Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Regarded as the first historical novel, Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley is a striking representative of literature about the Highlanders and Lowlanders of pre-nineteenth century Scotland. Like Maria Edgeworth in her Castle Rackrent (1800), Scott intended his novel to be a romanticized sketch of a people and their customs during a time that had faded into history by the time he wrote Waverley. A tension exists in the novel between Scott’s romanticized description of the Highlanders who fought in the Stuart uprising of 1745 and a story based on historical fact and eyewitness accounts.

Scott romanticizes the story by including various vivid, poetic descriptions of the eerie, rugged Highland terrain to elicit a sense of awe in his readers. Inspired by the success of his long poem Lady of the Lake (1810), Scott intended Waverley as a piece of poetic prose. Scott also romanticizes the novel through the plot. Typical of heroes of romances, Edward overcomes many obstacles in pursuit of a valued object. In the course of the novel, a young man whose perceptions were clouded by the romantic tales of English chivalry and Highland nobility that he read as a child experiences disillusionment and education. An introvert who needs someone to care for him, Edward finds a companion in Rose Bradwardine, a gentlewoman more inclined to domestic pleasures than to Highland heroics. At one significant point, Rose proves to be Edward’s rescuer; gaining the support of Prince Charles, she has Edward rescued from his Lowland captors and returned to the forces of Fergus Mac Ivor. When Edward learns that it is Rose who rescued him, he pledges to marry her.

Edward’s romance is made interesting by the nature of his conflict: He is torn in his allegiance between the old Jacobite order, represented by Prince Charles Edward Stuart and Fergus and Flora Mac Ivor, and the new Hanoverian order represented by Colonel Talbut, who ventures into the battle between the Scots and the English to rescue Waverley. Fiercely loyal, the Highlanders supporting Charles Stuart’s claim to the English throne are holding on to a way of life that, to Scott, has become archaic. On the other hand, the Hanoverians—and Edward...

(The entire section is 916 words.)