Sir Walter Scott was a Scottish romantic writer, the first great writer of historical novels. He was born in Edinburgh on August 15, 1771. His father was an Edinburgh lawyer and had a large family. Walter, the future writer, was the ninth of his twelve children. When he was about two years old, the boy fell ill with a disease that left him lame. His parents thought country air would be good for him and sent him to his grandparents' farm. It was a place with hills, crags and ruined tower. Walter soon became a strong boy. In spite of his lameness he climbed the hills and rode his pony at a gallop. Walter's grandparents told him thrilling Scottish tales. He learned to love the solemn history of Scotland and liked to recite Scottish ballads and poems.
Scott enjoyed taking trips into the Scottish countryside. These trips gave him profound knowledge of the life of rural people, and provided material for his first major publication, 'Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border' (1802-1803). This book was a collection of popular songs and ballads and consisted of three volumes.
At the suggestion of his father, Scott became a lawyer and practiced for fourteen years. During his business trips he visited the places of famous battles and collected old ballads. Like many writers belonging to the Romantic trend, Scott, too, felt that all the good days were gone. He wished to record all the historical facts he knew before they were forgotten.
At the age of 26 Scott married, and bought a large estate not far from Edinburgh. There Scott built a fine house in the style of a castle. His house became a sort of museum of Scottish history and culture.
In 1805 he began to publish his own romantic poems, which attracted the attention of the reading public. The best were 'The Lay of the Last Minstrel' (1805), 'Marmion' (1808) and 'The Lady of the Lake' (1810). These poems reproduce old legends and combine them with historical material. They were written with great poetic skill and poet became very famous. But when Byron's wonderful poems appeared, Scott, to quote his own words, 'left the field of poetry to his rival' who by that time was already a friend of his. He took to writing novels. It
marked a new period in Scott's creative work. He declined the honor of poet-laureate in 1813 because he understood that writing official verses and odes on the birthdays of members of the royal family would interfere with his creative work.
In 1814 Scott published his 'Waverley, or 'The Sixty Years Since'. This novel describes a Scottish rebel against England in 1745. As he had an established reputation as a poet, Scott decided to print his first novel anonymously. The book was a great success, and everybody wanted to know who the author was. Scott published many of his novels under the name of 'The Author of Waverley'. During the next seventeen years (1815 — 1832) Scott wrote more than 27 other novels, four plays and many stories and tales besides. All of his novels were referred to as part of the Waverley series, because the author was identified on the title page as 'The Author of Waverley'. Scott's authorship was officially revealed in 1827, but it had been known for years.
Despite his success and fame, Scott's last years were sad. They were marked by illness and financial difficulties brought on by the failure of a publishing company in which he had an interest. At that time his health was broken down. His doctors sent him to Italy; but it was too late. Before reaching Italy he had to turn back, and on his arrival at his estate he died.
Literary critics divide Scott's works into three groups:
The first group of novels are those devoted to Scottish history: 'Waverley, or ''Tis Sixty Years Since' (1814), 'Guy Mannering, or the Astrologer' (1815), 'The Autiquary' (1816), 'Black Dwarf' (1816), 'Old Mortality' (1816), 'Rob Roy' (1817), 'The Heart of Midlothian' (1818), 'The Bride of Lammermoor' (1819), 'A Legend of Montrose' (1819), 'Redgauntlet' (1824), 'The Fair Maid of Perth' (1828
The second group of novels refer to English history: 'Ivanhoe' (1819), the best of this series; 'The Monastery' (1820), 'The Abbot' (1820), 'Kenilworth' (1821), 'The Pirate' (1822), 'The Fortunes of Nigel' (1822), 'Peveril of the Peak' (1822), ''Woodstock' (1826).
The third group comprises novels based on the history of Europe: 'Quentin Durward' (1823), 'The Talisman' (1825), 'Count Robert of Paris' (1832), 'Anne of Geierstein' (1829) and 'Castle Dangerous' (1832).
The novel 'St. Ronan's Well' (1824) stands in a class by itself. The story is laid at a fashionable health-resort somewhere near the border between England and Scotland. It is the only novel written by Scott about his own time and shows his attitude to contemporary society. It is a precursor of the critical realism of the 19th century.
Scott wrote frequently about the conflicts between different cultures. For example, 'Ivanhoe' deals with the struggle between Normans and Saxons, and the 'Talisman' describes the conflict between Christians and Muslims. The novels dealing with Scottish history are probably considered to be his best works. They deal with clashes between the new commercial English culture and older Scottish culture. Many critics regard 'Old Mortality', 'The Heart of Midlothian', and 'St. Ronan's Well' as Scott's best novels.
The action of the novel takes place in medieval England during the Crusades. The central conflict of the novel lies in the struggle of the Anglo-Saxon landowners against the Norman barons, who cannot come to an understanding.
There is no peace among the Norman conquerors either. They struggle for power. Prince John tries to usurp the throne of his brother Richard, who was engaged in a Crusade at that time. These two brothers back different tendencies concerning their relations with Anglo-Saxons. John wishes to seize all the land and subdue the Anglo-Saxons completely, while Richard supports those, who tend to cooperate with the remaining Anglo-Saxon land-owners. The latter tendency was progressive, because it led to peace and the birth of a new nation.
At the head of the remaining Anglo-Saxon knights is a thane, Cedric the Saxon. He hopes to restore their independence by putting a Saxon king and queen on the throne. He wants to see lady Rovena, who has been descended from Alfred the Great, as the queen and Athelstane of Coningsburgh as a king. But Cedric has a son, Wilfred of Ivenhoe, who destroys his father's plan by falling in love with Rowena. Cedric becomes angry and disinherits his son. Ivanhoe goes on a Crusade where he meets King Richard, and they become friends. On their return to England, Richard with the help of the Saxons and archers of Robin Hood, fights against Prince John for his crown and wins. At last Cedric understands the impossibility of the restoration of the Saxon power and becomes reconciled to the Normans.
The book is written with the great descriptive skill for which Scott is famous. He was a master of painting wonderfully individualized expressive and vivid characters.
The main idea of the book is to call for peace and compromise. Scott wanted to reconcile the hostile classes. He believed that social harmony possible if the best representatives of all classes would unite in a struggle against evil. This idea is expressed in the novel 'Ivanhoe' in the episode when the Norman king Richard, together with Robin Hood and his merry men, attack the castle of the Norman
baron to set the Saxon thanes free. This incident shows how the allied forces of honest men, though from hostile classes, conquer evil.
Theme 5: The specific trends of English Romanticism – progressive: Byron, Shelley, Scott; and reactionary: the poets of the 'Lake School'. The philosophy of Romanticism, the development of poetry.
1. What is the difference between the progressive and regressive trends
2. Why are some romanticists called the poets of the 'Lake School'?
3. What Lakists and what works by them do you know?
4. When was the first collection of poems by Byron published?
5. Is 'Childe Harold' an autobiographical character?
6. Why do we consider Shelley to be a real fighter for freedom?
7. Who was the first great writer of historical novels in English literature?
8. What novels by Scott do you know?
9. What is the main conflict of the novel 'Ivanhoe'?
10. What social problems did Scott try to solve in his novels?