradwardine's greatest fear, that the family estate could “pass from the lineage that should have possessed it in saecula saeculorum” (i.e., permanently) is realized (3:235).19

The marked diligence the novel displays in veiling the basic facts of Tully-Veolan's reacquisition betrays that the sale is, indeed, the turning point in the fate of the Bradwardine property. The full account Scott's text gives of the sale reads as follows: the money ultimately exchanged for Tully-Veolan comes from Waverley's English friend Talbot, a devoted Hanoverian. The latter buys land from Everard Waverley, Edward Waverley's uncle who, in turn, gives the money to Edward who then makes it over to his wife-to-be, Rose Bradwardine. A prenuptial contract ensures that this endowment is irrevocable. From Rose the money finally goes to Malcolm in exchange for the estate.

The ostensible purpose of the protracted path that the money is forced to take is to give Baron Bradwardine the impression that he is under no “pecuniary obligation” (3:354) and that the estate is not reacquired by forces outside the family. It is regained instead from inside, through Rose Bradwardine, whose marriage does not affect her ownership of the money. More to the point, these complex arrangements effectively conceal the (for a Jacobite) compromising circumstance that the money used to reacquire his ancestral home not only comes from an English source, but from a devoted Hanoverian. When Talbot assures the Baron that “your family estate is your own once more in full property, and at your absolute disposal” (3:352-53) the suggested identity of the present with the previous terms of ownership is misleading. The fact that the Baron is forced, as the novel puts it, to “acquire the estate of his fathers” (3:357, my emphasis) implies a freedom that ruptures the predetermination of ownership through a century-old plan of inheritance. The upshot of these developments is that, due to the reentailment Baron Bradwardine arranges at the end, Tully-Veolan will ultimately, after the Baron's death, belong to the English family Waverley (3:356).

Immovable property is thus ‘volatized’ and the controlling grasp of entailed inheritance undermined. Landed property ceases to be the immutable focal point of an uninterrupted continuity of heritage. From a restriction to esoteric relations of permanent attachment, property becomes properly a ‘thing’ with its entrance into exoteric market relations. Its exchangeability for other things is suddenly its socially relevant feature and, contrary to its earlier status, property's possession is not confined to lineal or collateral relations.20 Despite all attempts to reintroduce property into relations of esoteric and permanent attachment, this stain of reification cannot be removed.21 The failure to ‘recontextualize’ the Bradwardine property finds one of its richest expressions in the reentailment that has become necessary after the sale.

The legal procedure followed in the reentailment is based on what Scottish lawyers call “a charter of resignation in favorem” (3:356).22 As we have seen, the comparative strength of feudal custom in eighteenth-century Scotland and its particular practice of landholding prescribed application to the feudal lord for any change in the terms of ownership. Earlier in the novel, Baron Bradwardine had identified the exiled Stuart king as his feudal lord and we find him, at that point, quite eager to perform his feu-duty as determined by his charter from the fourteenth century (3:5-15, 36-38). Yet the Stuart title and therefore the relationship enacted by the feu-duty are fundamentally shaken after the defeat of the Jacobite rebellion. The legal procedure of the reentailment brings this development full circle. Reentailing his inheritance, Baron Bradwardine literally resigns his fee to the Hanoverian succession “in favorem,” that is, “for the express purpose of its re-grant to the disponee as a new vassal.23 The reentailment thus implies not only the expiration of the original Bradwardine tailzie from the fourteenth century and the eventual surrender of the Bradwardine lands to an English family, but also the recognition of Stuart right as defeasible. Such recognition, indeed, is a condition of the reentailment's effectiveness. The failed resistance against the Glorious Revolution and the interruptibility of lineal descent on the battlefield is thus completed by the re-grant of Bradwardine's feudal charter through the Hanoverian king.

The creation of a Hanoverian entail and the fact of eventual English ownership effectively remove the Bradwardine estate from a century-old code of inheritance (the original entailment), Stuart legitimacy, Scottish history, and, ultimately, Scottish ownership. The wide contextual range of the Scottish property relation is thus curtailed, appropriated, and integrated into the constitutional order of Great Britain. But Waverley's transformation of property doesn't stop here. In the final chapter, the narrator notes that British parliament has deprived Baron Bradwardine of his heritable jurisdiction (3:365). The abolition of these jurisdictions in the aftermath of the '45 completes the decontextualization of Scottish property I have traced so far. It breaks the customary link between the land and the law that lies at the bottom of the juridico-national order Scott's novel overturns. Since they interlink territory, law, and nationality, heritable jurisdictions exemplify what I have in mind with the concept of a juridico-national order.


Heritable jurisdictions—proudly insisted on by Baron Bradwardine as his right to “imprison, try, and execute” his vassals in cases of delinquency (1:130)—were defined legally as strictly incidental to the territory to which they were annexed. In accordance with such thinking, the Treaty of Union protected Scotland's territorial jurisdictions by considering them “rights of property” (6 Anne, c. 11).24 Their abolition by British parliament in 1747 violated the treaty's protection of the Scottish legal constitution and its definition of property.25

The legal status of these jurisdictions as property anticipates what I take to be their significance for the transformation of property in Waverley as a whole: heritable jurisdictions are integral to a model of nationality and legitimacy that is founded on a close interrelation of landed property and the law. Since these jurisdictions imply a territorial, local law, Tully-Veolan is not only a geographical name, but simultaneously designates a distinct sphere of jurisdiction. The curious bond between geography and the law that heritable jurisdictions embody is crucial to understanding the political dimension of Waverley. For that bond has important implications for concepts of nationality and legitimacy—both of which undergo significant change as Waverley transforms property.

In Scottish law treatises of the eighteenth century, the legitimacy of national law is defined by its identity with regional custom.26 Viscount Stair, the important early figure in Scottish law, articulates this understanding when he states that “every nation, under the name of law understand their ancient and uncontroverted customs time out of mind.” “We [the Scottish people],” Stair continues, “are ruled in the first place by our ancient and immemorial customs, which may be called our common law.”27 This understanding is reiterated throughout the eighteenth century, among others by Baron David Hume, Scott's law professor, and John Erskine, whose Principles of the Law of Scotland (1754) served Scott as a legal textbook.28 Hume, for instance, praises the customary authority of “the Lex non scripta, the unwritten, customary or common law,” established on the basis of usage “time out of mind” over the merely declaratory power of “the Lex scripta, the written or statutory law.” Refusing “allegiance to the Civil Law, as having dominion over us,” Hume emphasizes that the “special rules according to which our own customs deviate from [the Civil Law] must … be well understood by the lawyer, before he undertake the important trust of defending the rights, which his fellow-citizens, by the tenure of those customs, hold and enjoy.”29 Scott himself comments on the customary authority of such a national common law when he says:

No [legal] system of great antiquity is ever theoretically perfect. The greater part of its excellencies have been produced by circumstances, some of them altogether accidental, others arising from causes which cannot be traced, and many of them incapable of being distinctly perceived … An establishment like this, it is obviously not easy to borrow. It is only in its natural soil, where it has long been planted, that the tree can be expected to flourish; there only are to be found those peculiarities which have contributed to its beauty and vigour.30

The source of the law's legitimacy is here again identified as “time out of mind.” The fact that the historical origins of the law escape rational inquiry and even rational design only serves to fortify the law's legitimacy as a lived relation whose totality exceeds the grasp of any contemporary analysis. That the law represents a lived relation explains its national character. The uniqueness of the Scottish constitution and the identity of the Scottish nation, Scott suggests, rest on the organic relation between the legal system (the tree) and the nation (the soil). So deeply rooted, in fact, is Scottish law in the land, that the distinction between culture and nature disappears. Scott quotes approvingly the English lawyer Matthew Hale on this point: “[the people's] ancient laws and customs have been twisted and woven into them as part of their nature” (“View of the Changes,” pp. 185-86). Under such conditions, the moment of legal institutionalization is shrouded in invisibility. In the ideology of the common law, the land and the law form an inextricable unity because legitimacy finds its deepest root in local custom.

Scott's view of legal authority coincides in this respect with Blackstone's. Philosophically more articulate, Blackstone assigns the authority of law/custom to a realm of “higher antiquity than memory or history can reach: nothing being more difficult than to ascertain the precise beginning and first spring of an ancient and long established custom.”31 Erskine's Principles employ the same construction when stating that Scottish customary law “derives its force from the tacit consent of King and People, which consent is presumed from the ancient custom of the community … No precise time can be fixed for constituting this sort of law.”32 For Blackstone, Scott, and Erskine, the epistemological inaccessibility of the common law's origin ensures its indivisibility from local custom and hence its legitimacy and national significance.

If the legitimacy and preeminence of the national law of Scotland (and England) rests on its rootedness in custom, these customs themselves of course vary substantially. It is this circumstance that enables us to discern the fullest articulation of the law's tie to a regional geography, a particular territory that is defined by a particular customary order. Any legal system that founds its legitimacy on an organic relation of custom and law promotes regional variance, even within national units.33 This is why Scott rejects the (utilitarian) “principle of ‘uniformity of laws’”34 and criticizes the Code Napoleon for its “very symmetry and theoretical consistency” that can never match a legal system which “has grown up with a nation.”35 No wonder if Scott thought that the abolition of a customary, regional, and asymmetrical legal expedient such as the heritable jurisdictions, constituted “the most extensive alteration in the law of Scotland” and was calculated to “subvert several fundamental principles of our law.”36 The heritable jurisdictions constitute a concrete instance of that regional connection between the law and the land that is characteristic of the common law in general.

From a modern perspective, then, national identity and legitimacy in eighteenth-century legal writing are contradictorily grounded in a finally irreconcilable variety of regional customs. In the legal ideology of the common law, the nation does not translate into a single, unified culture of shared customs. Since the law's legitimacy hinges on local custom, the nation can't be defined along the lines of a single cultural boundary.37 The regional tie of eighteenth-century law—so powerfully exemplified by the heritable jurisdictions—cannot accommodate anything like the homogeneous space of the modern nation state. The national territory constructed by an identification of the regional with the law is essentially discontinuous, patchy, and marked by a proliferation of semipermeable local boundaries. Strong cultural contrast, linguistic diversity, regional rule, and relative permeability are, in fact, the principal characteristics of the topography drawn in Waverley. This discontinuous territorial model is incompatible with the modern concept of the nation in which, to quote Benedict Anderson, “state sovereignty is fully, flatly, and evenly operative over each square centimetre of a legally demarcated territory.”38

The territory Anderson describes here, however, is compatible with a concept of legal legitimacy that transcends the regional root of the common law. In Jeremy Bentham's legal philosophy, for example, the tie between custom, territory, and law—respected by the majority of legal thinkers in the eighteenth century—is dissolved. As Bentham states in his early critique of Blackstone:

With respect then to such actions in particular as are among the objects of the Law, to point out to a man the utility of them or the mischievousness, is the only way to make him see clearly that property of them which every man is in search of; the only way, in short, to give him satisfaction … Governed in this manner by a principle that is recognized by all men, the same arrangement that would serve for the jurisprudence of any one country, would serve with little variation for that of any other.39

Bentham presupposes here a national space that is merely the empty homogeneous container for a rational and uniform legislation. We can pinpoint the implication of the passage by saying that to the extent that the law is not a manifestation of custom and regional difference, a national territory can emerge that serves as the neutral receptacle for a rational, uniformly applicable code of law. This means, however, that the law ceases to be territorial and is detached from landed property, history, and local custom. As a result, the authorization of the law as the historically condensed and nationally specific expression of a people and their customs is disabled.40 The law's authority, in Bentham's model, is founded not on the epistemological inaccessibility of legal origins, but on the rational faculty of man. As Bentham's language shows, legitimacy can be achieved only through equal and unlimited visibility: it is essential that every individual “see clearly that property [of those actions regulated by the law] which every man is in search of.” Utility, the transparent self-interest of the rational individual, not custom, the accumulated usage of past generations, determines the legitimacy of the law. The utilitarian relocation of legitimacy undercuts the territorial discontinuity stipulated by a law based on local custom and provides the conceptual means to homogenize the national space. As his critique of the administrative changes in postrevolutionary France show, Scott was quite aware of the connection between a uniform system of legislation and a homogenized national space.41 It is one of the larger ironies of Waverley that it depicts and redeems, under a layer of intricate dissimulations, the development of just such a homogenized juridico-national space.

The disaggregation of landed property, law, and custom, the relocation of legitimacy, and the concomitant homogenization of national space in Bentham's legal model clarifies what is ultimately at stake in Waverley's transformation of property. With every one of its carefully veiled actions, the English intervention in Scottish property relations disentangles property from the legitimizing nexus it centers. In the process, property is unlocked not only from a fourteenth-century entail, Scottish ownership, Scottish history, and the Stuart line, but also from a system of heritable jurisdiction whose validity inhered in the common law's logic of legitimacy. In eighteenth-century Scottish legal thought this logic, as we have seen, took on particular national connotations. Yet by the end of Waverley, the juridico-national order that had joined Scots law and land is brought to the point of dissolution. Scottish property and territory enter the dominion of Great Britain, thus preparing for the homogenized space of the modern nation state.


In my opening reading of the Bradwardine property I argued for a division between the knowable and the visible as integral to the customary order of Tully-Veolan. Before I can further explore Waverley's description of property in this respect, I wish to sharpen our sense of this crucial distinction as it informs both common law discourse and the attack that thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Paine mounted against it.

The common lawyers' assumption that the law's authority ultimately springs from an organic relation with custom implies a certain degree of cognitive opacity. Central areas of the law must remain inaccessible to inquiry because only a customary continuity based on a lived (as opposed to a documented) relation to the past is admitted as legitimate. As a result, lawyers who, following a general trend in the eighteenth century, wish to codify a national common law, are constantly exposed to one basic contradiction: how can you produce a rational discourse on the law when the law's legitimacy depends on the inaccessibility of its origins? And how can you rationally account for the fact that these origins, though invisible, form the law's very foundation? In short, how can you explain the law when, in the very act of analyzing, you have to insist on a division between what you can know and what you can see?

The epistemological difference between knowledge and visibility reaches its counterintuitive peak (from a modern perspective) in a crucial passage from Blackstone's Commentaries. Reflecting on the “necessary requisites” for a custom to be recognized at common law as a just rule, Blackstone points out that such a custom must “have been used so long, that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. So that if any one can shew the beginning of it, it is no good custom.” And a little later, even more pronounced: “It must have been continued. Any interruption would cause a temporary ceasing: the revival gives it a new beginning, which will be within time of memory, and thereupon the custom will be void.”42

Blackstone's seemingly counterintuitive claim (already under attack in Bentham's Fragment on Government) is this: the ‘knowability’ of a beginning delegitimizes, while the ‘unknowability’ of a beginning legitimizes. To know a custom and to know the beginning of a custom are not part of the same epistemological operation, but fundamentally different processes. Instead of strengthening the evidence for the existence of a custom, the discovery of an origin destroys the whole case. It appears, then, that to “shew the beginning” of a custom carries visibility to a point at which legitimacy ceases. To know of a custom leaves the custom within the context of practice. But to know the origin of a custom introduces the possibility of separating custom from the context of practice, of recognizing it, in fact, as a convention agreed upon at a distinct point in time. Yet to do so is to approximate the lex non scripta to the lex scripta, that body of written and clearly documented statutes which, for conservative common lawyers, merely amends the common law without possessing much legitimacy itself.43 More importantly, the admission of convention would mean that, instead of emanating spontaneously from social practice, the law would depend on social interest, shaping and responding to social relations on the basis of expediency. Such recognition would disable the legitimizing claim that law and custom really are the same. As Bentham realized, once the law ceases to be defined as a spontaneous emanation from custom, it can become a means of social engineering, the role the law would gradually assume in the nineteenth century.

Bentham as well as Thomas Paine consider the law, as Scott once described the utilitarian vision, an “unembodied system,” a transparent code of written and theoretically consistent rules whose legitimacy rests on explicit contractual recognition.44 Their argument against the equation of law with custom strikes at the common law's dependence on an inaccessible and invisible origin. The common law's foundational paradox that, even though the origin of law is inaccessible, it still constitutes the basis of all legal knowledge, is put under pressure by a claim for the strict congruence between knowing and seeing. Paine's argument against what I want to call Burke's (but also Blackstone's) “constitutional sublime” strives to erase the epistemological difference between the knowable and the visible by rendering these terms tautological. Not only does Paine insist throughout The Rights of Man (1792) on the ideological nature of a legitimacy based on obscure or invisible origins,45 but he also conceives of government as a transparent order in which what you can see has to be congruent with what you can know. “Government in a well constituted republic,” he states, “requires no belief from man beyond what his reason can give. He sees the rationale of the whole system, its origin and its operation; and as it is best supported when best understood, the human faculties act with boldness.”46 In this passage, the congruence between what can be seen and what can be known ensures transparency and legitimacy. This is most immediately evident in Paine's association of reason with an act of seeing.47 Only to the extent that seeing is capable of instantly grasping a government's “origin and operation” is a republic “well-constituted.” But that constitution would be immediately threatened if a knowledge emerged that could not be reached by seeing (and thus by reason). It would be threatened if “belief” played a role in the establishment of legitimacy—the kind of belief that an intangible source of legitimacy requires.

This is Paine's argument against the English constitution and its common law defender Burke.48 The English constitution, for Paine, has an obscure reality-status because it remains merely “ideal.” “A constitution,” he explains, “is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none.”49 The enforcement of a congruence between reality and visibility that is here brought to bear on the “invisible” English constitution and its model of legitimacy couldn't be clearer. Only when to see and to know are epistemologically identical operations, can legitimacy be shown to have a basis in reality. We have here the inverse of the constitutional logic that informs the common law. For Paine, the visibility of a beginning no longer undermines, but represents the condition of possibility for legitimacy. Contrary to Blackstone (and of course Burke), the discontinuous, plainly visible moment of institutionalization is the point that defines legitimacy. Within this constitutional logic, the Bears of Bradwardine have no place. The split between seeing and knowing that their unshapely mass had dramatized was part of a culture in which authority and legitimacy remained “uninstitutional”: invisible because embedded in the lived relation of local custom.


In the more detailed representation of Tully-Veolan that follows the initial description of the bears, one can identify additional moments of resistance against the constitutional logic that I have described in connection with Paine and Bentham. The description of the Bradwardine garden, for example, contains topographical features that figure the untraceable and spontaneous origin of the Bradwardine title. In this figural aspect of property's description, the garden's physical appearance symbolizes a still vital connection to an ancestral past. What can be known exceeds the immediately visible.50 Equally resistant to a facile identification of knowing with seeing are numerous descriptive gestures toward the “irregular”: the “huge grotesque figures of animals seated upon their haunches” that adorn the terrace, the “profusion of flowers and evergreens, cut into grotesque forms” that fill the garden, or the “massive but ruinous tower” that, half-hidden by a forest, can be seen from the Bradwardine garden (1:114-15).

Yet even though these picturesque features are frequently emphasized, the description of Tully-Veolan is held together by a meticulously articulated grid of spatial relations, as becomes clear in the following three passages from the initial description of the Bradwardine estate:

The parks of Tully-Veolan, being certain square fields, [were] surrounded and divided by stone walls five feet in height. In the centre of the exterior barrier was the upper gate of the avenue, opening under an archway, battlemented on the top … The avenue was straight, and of moderate length, running between a double row of very ancient horse-chesnuts, planted alternately with sycamores, which rose to such huge height, and flourished so luxuriantly, that their boughs completely over-arched the broad road beneath. Beyond these venerable ranks, and running parallel to them, were two walls … [The] nether portal, like the former, opened in front of a wall ornamented with some rude sculpture, and battlemented on the top, over which were seen, half-hidden by the trees of the avenue, the high steep roofs and narrow gables of the mansion, with ascending lines leading into steps, and corners decorated with small turrets.


The house, which seemed to consist of two or three high, narrow, and steep-roofed buildings, projecting from each other at right angles, formed one side of the inclosure … The windows were numberless, but very small; the roof had some non-descript kind of projections called bartizans, and displayed at each frequent angle, a small turret … Two battlemented walls, one of which faced the avenue and the other divided the court from the garden, completed the inclosure.


The southern side of the house … extended its irregular yet venerable front, along a terrace, partly paved, partly gravelled, partly bordered with flowers and choice shrubs. This elevation descended by three several flights of steps, placed in its centre and at the extremities, into what might be called the garden proper, and was fenced along the top by a stone parapet, with a heavy balustrade … The garden … was laid out in terraces, which descended rank by rank from the western wall to a large brook, which had a tranquil and smooth appearance where it served as a boundary to the garden.


Although Scott interjects picturesque elements, these passages convey a strong sense of geometrical segmentation that pervades the description as it parcels the landscape through squares, walls, parallels, rows, angles, enclosures, terraces, and boundaries. The emphasis on segmenting lines is supplemented by the attention the description pays to spatial relations. A series of prepositions (upper, under, on top, between, beneath, beyond, lower, in front, over, along, etc.) spells out the relations between the different parts that constitute this space. In addition, the text takes care to explicate the relative positions gate, avenue, house, and garden have to each other. With almost cartographic precision, directions are implemented (south side of the house/western wall) and deliberate overlaps in the description of gate, avenue, house, and garden further intensify the reader's orientation (“half-hidden by the trees of the avenue, the mansion,” “faced the avenue … divided the court from the garden,” etc.). These cartographic features find their perspectival center in the figure of Waverley, whose gradual approach anchors the reader's orientation.

Tully-Veolan appears here through a finely crafted grid of precise spatial relations that contain the more picturesque aspects of the landscape. As Scott's novel takes us from the village, through the gate, to the house, and into the garden, a sense of spatial exactitude is imparted that allows us to draw a mental map of the landscape in which nothing, we feel, is missing, dark, or unrelated. The space constructed here is quite different, indeed, from the discontinuous and patchy territoriality that a customary link between the land and the law implies (and that characterizes Waverley's topography in other respects). Instead of a spatiality that would be compatible with the epistemology of the common law (that “invisible quiddity,” as Bentham once called it51), Scott's novel here begins to project the empty, continuous space of the modern nation state. Everything is perfectly visible and bright daylight suffuses the scene. To thus release the materiality of the landscape into a purely quantitative relationality, cut off from symbolic ties, creates the illusion of a detached geometric grid that exists independently from the objects that occupy it. While there are two aspects of description in these passages, one figural and one realistic, the latter neutralizes the former by constructing space as a homogeneous container. The rationality of clearly articulated relations never leaves us in this first description of Tully-Veolan and undercuts the epistemological difference between seeing and knowing.

If, as Scott remarks in his critique of the Code Napoleon, “the Code of France may be compared to a warehouse built with much attention to architectural uniformity … while the Common Law of England resembles the vaults of some huge Gothic building, dark … and ill arranged,” then the spatial segmentation of Tully-Veolan is more indebted to the rationality of the warehouse than the dark irregularity of the Gothic building.52 Although Scott celebrates the common law's as well as Tully-Veolan's irregularity, his descriptive practice is ultimately closer to France's revolutionary attempt at rationalizing its national space—treating it as “carte blanche,” to use the term of Burke's critique.53

We now have a better sense of how the realistic thrust of Tully-Veolan's description is ultimately incompatible with the juridico-national ideology of the common law. On a phenomenological level, the incompatibility has to do with the descriptive stimulation of a perception of space as a neutral container. As the heritable jurisdictions and the whole relation between the land and the law they stand for underscore, the common law conceives of space differently, namely as essentially connected to what occupies it. On an epistemological level, the incompatibility can be described as the difference between a homogeneous conceptual space predicated on the assumption that, in principle, the rational mind can examine everything and integrate it into a network of clearly defined relations, and a heterogeneous conceptual space which keeps central areas inaccessible to human inquiry in order to sustain an organic relationality (the authorization of law through immemorial custom operates in this manner).54 While a homogeneous conceptual space promotes visibility as a metaphor for knowledge, a heterogeneous conceptual space is more likely to represent knowledge through a metaphor like the Gothic castle which emphasizes invisibility and the historical relativity of human knowledge.55

The assumption of a confluence between knowledge and visibility needs to be recognized, then, as a basic point of connection between the descriptive space of Tully-Veolan and the legal philosophy of Paine and Bentham. While the common law's construction of legitimacy relies on the assumption that not everything that can be known is visible, the realistic thrust of Waverley's property description sponsors an epistemology that equates the knowable with the visible. This equation undercuts the common law's construction of legitimacy as well as the contextualizing function of property. Under realistic description, property can't establish reference beyond the specifications of its material aspect. Viewed as a whole, the Bradwardine estate is ultimately confined to asserting its unmediated “thereness” because it lacks a consistent figural subtext that would divide description from its immediate occasion—the object described—and connect this object to more far-ranging symbolic meanings. Such meanings would be “invisible” in the sense that they would branch out into semantic fields which stretched beyond the local information provided in the description. But because the estate's description does not sustain the allusion to absent meanings and remains tied to the local information it provides, Tully-Veolan's knowability coincides with its visibility.

Underlying this argument is the assumption of two complementary (though not symmetrical) parallels. In the first, the contextualizing function of property in the common law (connecting property with national, historical, and constitutional meanings) is related to the potential of figural description to draw in absent meanings. In the second, Waverley's decontextualization of property (its removal from national, historical, and constitutional meanings) is related to the insulating capacities of realistic description. Containing Tully-Veolan's figural potential, this second mode of description makes property available as an object of visual consumption that is unburdened by extensive symbolic ballast. It is in this sense that I conceive of Waverley's descriptive realism as a text of free alienability. The thematic reification of the Bradwardine estate is supplemented by a descriptive mode which, in placing property within an objective grid of relations, reduces the knowable to the visible.


Although the Bears of Bradwardine finally return to their posts, the difference between the visible and the knowable they had once embodied no longer exists. Instead of bridging the distance between past and present, between the beginning of the novel and its end, Waverley's restorative fantasy reifies it. The obsession with ‘totally obliterating the marks’ of the English invasion is more than a masking of change, it is producing change. Its scope is articulated by the title of Waverley's final return chapter. The title bluntly claims that the estate—in spite of the meticulous restoration—has no connection to its earlier appearance: “This is no mine ain house, I ken by the bigging o't” (3:342; this is not my own house, I recognize by its construction). Notwithstanding such disclaimers, however, the English trompe l'oeil of continuity works and the Baron recognizes Tully-Veolan as his own. His response to all the ‘minutiae so heedfully attended to’ is, in fact, exceedingly lachrymose (3:346, 359, 363). The Baron's tears are triggered by an extended act of visual comparison between the present and the past look of things. The carefully restored detail and the tear of recognition pronounce Tully-Veolan's emergence into a strange new visibility. As the chapter title indicates, such visibility is far from innocent: it signifies that property is, finally, estranged from all contexts.

The immediate cause of Tully-Veolan's new visibility is a meticulous reconstruction that implies an intense scrutiny of past and present appearances of the estate. Trying to assimilate property to its past image, the activity of such comparative scrutiny privileges the visual and insulates the past from the present as it turns the former into an object of study and reproduction. As a result, the Bradwardine estate emerges as past, and, in separating it from that past by producing an imitation, the reconstruction transforms it into a visual artifact. If such visibility already informs the initial description of the Bradwardine estate, it is at the end that Scott's novel exposes the complicity between its own descriptive strategy and the museumizing activities of the English. The purification of Tully-Veolan reaches here its final state: under the pressures of Waverley's restorative fantasy, the Bradwardine estate turns into a representation of its former existence. From participating in a fading but still functional dynastic tradition, Scottish property comes to stand for that tradition. By the end of Waverley, Tully-Veolan, already separated from its national, constitutional, and historical contexts, has become a museum for Scottish history. No longer is property the center of a legitimizing nexus that extends beyond its material presence. On the contrary, that material presence itself has now become the limit of property's definition.


  1. Ian Duncan, Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel: The Gothic, Scott, Dickens (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 103-04. Other critics who have stressed the importance of property, but neglected its revolutionary transformation, include: Alexander Welsh, The Hero of the Waverley Novels (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 63-86; Judith Wilt, Secret Leaves: The Novels of Walter Scott (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 26-37; Francis R. Hart, “Scott's Endings: The Fictions of Authority,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 33 (1978): 48-69.

  2. Though lacking a comparative perspective, an important early essay that addresses Scottish law as a key to Waverley is David Marshall, “Sir Walter Scott and Scot's Law,” The Scottish Law Review 46 (1930): 303-10; 329-38; 373-81.

  3. I join here James Chandler who, in a reading of Scott's Bride of Lammermoor, has argued for a similarly bifurcated interpretation. Chandler claims that in Bride, “the issue of class disharmony in Britain as a whole” is at least as important as “the nationalist conflict between England and Scotland.” Though not directly addressing issues of class, the present essay turns on a closely related differentiation (“Scott and the Scene of Explanation: Framing Contextuality in The Bride of Lammermoor,Studies in the Novel 26 [1994]: 93).

  4. I quote here and throughout from the second edition of Scott's novel: Sir Walter Scott, Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since, 3 vols. (Edinburgh, 1814), 1:105-06. Subsequent references appear in parentheses in the text.

  5. I cannot here present a full discussion of this complex and fascinating subject, but see Kolbert and Mackay's instructive legal history: C. F. Kolbert and N. A. M. Mackay, History of Scots and English Land Law (Berkhamsted: Geographical Publications Limited, 1977). I will draw frequently on this work.

  6. Ibid., pp. 105-12. For the lateness of the Scottish acknowledgement of central ownership, see History of Scots and English Land Law, pp. 26-27.

  7. “This absence of all recourse to the feudal lord on an alienation, as on a succession, was the greatest of all differences between the conveyancing systems of England and Scotland for eight hundred years. This speaks volumes for the strength of the feudal idea in Scotland and its early atrophy in England” (History of Scots and English Land Law, p. 240).

  8. As Kolbert/Mackay point out, the only comparative statute in England is De Donis Conditionalibus, dating from 1285 and long superseded by the principle of individual ownership (History of Scots and English Land Law, p. 203).

  9. For Scotland's comparative lateness in developing a more centralized jurisdiction see Kolbert/Mackay, History of Scots and English Land Law, pp. 26-27.

  10. Viscount Stair, The Institutions of the Law of Scotland: Deduced from its Originals, and Collated with the Civil, Canon and Feudal Laws, and with the Customs of Neighbouring Nations (Edinburgh: The Univ. of Edinburgh and Glasgow Press, 1981). Cf. also Brian P. Levack, “English Law, Scots Law and the Union, 1603-1707,” Law-Making and Law-Makers in British History, ed. Alan Harding (London: Royal Historical Society, 1980), pp. 105-20.

  11. Paul Henderson Scott, Walter Scott and Scotland (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1981), p. 52.

  12. Nicholas Phillipson, The Scottish Whigs and the Reform of the Court of Session 1785-1830 (Edinburgh: The Stair Society, 1990), pp. 8-10.

  13. Letter from the Earl of Hardwicke, 12 July 1757. (Quoted in Lord Kames, Elucidations Respecting the Common and Statute Law of Scotland [1777; Edinburgh: William Creech, 1800], p. 388.)

  14. Kames, Elucidations, p. 334. Kames gives a more desperate (and realistic) account of Scotland's state of land conveyancing in an appendix to his Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: William Creech, 1788), pp. 446-67.

  15. Jeremy Bentham, A Fragment on Government (1776; Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990), p. 41.

  16. Baron David Hume's Lectures, 1786-1822, 6 vols., ed. G. Campbell H. Paton (Edinburgh: J. Skinner, 1955), 1:15. Kames's Historical Law Tracts were intended as a contribution to a future legal union of England and Scotland (Historical Law Tracts [Edinburgh, 1761], xiii-xiv).

  17. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event (London, 1790), p. 277.

  18. Almost all Scottish legal scholars agree that the most important part of the indigenous Scottish law concerns the law of real property and the rules of succession. Cf., for example, Scott's “View of the Changes Proposed and Adopted in the Administration of Justice in Scotland” (Sir Walter Scott's Edinburgh Annual Register, ed. Kenneth Curry [Knoxville: The Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1977], p. 175); Stair, Institutions of the Law of Scotland, p. 87; John Erskine, The Principles of the Law of Scotland, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: 1754), 1:8; and Baron David Hume's Lectures, 1:10-11.

  19. As this remark indicates, the Baron is a perfect specimen of Scotland's property-minded landed class.

  20. I paraphrase here Arjun Appadurai's definition of the “commodity situation” of things (“Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value,” The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986], p. 13).

  21. A precise analogue to the transformation of immovable property, including the restoration through Hanoverian money, can be found in the change that an important piece of movable property undergoes: the cup of the “Blessed Bear of Bradwardine,” heir-loom of the family of Bradwardine.

  22. For a detailed account of the procedure to be followed in the transfer of lands see Baron David Hume's Lectures, 4:275-84. Cf. also the legal documents necessary for such a transfer, reprinted from an eighteenth-century style book in History of Scots and English Land Law, pp. 358-63. See, more generally, Marshall's article on the legal aspects of Waverley, “Sir Walter Scott and Scot's Law.”

  23. History of Scots and English Land Law, p. 251 (my emphasis). Underscoring the sense of resignation, Erskine describes a resignation in favorem as follows: “The resigner must surrender the lands to the superior by the symbol of staff and baton, which he gives on his knee to the superior” (Erskine, Principles of the Law of Scotland, 1:194). Cf. also Hume who speaks in this context of the “surrendery of the lands” (Baron David Hume's Lectures, 4:277).

  24. The Scots Statutes Revised, vol. i: The Public General Statutes Affecting Scotland 1707-1819 (Edinburgh: William Green, 1899), p. 4.

  25. As the parliamentary debate over the bill for abolishing the “Scottish jurisdictions” makes clear, the violation of property rights implied in Hardwicke's bill triggered general anxieties, even on the English side, over the inviolability of property rights in Britain. Cf. William Cobbett, The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, vol. 14, 1747-1753 (London, 1813), p. 34.

  26. See on this as a general tendency of eighteenth-century law Klaus Luig, “The Institutes of National Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” The Juridical Review: The Law Journal of Scottish Universities 17 (1972): 193-226. Cf. also John W. Cairns, “Institutional Writings in Scotland Reconsidered,” New Perspectives in Scottish Legal History, eds. Albert Kiralfy and Hector L. Macqueen (London: Frank Cass and Company, 1984), pp. 76-117.

  27. Stair, The Institutions of the Law of Scotland, p. 87.

  28. Scott's admiration for Hume comes through in his “Memoir of the Early Life of Sir Walter Scott, Written by Himself” (1808), in which he praises Hume as an architect of the law of Scotland (reprinted in John Gibson Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott [Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1902], p. 48).

  29. Baron David Hume's Lectures, 1:11, 14, 2.

  30. Scott, “View of the Changes,” pp. 185-86.

  31. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vols. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979), 1:67.

  32. Erskine, Principles of the Law of Scotland, 1:8.

  33. Blackstone, for example, states on the regional character of the English common law that it “includes not only general customs, … but also the particular customs of certain parts of the kingdom; and likewise those particular laws, that are by custom observed only in certain courts and jurisdictions” (Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1:64).

  34. Scott, “Letters of Malachi Malagrowther on the Currency,” The Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott: Periodical Criticism, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: Robert Cadell, 1835), p. 304.

  35. Scott, Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, The Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, vol. 12, pp. 326, 330. Cf. on the impossibility of theoretical consistency and uniformity of the law as well as its regional validity Scott's teacher Hume: Baron David Hume's Lectures, 1:4-7.

  36. Scott, “View of the Changes,” p. 183.

  37. Cf. on the identification of cultural with national boundaries in modern state nationalism Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 10-11.

  38. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991), p. 19.

  39. Bentham, A Fragment on Government, p. 26 (emphasis Bentham's).

  40. It would take, however, another fifty years or so until Bentham's legal positivism began to affect legislative and administrative procedure. Cf. P.S. Atiyah's account of the changing role of government in the 1830s and his comments on Bentham in the context of freedom of contract (The Rise and Fall of Freedom of Contract [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988], pp. 238-56; pp. 324-59).

  41. See Scott, Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, p. 318.

  42. Blackstone, Commentaries, 1:76-77 (emphasis Blackstone's).

  43. Besides the already quoted passage from Hume, see Blackstone: “Statutes … are either declaratory of the common law, or remedial of some defects therein” (1:86). It is, on the other side, Bentham's project to turn the entire common law into statutory law and to make it publicly accessible (Fragment on Government, p. 113).

  44. Scott, “View of the Changes,” p. 184.

  45. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man: Being an Answer to Mr. Burke's Attack on the French Revolution (London, 1792), pp. 58-59 (pt. 1); pp. 15-17 (pt. 2).

  46. Paine, Rights of Man, p. 74 (pt. 1).

  47. That Paine considers reason and seeing as twin processes is indicated in the following passage: “The mind, in discovering truth, acts in the same manner as it acts through the eye in discovering objects; when once any object has been seen, it is impossible to put the mind back to the same condition it was in before it saw it” (Rights of Man, p. 59 [pt. 1]).

  48. The classic statement on Burke's debt to the common law is J. G. A. Pocock's “Burke and the Ancient Constitution: A Problem in the History of Ideas,” Politics, Language, and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 202-53.

  49. Paine, Rights of Man, p. 24 (pt. 1).

  50. For the sake of brevity, I have to dispense with an extended analysis of this passage (cf. Scott, Waverley, 1:114-15).

  51. Jeremy Bentham, A Comment on the Commentaries, The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: Principles of Legislation (London: Athlone Press, 1977), p. 195.

  52. Scott, Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, p. 330.

  53. Burke, Reflections, p. 231.

  54. Though not referring to a legal problematic, compare Gellner's characterization of this difference: Nations and Nationalisms, p. 21.

  55. The most famous instance of this metaphor is to be found in Blackstone's Commentaries, 3:268.

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