Dear Walter Scott

19792454.JPG I finished! I’m sorry Walter Scott, I really tried. I wanted to like this book; I was patient and gave it time to get better after a slow start. I kept hoping and hoping that the action would pick up, the characters become more meaningful — and more comprehensible — the romances would get more interesting, but it never happened for me. Well, Walter Scott, you obviously have done quite well enough without my approval; you’ve got so many books in print after nearly 200 years, and you have lots of readers, including, as a matter of fact, my father, who reads every book of yours he can find. You don’t really need me.

I wish, though, that you had toned down those accents a bit. Baron Bradwardine was so nearly impossible to follow. His high-flown diction and his Latin phrases mixed in everywhere drove me crazy. The problem is, I stopped trying to figure him out after a while. I could follow the action without understanding every word he said, and so it turned out not to be worth my while to decipher his language. Couldn’t he have talked just a bit more normally?

I found myself having a hard time caring about any of the characters too. They were all types, not real people. Edward was foolish, though not irremediably so; clearly he was going to have to learn a lesson, but, also clearly, he would prove himself capable of doing so. Rose was the perfect young heroine, beautiful, modest, capable but not overly smart. It was crystal clear to me after I encountered her what her fate would be. And the same for Flora and Fergus, the Scottish siblings — there wasn’t much doubt what would happen to them. Both of them fascinate Edward, tempt him, lure him into questionable things, but both of them would ultimately prove themselves too dangerous. There was no suspense! Nothing to keep my interest for very long. And I’m generally very bad at predicting the endings of books. When I can figure it out, you’re in trouble.

And here’s another thing I don’t get: you’re Scottish, right? Why portray Scotland and the Scottish people as unstable and dangerous, and the English as the bastions of safety and normality and order? Why exoticize the Scottish? They lure Edward into all kinds of danger and you portray his attraction to them as understandable but flawed and a weakness he needs to outgrow. Well, okay, let me revise this — you’re really portraying the Highlanders as exotic and dangerous. The Lowlanders are merely odd. So am I supposed to see the Lowlanders as roughly aligned with the English in their “normalcy” and the Highlanders as the dangerous other? I’m not sure I like this.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t read other books of yours. I’m curious about why you were so popular, and I don’t feel I understand it yet. What was it about Waverley that fascinated people so much? Those Highlanders are kind of romantic and thrilling, but, still, even there I thought you could do a better job describing them and their lives. Anyway, maybe I’ll try Ivanhoe next. I’m willing to give you one more shot.

16 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction

16 responses to “Dear Walter Scott

  1. It’s too bad you and Walter Scott didn’t click! Sometimes those first impressions are hard to shake and make for a grueling read especially when an author doesn’t improve later in the story. Still you finished it! Maybe he’ll redeem himself in the next book you try. He’s sort of far down my list, but I might try Ivanhoe some day!

  2. hepzibah

    Well, congrats on finishing the book, dorothy! It doesn’t sound like a novel that I would be too interested in reading either, and I hate when plots are so predictable, because it leaves us with nothing to hope for. But you finished it, and that’s the important thing :)

  3. Looks like I won’t be reading Waverley, but I think I need to look at it – it sounds so different from Ivanhoe. He had refused the poet laureateship in 1813 and then wrote the novels. Apparently he didn’t acknowledge authorship of them until 1827. This does make me want to know more about him!

  4. Don’t tell me my new love has ugly forearms and an annoying habit of spitting in public. Instead of making me not want to read it, you’re making me want to race out and get a copy and see for myself. However, trying to follow Baron Bradwardine, as you’ve described, does sound tedious.

  5. Too bad Waverly didn’t turn out all that well. Any inkling as to why it was so popular? Maybe your dad has some insight since he loves Scott? Hopefully Ivanhoe will turn out better and Scott can redeem himself.

  6. Sigh. I feel like writing the same sort of post about Lawrence’s The Rainbow. But alas, I have close to 300 pages still to trudge through.

    Writers can be sooo inconsistent. I hope Ivanhoe does turn out to be much better.

  7. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy ‘Waverley’. I loved it! (But then, I am a little weird. ;-)) I think I really appreciated the anti-romanticism of it: the way Edward comes to realise that he’s actually an ordinary conservative landowner, and the way Flora observes her own Romanticness, sees it as both a strength and a weakness. I wrote a post on it a while back that offers some of my other thoughts: (http://evesalexandria.typepad.com/eves_alexandria/2006/11/uttered_with_af.html)

    But perhaps Scott is just one of those writers – you love him, despite all his faults, or dislike him. :-)

  8. I really want to love Sir Walter Scott because of his exalted place in Scottish literature, but I fear that I won’t, which no doubt explains why I have not yet made a genuine attempt to work my way through one of his novels. So far, all I can lay claim to is a few half-hearted attempts at “Ivanhoe” on the strengh of Betsy Ray’s (of Betsy-Tacy fame) love of it.

    I wonder if “Waverly” would have seemed so predictable to readers of the time. Is it possible that it’s all the books in between that embraced the form that Scott was so influential in shaping that make his work seem predictable to a contemporary reader? Then again, perhaps it is that very predictability that audiences of the time embraced–much the way contemporary devotees of formulaic fiction take comfort in having their expectations met…

    The point about Scott’s represenation of Scots and Scottishness is an interesting one. He is credited with pretty much single-handedly creating the Scottish tourist industry with his (mis)representations of his country and its people, and Scots seem to love him and hate him in equal measure for this.

  9. I’m with Victoria, Scott seems to be a love or hate thing. I said in a previous comment that Quentin Durwood was my first Scott; actually it was the first two chapters of Guy Mannering after which I put it back on the shelf and decided Scott was not for me. Robert Morely as Louis XI in the film persuaded me to try Quentin Durwood and I fell in love. Hopefully the same will happen for you and you’ll click with a different novel.

  10. Danielle — yeah, you’re right about first impressions. Perhaps if I’d been in a better mood when I read those first few chapters that were kind of boring … ? We’ll see how the next Scott book goes, although I don’t think I’ll be reading him really soon.

    Hepzibah — that’s right, I finished, and now I’ve read Walter Scott, which I hadn’t before! That’s what matters.

    BooksPlease — Scott IS an interesting figure; anonymous or pseudonymous publication was pretty common at the time, so he was following what a lot of writers did, although I’m curious if he had special reasons for not claiming Waverley right away.

    Emily — well, if my post had that effect on you, then that wouldn’t be so bad! :)

    Stefanie — I’m not sure why it was so popular, except maybe there was a lot of interest in Scotland that the novel tapped into. He certainly set off a trend in travel to Scotland, as Kate points out, so perhaps the interest in the area was already developing and his novel furthered it.

    Susan — ooh, sorry about The Rainbow! I haven’t been such a big Lawrence fan myself; I sympathize.

    Victoria — well, I have my own weird favorites, so I fully understand! :) Thanks for the link; I’ll certainly check out your post.

    Kate — interesting thoughts; I’d guess that readers were embracing the predictability because others writers of the time and earlier were writing similarly predictable plots. Also I think the point of it or the attraction of it wasn’t the way everything turned out, so much as how the plot got there — all the stuff about Scottish history and the Highlanders. I can certainly understand why the Scots might feel ambivalently about him!

    Eloise — I’ll keep that in mind — there’s a chance I may like something of his yet!

  11. I feel such embarrassment when I don’t like one of the world’s beloved writers. Around my literary friends, I just hide my head in shame and change the subject when one of them comes up.

    Sigh. Literary guilt.

  12. I’ve never tried to read Scott, and probably won’t now. But the early days of the novel were very hit and miss affairs, judging by continental authors I’ve read. Ivanhoe might be better as it might draw on different conventions.

  13. Eva

    I’m glad I didn’t pick Waverly for the Outmoded Authors challenge! I’d be sad to pick it up after reading this. :) Instead, I went with Rob Roy; I’m hoping I love it. If not, well, I just hope to make it through it.

  14. verbivore

    Well, I haven’t read anything by Scott and I suspect I won’t give him a try. But your review made me laugh – isn’t it sad when we want to like something but just can’t? Good on you for finishing something you didn’t love.

  15. I like how you wrote your report as if you were speaking directly to the author. Very fun read. Too bad the book was as fun.

  16. Literary guilt, indeed. I know what you mean. That’s better though, Beth, than lying about it right?

    Litlove — yeah, they were inconsistent, I agree. I’m generally such a patient reader of novels of the time though! But yes, maybe Ivanhoe will be better … I can hope.

    Eva — I hope you love Rob Roy too; if so, maybe I’ll decide to pick up that one instead …

    Verbivore — thank you; I’m not always proud of finishing things I don’t like (what a waste of time), but I really did need tos tick with this one.

    Bikkuri — thank you! I kind of like the idea of writing letters to authors and maybe I’ll have to do it again. It seemed perfect with Scott, too, who tends to talk directly to his readers. He invites conversation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s