Until recently, the first thing that came to mind when Sir Walter Scott was mentioned is that he is one of the authors in my Game of Authors card deck. When I heard about the exciting upcoming programs on Scott and his Waverley novels, though, I knew I had to read at least one of the novels, and I’m very glad I did.
Waverley; or, ‘Tis Sixty Years Since was published anonymously in 1814 to great acclaim; for the next thirteen years Scott continued publishing novels which were known as “by the author of Waverley” and he only officially claimed authorship of them in 1827. Some of Scott’s better-known titles today are Rob Roy, Ivanhoe, and the long poem The Lady of the Lake.
Waverley often is called the first historical novel, and is about a young Englishman–Edward Waverley–who is posted to Scotland, and whose loyalties become torn between his English origins and the Scottish Highland clans in the Jacobite rising of 1745. Scott is a terrific story-teller, bringing to life characters from all levels of 18th century society and painting beautiful pictures in my mind of the Highland lochs, stones and mountains. I was prepared for the long, descriptive sentences but surprised—happily—by Scott’s dry sense of humor; I found myself smiling often as I read. Reading Waverley now, as modern-day Scotland is voting on whether to separate from the United Kingdom, reinforces just how old and complex this quest for independence is.
Scott was a contemporary of Jane Austen and she had this to say about Scott and Waverley: “Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. – It is not fair. – He has Fame & Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. – I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must…” I should have taken Austen’s word for it a long time ago. And I will definitely read more of the Waverley novels.