Waverley: or ‘Tis Sixty Years Since by Sir Walter Scott

waverley 2Charlie is my darling…

😀 😀 😀 + 😀

Young Edward Waverley has been brought up mainly by his uncle, Sir Everard Waverley, an English Tory and supporter of the Jacobite cause in the failed 1715 rebellion. When Edward reaches manhood, his absent father, a Whig and supporter of the Hanoverian government, arranges a commission for him in the Army. While Sir Everard is not keen on Edward having to swear allegiance to King George II (since in Sir Everard’s eyes the true King is James III, in exile in France), he reluctantly agrees. Edward joins his regiment and is promptly posted to Dundee. After serving in a half-hearted way for a few months, Edward takes some leave and goes off to visit an old friend of his uncle, Baron Bradwardine, a staunch Jacobite. Through him, Edward becomes friends with Fergus Mac-Ivor, chieftain of the Highland Clan Mac-Ivor, and falls in love with his beautiful sister Flora. So when the 1745 rebellion begins, Edward finds himself caught between two loyalties – to the Hanoverians through his officership in the Army, and to the Jacobites through his friendships and the influence of his upbringing. The story tells the tale of the ’45 Jacobite Rebellion and Edward’s part in it.

Bonnie Prince Charlie by John Pettie
Bonnie Prince Charlie by John Pettie

The subtitle ‘Tis Sixty Years Since refers to the ostensible time of writing, 1805, sixty years after the 1745 rebellion, although the book was not published until 1814. This book is often hailed as the first historical novel in the English language. It’s also often claimed as one of the most important books in English literature, which doesn’t half annoy us Scots, since it’s written by a Scot about Scotland. I’m willing to compromise and say it’s an important book in English-language literature. This isn’t as insignificant a point as it may seem – Scott was one of the earliest Scots to write fiction in English, accepting that the Scottish language and culture was being subsumed into the dominant English culture of the time. However, in this, as in many of his books, his purpose was partly to explain Scottish culture and traditions to his English readership and do away with some of their misconceptions of the Scots, especially Highlanders, as a half-savage society. Along the way, he created some romanticised misconceptions of his own that gradually became part of the prevailing view of Scotland that lasted well into the 20th century. The cultural importance of Scott in his native country is memorialised not just by the massive monument to him in Princes Street in Edinburgh, the capital city, but also in the name of that city’s main railway station – Waverley Station.

The Scott Monument
The Scott Monument

How I wish, therefore, that I could unreservedly wax lyrical about the wonders of the book! Sadly, taken purely in terms of reading pleasure, it’s not the greatest piece of literature in the world, for all its cultural significance. A major reason for this is simply that tastes change over time, as does language. Although Scotland was one of the most literate societies in the world at the time Scott was writing, nevertheless authors tended to be addressing their work to others like themselves who had had a classical education (pretty much the only kind available), so this is liberally sprinkled with Latin and French and allusions to classical mythology which many modern readers (including this one) will find problematic at best and incomprehensible at worst. Even the English language is in a style that reads as pretty out-dated now and of course, there is some Scottish dialect too, not to mention the odd little bit of Gaelic. I read it in a version without footnotes, but would suggest it’s one that probably needs them more than most. Not that any of this makes the plot hard to follow, but it does very much break the reading flow.

Sir Walter Scott by Sir Henry Raeburn Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Sir Walter Scott by Sir Henry Raeburn
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

But even putting the language difficulties to one side, the book has some problems. Overall, it’s reasonably interesting, but very over-padded, especially the early part. For a long period there is no discernible plot, just lengthy character studies of the various people who will play a part when the story finally gets under way. Scott himself said that this was his way of allowing the characters to reveal themselves rather than simply being described, but to suit our modern tastes most readers would probably want to get into the story a good deal sooner. And personally I could have happily lived without the lengthy and mediocre poetry that Scott stuffs in every so often – again a technique that would have been much more usual in his time than in ours, I think – which he uses as a way to illustrate Scottish culture and the oral storytelling tradition.

Then there are his assumptions about the pre-knowledge of his readers, probably correct at the time but not necessarily so now. He assumes that everyone knows the background to the Jacobite rebellion, the politics, the main players and the progress of the campaign. Well, yes, as it happens, I do, but I would think this could cause some problems for people who don’t. What bothered me about it was that this assumption meant he left out all the bits that are exciting! We’re not there when Bonnie Prince Charlie raises his standard at Glenfinnan, we don’t get to fight at Culloden and we don’t follow Charlie on his last romantic retreat over the sea to Skye! That anyone can make the ’45 dull amazes me – it’s one of the great romantic tragedies of all time!

Raising the Standard at Glenfinnan
Raising the Standard at Glenfinnan by Mark Churms

Instead, Scott concentrates on showing the lifestyle and manners of both Highland and Lowland Scots of the period, and this he does very successfully, though with what I suspect is a decreasing degree of realism the further north he heads. There’s some humour in it, and a lot – a lot! – of romance, as Edward swithers over the beautiful and fanatical Highland Flora and the sensible and adoring Lowland Rose. And his swithering between the Hanoverians and the Jacobites allows Scott to show both sides of the conflict, which he does without demonising either, in fact painting a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart. But all this swithering makes Edward a hero who inspired me with a desire to bash him over the head with a metaphorical brick while screaming “Make up your mind, for goodness sake, man!” Honestly, he makes Hamlet seem decisive!

So overall I’m afraid I was a little disappointed. I’ve read other Scott books in the past which I’ve enjoyed much more than this one, and am rather sorry it’s the one that people are always recommended to read, purely because of its significance rather than its intrinsic enjoyability. I can’t give more than three stars for the story and writing, with an extra one for its position of importance in both English-language and Scottish literature. I shall go into hiding now in case the last of the Jacobites come after me…

 

65 thoughts on “Waverley: or ‘Tis Sixty Years Since by Sir Walter Scott

  1. I really appreciate your candor here, FictionFan. Just because a book has a great deal of significance doesn’t mean it’s by any means perfect. And it certainly doesn’t mean that all modern readers will love it. That said though, what a nice sense of the Scotland of that time, I must say…

    • Yes, I feel a bit guilty for not loving it, but at least now I’ve got rid of the guilt of not having read it! And his description of the society of the time wasn’t quite as romanticised as I was expecting, except for the awful poetry-spouting Flora! But I fear the little Latin I learned at school is too rusty now for me to read it easily… not to mention my rusty French!

  2. I enjoyed reading this review so much–because I carry a
    lot of guilt in never having read it. Not that I shouldn’t read it
    now, but that I’m given a little leeway in appreciation. Have just
    started Lorna Doone and wonder what you think of that . . .!

    • Haha! I did too – so now I’ve just replaced that guilt with the guilt of not enjoying it very much! Oh, Lorna Doone! I have so much guilt over that one! My father’s favourite and I’ve never managed to get past the first fifty pages. It’s a permanent fixture on my TBR and stares accusingly at me every time I open my Kindle… one day! Are you enjoying it?

  3. ‘Twas written for a different audience. Back in the day people had no electronic toys and life was less rushed. Also, there were no “talkies”. And educated men knew more than one language. I set out to read all of them and fell short of that exercise. And some day I hope to see Scotland.

    • It’s a pity – I feel guilty for not having been able to be more enthusiastic about this one, but it wouldn’t really be one I could wholeheartedly recommend. Still, I guess his reputation is strong enough to stand one middling review from me!! 😉

  4. “Swithering”? What an interesting concept — that’s a new one for me, and I LIKE it!! Thanks for your excellent review again. This one, sadly, doesn’t seem like something I’d want to read. I had enough challenges with Latin in university, without stuffing it into pleasure reading, too. That said, I enjoyed the video song — a square “guitar” is such a wonder!

    • I never knew it was a Scottish word till I used it once and Lady Fancifull (who’s English) didn’t know it – it’s a nice word, isn’t it? Yes, I did Latin at school but that was… ahem… a few years ago now and I fear I’ve forgotten most of it. Not to mention also having forgotten most of the French I once knew! I love The Corries – they played all kinds of odd instruments and were brilliant at all these mournful lament-type songs…

  5. Great review. I think I’m fonder of Scott than you are, and had the advantage of reading him at a much earlier (and therefore less critical) age.
    I always liked Waverly, but Rob Roy was my favourite.
    Apropos of the conflict between Jacobites and Hanovarians, I see in the National that Neil Gunn’s “the New Road” has been re-issued – now there’s a book you should review!

    • I went through a spate of reading them many years back and really liked him at the time. I don’t know if it was just this one that didn’t grab me or if my tastes have changed totally. I don’t think I have the same patience for plotless sections or Latin/French bits as I used to, plus my Latin/French is so rusty now. I think I enjoyed The Antiquary and The Fair Maid of Perth, though I can’t remember anything about either now!

      Oh dear! I’ve never read Neil Gunn – is there no end to these books!!! 😉 Thanks, I’ll check it out…

  6. I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy it terribly either. However, I read it some time ago because I was forced to. Perhaps it might read differently if I read it now

  7. I’m afraid I don’t feel guilty for not reading this one. I have great difficulty with books of this age, principally with the language but also because they all knew so much more than I do so I constantly feel like I’m missing something important. However I’m sad that you didn’t enjoy this one more than you did but it is a very fair and considered review.

    • Yeah, but they didn’t know how to google images of George Clooney and we do – they were so dumb! 😉 Yes it’s the Latin that gets me. I did study it at school but have forgotten it all now, which is why I think I enjoyed this kind of book more when I was younger and still remembered some. But at least I’ve read it at last – as a Scot, I was always a bit ashamed that I never had.

  8. This book sent me to sleep so often when I tried reading it that it’s a miracle I got through it. In fairness, once the story gets going things picked up quite bit and being a chronically tired teenager at the time probably didn’t help. Overall I share your feeling that it’s an important book in the Scottish/British canon, but isn’t the most enjoyable Scott novel I’ve ever read (love Ivanhoe though!)

    • Haha! Yes, it aided me to have several restful nights too, so that’s in its favour, I suppose! It’s a bit up and down – I think I preferred the middle to either the beginning or the end. It’s so long since I read Ivanhoe, or any of the others, that I’m not totally sure which ones I enjoyed – The Antiquary, I think, and The Fair Maid of Perth. I suppose I ought to do some re-reading… sometime!

  9. I would like to 5 star The Corries and Skye Boat Song though………a whole box of tissues needed. Stunning. heartbreaking (sobs, and rushes for a comfort chocolate) Thanks FF, that was absolutely gorgeous. I may have to play it again.

  10. So, his dad never has speaks with him and he just sends him off to the army?! Humph noodles. I would’ve traitor-ed, too.

    What a cool monument. That could be my castle. Also, look at BPC…you know that’s the most ridiculous clothing ever!

    And now Walter. Seriously, at first, I thought it was his baby picture…

    • Best way to treat pesky boys, if you ask me! You’d never be a traitor! You’re too heroic!

      It’s kinda big, isn’t it? *laughs* And in the middle of it there’s a wee statue of him – looks like he’s sheltering from the rain. *gasps* How dare you?!! Take that back immediately or I shall have to start calling you the Bonnie Professor! And maybe knit you a pair of socks like that…

      *laughs* An overdressed baby! But as usual – yes, wicked one, I see what you mean…

        • *laughs* That’s pretty much what Edward did! Only he was rubbish so he didn’t get any medals. Just think, if you’d been fighting for the Jacobites they’d have won and Charlie would have been the Bonnie King! I bet he’d have given you your very own tartan as a reward…

          *growls* He is dressed the way a proper man should!! He wouldn’t have looked very kingly in cargo pants, sir!! Clearly you’re just jealous of his knees…

          *laughs delightedly* I refuse to tell you how much I loved that! You so, so, so ARE that guy! And I want to be the girl!! And see, even he ended up almost dancing at the end!! Adorably adorable – I must watch that film! *giggles happily and goes back to watch again*

          • Hmm…I would take over for him! Kick him out of the castle as it were. I’d be the king. Then I’d set up congress and have them all hanged just for the fun of it. Then I’d hire some body guards. Like you and BL.

            Okay, he’s one ugly chap and you know it! Goodness. I think he’s wearing his wife’s ballgown.

            *laughing lots and lots* You did? Oh dear no…what have I done? Yes, he is definitely me. Did you hear him say: “I don’t dance.”? Yes, that’s me, for sure. You want to be her? *runs* Pretend I didn’t show you! But…if you liked that…the song So Close is amazing…

            • You can’t do that! Royalty throw far better balls than congressmen! Anyway, then you’d have to be hanged too and that would make such a mess of your neck! *clears throat* Are you by any chance comparing me to that over-muscled hunk of grossness, dear C-W-W? ‘Cos if so…

              Right! That does it! I’m sending you a kilt and sporran and the Highland Light Infantry to make sure you wear them!!! Just ‘cos your country doesn’t have any great heroes! Probably ‘cos they all wear trousers!!!!

              *laughing and chuckling* I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you’re just a great big soppy old romantic, you know, you know!!!! That clip’s so sad though… it better have a happy ending. Don’t tell me though!! The DVD is winging it’s way towards me as we speak. And I see he was both singing and dancing by that stage… and looked as though he was enjoying it too! Awwwww! What a sweetie pumpkin pie! Both of you, in fact! *giggles happily*

            • I wouldn’t get hanged! I’d be the king, so I’d be protected from that. It would mess with one’s neck, though, that’s for sure. What?! You seriously wouldn’t want to be like Brock? Crazy! But, no, you’d be a different sort of guard.

              *laughs* I’m now trying to think of a great hero… Hector? Nah, from Troy. Jason Bourne! I don’t know. I shan’t wear them. *nods head and crosses arms*

              I am not! I only like it a bit. “So Close” is an amazing song, though… The DVD? *laughs and cries* Nooooooooo! I think you might find it silly. Oh rats. Don’t watch it, you hear? Well, by that stage he wasn’t me anymore. The sudden, I’m not him at all! *holds ears and hides*

            • Yeah, that’s what Charles I thought too! I’d be more like Ringer…

              I was going to suggest Ulysses S Grant, but of course he was Scottish. Oh yes you will sir! It’s either that or a Hector outfit…

              *laughs* You so are!! The DVD has arrived – I shall maybe watch it tonight! I like silly – and I think she’s just so cute and adorable, especially in that first one… she’s just exactly like the cartoon Disney princesses – brilliant the way she does it! But I thought she was giving him advice on his girlfriend – I didn’t realise they were going to fall in love. You should fall in love with someone like her! She’d suit you… *imagines the Professor and the Princess dancing at their wedding* Awwwwww!!!!

            • Ringer! *face lights up* Cool. Or Aravis.

              Nah, he was a drunk. Stonewall Jackson! Rober E. Lee. Ooo, Sam Houston!! Andrew Jackson! What is the Hector outfit exactly?

              You have to let me know what you think of it! (Am not! Just ask BUS or Tuppence.) Well, originally, they aren’t falling for each other…but I can’t tell you anymore! I’m actually like the fat chap in it who works for the bad queen. That’s me. Ew! Not me. I’m a single sort of thingy.

            • See? I knew you were in love with Ringer!

              Brilliant choices! Let’s see… Stonewall Jackson – Scottish. Robert E Lee – Scottish! Andrew Jackson – Scottish!! And I hadn’t heard of Sam Houston, but whaddya know? Scottish!!! * laughs triumphantly*

              I shall – didn’t watch it tonight after all, but I will sometime. Ah, one day Cupid’s arrow will strike!

            • I am not!! *holds ears*

              *laughs* No, they’re all American. But, hey, the Scottish people are great. You’ve convinced me of that! None of them as great as FEF, though. Not even S. Jackson!

              Aha! You don’t want to watch it, the sudden. This is good. It will not!

            • Wise move! She strikes me as the type who would cut men’s ears off…

              *wide eyes* Greater than S. Jackson? *swells up prouder than a peacock with a new hairdo* Who was Sam Houston anyway and what made him a hero?

              I do! Just had a little blip last night – aka a headache – and somehow perky princesses and headaches don’t go too well. One must be on tip-top form to allow for singing and dancing along… *does voice exercises and leg stretches* (It will – right in the Professorial heart! Unless he misses and gets the Professorial bahooky… *shudders*)

            • She definitely would. Or throw someone from a cliff…

              Sam was my man. He helped the Texans gain independence. Also, won the Mexican War. He was a tough beast. (I’m infatuated with the Alamo.)

              Well, I do hope that headache cleared up. I hate headaches. The horrid things. I bet it was caused from too much reading. (But I’m heartless. I win. You lose. Again.)

            • *laughs lots* Only if she was provoked…

              D’you know, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Mexican War till quite recently – in fact, I think it was in that bio of Stonewall that I first came across it. *blushes in shame* Was the Alamo part of that?

              Oh, it’s gone now, thank you! I think I shall watch tonight… (Hah! Cupid will find your weak spot wherever it might be, and suddenly you will find yourself humming love songs and sniffing flowers…)

  11. Ha ha ha … had great fun reading your review and the Corries singing The Skye Boat song ( and Sally Free and Easy) was a wee a treat. I just love the Corries although, like Scott, they seem to be considered old fashioned now, but not by me 😉 Overall, I find Walter Scott’s writing a tad too sentimental and romanticised to enjoy and other than flish-flashes of Ovid’s metamorphosis my Latin is all but forgotten and my French ‘fatal’. In other words I will probably nor try to read Waverly again. But I do appreciate Scott’s place in literature and his incredible monument which I used to climb up when I was wee for a sixpence. Plus, it had never occurred to me that Waverly Station was named after the book *hides Edinburger face in shame*! Phew, you have saved me from considerable potential embarrassment 😉

    • I love the Corries! They should be brought out and dusted off every St Andrew’s Day – in fact we should build another monument for them!

      Yes, the Latin/French stuff probably wouldn’t have bothered me if the book had gripped me in other ways, but when I get a bit bored I start noticing all the things that annoy me… 😉 Haha! You’ve now started me wondering – do I really know that that’s why the station is called Waverley or have I just assumed it?? Well, it sounds good anyway, so I’m sticking with it…

  12. A great and honest review. I’ve never read Scott, I don’t think the Latin and French and mythology would be a major problem but I’m not great on my Scottish history. Maybe I’ll look out for an old-school Penguin Classic, which should have good notes.

    • Thank you! 🙂 You know, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me either – in fact, I might not even have really noticed it – if the book had gripped me. But when I get bored I start noticing all the things that annoy me… 😉

      Yes, I think notes would be good for this one – often I can’t be bothered with notes, but sometimes they give just enough info to make something more enjoyable.

  13. I have an abridged edition of Ivanhoe that I’ve been putting off reading for about 35 years! I must have started reading the story as a child and not liked it, but after seeing that monument, I think I’ll have to try again.

    • Haha! It’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? We may not have many literary greats, but we do like to boast about them! I hate to say it, but I don’t think I enjoyed Ivanhoe very much either… they’ll be chucking me out of Scotland soon…

  14. Golly, I didn’t know anyone read Scott any more! Back in the day I read many of them, maybe most. I do recall Waverley being among the duller ones. My favorite, for what it’s worth, is Guy Mannering.

    But then I read and loved Lorna Doone several times in my youth . . .

    Glad to see that grand word “swithering” being put to good use. Years ago the editor of one of my books picked up on my use of the word, saying the English (and Americans) wouldn’t recognize it. She, though English, had lived in Scotland for a while so knew the word, but she’d asked around the office and . . . So we tried to find a synonym. After about half an hour on the phone, we agreed that there was no exact synonym, and that no one could be dumb enough not to gather the meaning of the word from its context.

    Personally, I think there should be a campaign to introduce the word into both English English and Amerenglish forthwith, with mandatory fines for people who fail to use it at least five times before breakfast.

    • I read a few in my yoof and always meant to read more – I remember really liking him, so wasn’t sure if it was that my tastes had changed a lot or if this one just wasn’t as good, so I’m quite pleased you thought it was a bit duller too. But I don’t think I ever read Guy Mannering – maybe I’ll make that the next one. I don’t know what it is about Lorna Doone – maybe just knowing that it was my Dad’s favourite book made me wary in case I hated it… or too rebellious to read it. One day…

      Haha! I had never realised it was a Scottish word till I used it in a review and one of my English commenters was very taken with it. I’m with you – let’s make placards! I don’t know how anyone gets along without a good swither from time to time! 😉

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