Scott, Sir Walter (1771 - 1832)

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(1771 - 1832)

(Also wrote under the pseudonym Jedediah Cleishbotham) Scottish novelist, poet, short story writer, biographer, historian, critic, and editor.

An immensely popular writer of both poetry and fiction during his lifetime, Scott exerted a profound influence on early nineteenth-century European literature. Modern scholars consider him both the inventor of the historical novel and the first best-selling novelist. As the anonymous and enormously prolific "Author of Waverley," Scott not only elevated the novel to a status equal to that of poetry but also influenced the way history has been written and understood by subsequent generations of historians and novelists. Despite the unprecedented success of his novels and poetry, Scott's literary reputation and popularity underwent one of the most pronounced reversals in the history of English literature following his death. Today his poetry is largely ignored, although his novels continue to attract the attention of literary historians. Among the many areas of continued scholarly interest in Scott's fiction, substantial notice has been paid to the Gothic qualities his novels and short stories. Even though Scott urged his readers to distinguish Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since (1814) and the subsequent series of Waverley Novels from tales of Gothic horror, modern scholars have observed that these works nevertheless exhibit numerous affinities to the Gothic literary mode. Scott's fiction, which makes broad use of historical and frequently medieval settings, alludes to the mysterious workings of fate and the supernatural, and often depicts violent clashes between romantic and modern sensibilities, is routinely cited for its substantial exploitation of these and other Gothic themes and devices.


Scott was born in Edinburgh to middle-class parents, the fourth surviving child of Walter Scott and Anne Rutherford. At the age of two, he suffered an attack of polio that rendered him lame for the rest of his life. In spite of his illness, however, Scott led an active outdoor life during his childhood and developed an appreciation for the picturesque scenery that later figured so prominently in his writings. He enrolled in Edinburgh High School in 1778 and five years later entered the University of Edinburgh, studying history and law. In 1786, he was apprenticed to his father's legal firm and was called to the bar in 1792. While serving his apprenticeship, Scott traveled extensively in the Scottish Border country and Highlands, where he delighted in the natural settings and rural inhabitants. In 1800 he was able to combine his love for Scottish lore and literature with his ongoing excursions into the countryside as he started collecting and editing ballads for his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802–03). Although the work produced only modest sales when published, the collection enjoyed critical favor. The positive reception of the Minstrelsy and the encouragement of his friends prompted Scott to attempt an original work based on Scottish themes. His efforts resulted in The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805). The success of this work when it appeared was immediate and substantial. Determined to earn a living through his writings, Scott gave up the law as a full-time profession and, beginning in 1808 with Marmion, published a series of highly popular and remunerative poems with Scottish backgrounds and themes, including what is perhaps his best-known long poem, The Lady of the Lake (1810). From this time, Scott's expenditures increased as quickly as his income, and many critics and biographers have tied his enormous output directly to a desire for material gain. Scott had purchased a farm in 1811 and, after renaming the property Abbotsford, began devoting huge sums of money to building, planting, and collecting relics from Scotland's past. Thus, though his income was large, his financial situation was often precarious. By the time Rokeby appeared in 1813, readers were also beginning to lose interest in his poetry. In addition, the triumph of the first two cantos of Lord Byron's Childe Harold in 1812 had convinced Scott that he could not compete with the younger poet. Anxious to retain his audience and large income, Scott decided to revise and complete a fragment of a novel that he had begun ten years before.

Waverley proved a popular sensation when published in 1814. Considered the first historical novel, Waverley quickly became the most successful work of its kind ever to appear, and brought huge profits to Scott and his publishers. Buoyed by his first venture as a novelist, Scott began writing at a rapid pace, and over the next seventeen years produced more than two dozen novels and tales in a series that has since become known as the Waverley Novels. He was able to maintain his prolific output not only because he never plotted his works ahead of time and seldom revised his manuscripts, but also because he maintained strenuous work habits even when gravely ill. Because at the time writing novels was perceived as less respectful than writing poetry, Scott had published Waverley anonymously. When the success of Waverley increased the public's appreciation for novelists, he nevertheless chose to retain his anonymity for many years, a practice his biographers have traced both to his love of secrecy and to his perception that the mystery surrounding the novels contributed to their sales. Many of the novels were published as "by the Author of Waverley," and he was often referred to simply as the "Great Unknown." Despite his policy of anonymous publication, numerous readers and critics knew of his authorship; he became the most popular writer in contemporary English literature and a highly respected and admired figure throughout Europe. In 1818 he accepted a baronetcy, becoming Sir Walter Scott. In 1826, disaster struck when a publishing house in which he was a silent partner failed. Instead of choosing to declare bankruptcy, Scott arranged to work off the debt through his writings. The remainder of his life was devoted to the increasingly difficult task of producing saleable works in a variety of genres. Beginning in 1830 he suffered a series of strokes as he labored to pay his creditors. A trip to the Mediterranean in 1831 to regain his health proved unsuccessful, and after experiencing further strokes and paralysis he died at Abbotsford in 1832.


A prolific writer of both poetry and prose, Scott enjoyed astounding popular success as a writer in both these genres during a literary career that roughly spanned the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Among his earliest poetic collections, the three-volume Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border contains numerous Scottish ballads that had never before appeared in print, as well as imitated ballads written by Scott and others. His The Lay of the Last Minstrel is an original poem set in medieval times that, in Scott's words, was "intended to illustrate the customs and manners which anciently prevailed on the borders of England and Scotland." The work launched his career as a poet, and was followed by several more narrative pieces crafted in the same spirit. Scott's first novel Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since, features the tale of an Englishman who travels to the Scottish Highlands and becomes caught up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Waverley spawned more than twenty similar works of historical fiction, collectively known as the Waverley Novels. In these stories, most of which describe the lives of ordinary individuals who become involved in great historical events, Scott presented in lavish detail the speech, manners, and customs of past ages. In studying these works, critics have often divided them into three groups. The first, the so-called "Scotch Novels," are stories that evoke the declin-ing feudal culture of the Scottish Highlands prior to Scotland's absorption into Great Britain. They include Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary (1816), and Old Mortality (1816), as well as two novels set during the Jacobite uprising of 1715, Rob Roy (1818) and The Heart of Midlothian (1818), followed by The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), The Legend of Montrose (1819), and Redgauntlet: A Tale of the Eighteenth Century (1824). The second group features works concerned with medieval history in England and Europe, including such novels as Ivanhoe (1820), set during the reign of King John and depicting the figure of Locksley (better known as Robin Hood), Quentin Durward (1823) and Anne of Geierstein; or, The Maiden of the Mist (1829). Works placed in the third category are those focused on the Tudor-Stuart era in England, including Kenilworth (1821), which plays out among the intrigues of the Elizabethan court, The Fortunes of Nigel (1822), Peveril of the Peak (1822), and Woodstock; or, the Cavalier (1826), the last two set during the seventeenth-century English Civil War. Other novels by Scott particularly noted for their use of mystery, the uncanny, and other Gothic literary conventions include The Black Dwarf (1816), featuring a deformed, enigmatic hero who hides his identity until the end of the novel, The Pirate (1822), set in the remote Orkney islands in 1700 and detailing a struggle between two half-brothers, the pirate Cleveland and his rival Mordaunt, St. Ronan's Well (1824), also depicting a brutal rivalry between half-brothers but set in early nineteenth-century Scotland, and Castle Dangerous (1832), concerned with the excesses of the late medieval chivalric code.

While many of the Waverley Novels feature hints of the supernatural, Scott generally relegated his literary depiction of the inexplicable and otherworldly to his short fiction. Among these works, the collection Chronicles of the Canongate (1827) includes two darkly pessimistic short stories. The first of these, called "The Highland Widow," is a tale that dramatizes the passing of the old Scotch way of life in the death of a widow's son, apparently caused by the supernatural power of a fatal curse. In the second story, "The Two Drovers," a misunderstanding coupled with the strange and tragic workings of fate leads to the murder of an English cattleman by a Scottish drover, and eventually to the Highlander's execution for his crime. Another collection of short fiction, The Keepsake for 1829 (1828) includes Scott's ghost story "The Tapestried Chamber; or, The Lady in the Sacque," and a tale of sorcery, "My Aunt Margaret's Mirror," featuring a magical mirror that allows gazers to witness important events as they transpire miles away. Further evidence of Scott's interest in the supernatural is located in his critical writings, notably in his late study of folk superstitions entitled Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830).


The novelty of Scott's writing style and subject matter captivated his early audience; in fact, his writings created a vogue for Scottish culture and even led to an increase in tourism in Scotland. Many contemporary critics, however, have agreed that Scott's poetry and novels reveal glaring deficiencies, including careless construction, prolixity, and bad grammar. Yet most early reviewers acknowledged the superiority of his novels, arguing that their originality, vivid portrayal of history, and lively characters outweighed their faults. Scott's ability to bring Scottish and English history to life—to capture the language, costumes, and settings of the past—as well as his understanding of the effects of social change upon the lives of ordinary people, were entirely new contributions to English fiction. To many early Victorians, Scott was a heroic figure whose exemplary life and courageous struggle to pay his debts were reflected in the morally irreproachable qualities of his works. Yet certain critics, prominent among them Thomas Carlyle, felt that Scott's life should not be confused with his works, which were shallow, lacking in true passion, and written largely for material gain. As the nineteenth century progressed, the increasingly sophisticated design and self-conscious art of the novel as practiced by such writers as George Eliot and Henry James caused numerous commentators to deride the disorganized plots and intellectual superficiality of Scott's fiction. Although his admirers countered by praising his enduring appeal as a storyteller and the entertainment value of the Waverley Novels, by the turn of the century many critics maintained that Scott could no longer be considered a major English novelist. His readership as well as his critical stock had been declining since mid century, and while the second half of the twentieth century would show mounting scholarly interest in his works, Scott, a writer who in his own day had been compared with William Shakespeare, would eventually be described by W. E. K. Anderson as the "Great Unread."

Nevertheless, twentieth-century critics have emphasized Scott's important role in literary history. Scholars have traced his influence on the masterpieces of novelists as diverse as Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Honoré de Balzac, and William Makepeace Thackeray. Commentators have also explored Scott's significant contribution—through his invention and development of the historical novel—to the history of ideas, specifically with respect to the modern concept of historical perspective. Modern studies of the Waverley Novels have consistently stressed the superiority of the "Scotch Novels" over the rest, and critics have given particular attention to The Heart of Midlothian, often considered his finest novel. Scott's works have attracted increasing scholarly notice since the general proliferation of English literary scholarship that began in the 1950s, and recent commentators have explored such specific aspects of his novels as his passive heroes and his portrayal of the Middle Ages. Contemporary scholars studying the relationship of Scott's fiction to the Gothic tradition have found numerous points of contact, despite the writer's efforts to distance himself from this literary mode he frequently disparaged. Among them, Marilyn Orr (see Further Reading) has explored the generic conflict between romance and Gothic in The Pirate and St. Ronan's Well. Concentrating on motifs of doubling and repetition in these novels, Orr characterizes the former work as a romance that strives toward a synthetic unification of opposites, while assessing the latter as a thoroughly Gothic work symbolically focused on the subversion and dominance of the double. Fiona Robertson has concentrated on Scott's extensive use of such Gothic devices as deferral, detachment, and denial in his Waverley Novels, particularly in The Pirate, Rob Roy, and Peveril of the Peak, viewing these as works that foreground a sense of mystery, secrecy, and anxiety in a resoundingly Gothic manner. Other critics have traced the extensive use of Gothic motifs in Scott's collected fiction, particularly in his Waverley Novels. Such tropes as the delayed disclosure of a central narrative mystery, an evocation of dread and emotional anxiety caused by threats of violence or imprisonment, and a use of the uncanny and supernatural, often through reference to terrifying ghostly apparitions or in allusions to superstitious beliefs and nefarious secret societies, are common features throughout these works. Likewise, Scott's interest in fatalist themes, his medieval settings, romantic characterizations, and occasional use of the supernatural in both his novels and short fiction strongly recall the English Gothic mode in transition from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. And, while Scott's immensely popular works have now largely become the concern of literary specialists, such studies have reaffirmed Scott's status as a crucial figure in the development of the English novel and a seminal influence on nineteenth-century European literature.


The Eve of Saint John (poetry) 1800
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. 3 vols. [editor and contributor] (poetry) 1802–03
The Lay of the Last Minstrel (ballad) 1805
Ballads and Lyrical Pieces (poetry) 1807
Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (poetry) 1808
The Lady of the Lake (poetry) 1810
The Vision of Don Roderick (poetry) 1811
The Bridal of Triermain; or, the Vale of St. John (poetry) 1813
Rokeby: A Poem (poetry) 1813
Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since. 3 vols. (novel) 1814
The Field of Waterloo (poetry) 1815
Guy Mannering; or, The Astrologer (novel) 1815
The Lord of the Isles (poetry) 1815
The Antiquary (novel) 1816
The Black Dwarf (novel) 1816
Old Mortality (novel) 1816
Harold the Dauntless (poetry) 1817
The Heart of Midlothian (novel) 1818
Rob Roy (novel) 1818
The Bride of Lammermoor (novel) 1819
The Legend of Montrose (novel) 1819
The Abbot (novel) 1820
Ivanhoe (novel) 1820
Miscellaneous Poems (poetry) 1820
The Monastery (novel) 1820
Kenilworth (novel) 1821
The Fortunes of Nigel (novel) 1822
Peveril of the Peak (novel) 1822
The Pirate (novel) 1822
Quentin Durward (novel) 1823

Redgauntlet: A Tale of the Eighteenth Century (novel) 1824
St. Ronan's Well (novel) 1824
Tales of the Crusaders (novels) 1825
Woodstock; or, The Cavalier: A Tale of the Year Sixteen Hundred and Fifty-One (novel) 1826
Chronicles of the Canongate (short stories) 1827
Chronicles of the Canongate. Second Series. (novel) 1828
§The Keepsake for 1829 (short stories) 1828
Anne of Geierstein; or, The Maiden of the Mist (novel) 1829
Waverley Novels. 48 vols. (novels) 1829–33
Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (nonfiction) 1830
Castle Dangerous (novel) 1832
Count Robert of Paris (novel) 1832
The Miscellaneous Works of Sir Walter Scott. 30 vols. (biographies, travel essays, history, and criticism) 1870–71
The Journal of Sir Walter Scott (journal) 1890
The Waverley Novels. 25 vols. (novels) 1892–94
The Complete Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott. 5 vols. (poetry) 1894
The Letters of Sir Walter Scott. 12 vols. (letters) 1932–37

∗ These works were written under the pseudonym Jedediah Cleishbotham and originally published in the four series of Tales of My Landlord, Collected and Arranged by Jedediah Cleishbotham, Schoolmaster and Parish-Clerk of Gandercleugh.

† Comprised of the novels The Betrothed and The Talisman.

‡ The first series of this work consists of the short stories "The Highland Widow," "The Surgeon's Daughter," and "The Two Drovers." The second series contains the novel St. Valentine's Day; or, The Fair Maid of Perth.

§ This collection includes the short stories "My Aunt Margaret's Mirror," "The Tapestried Chamber; or, The Lady in the Sacque," and "The Laird's Jock."



SOURCE: Scott, Sir Walter. "The Erl-King's Daughter." In An Apology for Tales of Terror, pp. 73-6. Printed at the Mail Office: Kelso, 1799.

In the following poem, Scott offers a companion piece to his translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Der Erlkonig" ("The Erl-King"), collected in the same volume.

O'ER hills and through forests Sir Oluf he wends,
To bid to his wedding relations and friends:
'Tis late, and arriving where sports the elf-band,
The Erl-King's proud daughter presents him her hand.
"Now welcome, Sir Oluf! Oh! welcome to me!
"Come, enter our circle my partner to be."
"Fair lady, nor can I dance with you, nor may:
"To-morrow I marry, to-night must away."
"Now listen, Sir Oluf! Oh! listen to me!
"Two spurs of fine steel will I give unto thee;
"A shirt too of satin receive as thy boon,
"Which my Queen-mother bleach'd in the light of the moon.
"Then yield thee, Sir Oluf! Oh! yield thee to me,
"And enter our circle my partner to be."
"Fair lady, nor can I dance with you, nor may:
"To-morrow I marry, to-night must away."
"Now listen, Sir Oluf! Oh! listen to me!
"An helmet of gold will I give unto thee."
"An helmet of gold would I willingly take,
"But I will not dance with you for Urgola's sake."
"And deigns not Sir Oluf my partner to be?
"Then curses and sickness I give unto thee;
"Then curses and sickness thy steps shall pursue:
"Now hence to thy lady, thou lover so true!"
Thus said she, and laid her charm'd hand on his heart;
Oh! never Sir Oluf had felt such a smart!
Swift spurr'd he his steed till he reach'd his own door,
And there stood his mother the castle before.
"Now riddle me, Oluf, and riddle me right,
"Why look'st thou, my dearest, so wan and so white?"
"How should I not, mother, look wan and look white?
"I have seen the Erl-King's cruel daughter tonight.
"She cursed me, her hand to my bosom she prest:
"Death followed the touch, and now tortures my breast:
"She cursed me, and said—To thy lady now ride!
"But ne'er shall my lips kiss the lips of my bride!"
"Now riddle me, Oluf, and what shall I say,
"When here comes the lady so fair and so gay?"
"Oh! say, I am gone for a while to the wood,
"To prove if my hounds and my courser be good."
Scarce dead was Sir Oluf, and scarce shone the day,
When in came the lady, so fair and so gay,
And in came her father, and in came each guest,
Whom the hapless Sir Oluf had bade to the feast.

They drank the red wine, and they ate the good cheer,
"Oh! where is Sir Oluf? Oh! where is my dear?"
"Sir Oluf is gone for a while to the wood,
"To prove if his hounds and his courser be good."
Then trembled the lady so fair and so gay:
She eyed the black curtain, she drew it away:
But soon from her bosom for ever life fled,
For there lay Sir Oluf, pale, breathless, and dead.


SOURCE: Scott, Sir Walter. "The Tapestried Chamber." In The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, chosen by Michael Cox and R. A. Gilbert, pp. 1-12. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

The following excerpt is from a short story first collected in The Keepsake of 1829, published in late 1828.

'My dear lord,' he at length said, 'what happened to me last night is of nature so peculiar and so unpleasant, that I could hardly bring myself to detail it even to your lordship, were it not that, independent of my wish to gratify any request of yours, I think that sincerity on my part may lead to some explanation about a circumstance equally painful and mysterious. To others, the communications I am about to make, might place me in the light of a weak-minded, superstitious fool who suffered his own imagination to delude and bewilder him; but you have known me in childhood and youth, and will not suspect me of having adopted in manhood the feelings and frailties from which my early years were free.' Here he paused, and his friend replied:

'Do not doubt my perfect confidence in the truth of your communication, however strange it may be,' replied Lord Woodville; 'I know your firmness of disposition too well, to suspect you could be made the object of imposition, and am aware that your honour and your friendship will equally deter you from exaggerating whatever you may have witnessed.'

'Well then,' said the general, 'I will proceed with my story as well as I can, relying upon your candour; and yet distinctly feeling that I would rather face a battery than recall to my mind the odious recollections of last night.'

He paused a second time, and then perceiving that Lord Woodville remained silent and in an attitude of attention, he commenced, though not without obvious reluctance, the history of his night's adventures in the Tapestried Chamber.

'I undressed and went to bed, so soon as your lordship left me yesterday evening; but the wood in the chimney, which nearly fronted my bed, blazed brightly and cheerfully, and, aided by a hundred exciting recollections of my childhood and youth which had been recalled by the unexpected pleasure of meeting your lordship, prevented me from falling immediately asleep. I ought, however, to say, that these reflections were all of a pleasant and agreeable kind, grounded on a sense of having for a time exchanged the labour, fatigues, and dangers of my profession, for the enjoyments of a peaceful life, and the reunion of those friendly and affectionate ties which I had torn asunder at the rude summons of war.

'While such pleasing reflections were stealing over my mind, and gradually lulling me to slumber, I was suddenly aroused by a sound like that of the rustling of a silken gown, and the tapping of a pair of high-heeled shoes, as if a woman were walking in the apartment. Ere I could draw the curtain to see what the matter was, the figure of a little woman passed between the bed and the fire. The back of this form was turned to me, and I could observe, from the shoulders and neck, it was that of an old woman, whose dress was an old-fashioned gown which, I think, ladies call a sacque; that is, a sort of robe, completely loose in the body, but gathered into broad plaits upon the neck and shoulders, which fall down to the ground, and terminate in a species of train.

'I thought the intrusion singular enough, but never harboured for a moment the idea that what I saw was anything more than the mortal form of some old woman about the establishment, who had a fancy to dress like her grandmother, and who, having perhaps (as your lordship mentioned that you were rather straitened for room) been dislodged from her chamber for my accommodation, had forgotten the circumstance, and returned by twelve to her old haunt. Under this persuasion I moved myself in bed and coughed a little, to make the intruder sensible of my being in possession of the premises.—She turned slowly round, but gracious heaven! my lord, what a countenance did she display to me! There was no longer any question what she was, or any thought of her being a living being. Upon a face which wore the fixed features of a corpse, were imprinted the traces of the vilest and most hideous passions which had animated her while she lived. The body of some atrocious criminal seemed to have been given up from the grave, and the soul restored from the penal fire, in order to form, for a space, a union with the ancient accomplice of its guilt. I started up in bed, and sat upright, supporting myself on my palms, as I gazed on this horrible spectre. The hag made, as it seemed, a single and swift stride to the bed where I lay, and squatted herself down upon it, in precisely the same attitude which I had assumed in the extremity of horror, advancing her diabolical countenance within half a yard of mine, with a grin which seemed to intimate the malice and the derision of an incarnate fiend.'

Here General Browne stopped, and wiped from his brow the cold perspiration with which the recollection of his horrible vision had covered it.

'My lord,' he said, 'I am no coward. I have been in all the mortal dangers incidental to my profession, and I may truly boast that no man ever knew Richard Browne dishonour the sword he wears; but in these horrible circumstances, under the eyes, and as it seemed, almost in the grasp of an incarnation of an evil spirit, all firmness forsook me, all manhood melted from me like wax in the furnace, and I felt my hair individually bristle. The current of my life-blood ceased to flow, and I sank back in a swoon, as very a victim to panic terror as ever was a village girl or a child of ten years old. How long I lay in this condition I cannot pretend to guess.

'But I was roused by the castle clock striking one, so loud that it seemed as if it were in the very room. It was some time before I dared open my eyes, lest they should again encounter the horrible spectacle. When, however, I summoned courage to look up, she was no longer visible. My first idea was to pull my bell, wake the servants, and remove to a garret or a hay-loft, to be ensured against a second visitation. Nay, I will confess the truth, that my resolution was altered, not by the shame of exposing myself, but by the very fear that, as the bell-cord hung by the chimney, I might, in making my way to it, be again crossed by the fiendish hag, who, I figured to myself, might be still lurking about some corner of the apartment.

'I will not pretend to describe what hot and cold fever-fits tormented me for the rest of the night, through broken sleep, weary vigils, and that dubious state which forms the neutral ground between them. A hundred terrible objects appeared to haunt me; but there was the great difference betwixt the vision which I have described, and those which followed, that I knew the last to be deceptions of my own fancy and over-excited nerves.

'Day at last appeared, and I rose from my bed ill in health, and humiliated in mind. I was ashamed of myself as a man and a soldier, and still more so, at feeling my own extreme desire to escape from the haunted apartment, which, however, conquered all other considerations; so that, huddling on my clothes with the most careless haste, I made my escape from your lordship's mansion, to seek in the open air some relief to my nervous system, shaken as it was by this horrible rencounter with a visitant, for such I must believe her, from the other world. Your lordship has now heard the cause of my discomposure, and of my sudden desire to leave your hospitable castle. In other places I trust we may often meet; but God protect me from ever spending a second night under that roof!'

Strange as the general's tale was, he spoke with such a deep air of conviction, that it cut short all the usual commentaries which are made on such stories. Lord Woodville never once asked him if he was sure he did not dream of the apparition, or suggested any of the possibilities by which it is fashionable to explain supernatural appearances, as wild vagaries of the fancy or deceptions of the optic nerves. On the contrary he seemed deeply impressed with the truth and reality of what he had heard; and, after a considerable pause, regretted, with much appearance of sincerity, that his early friend should in his house have suffered so severely.

'I am the more sorry for your pain, my dear Browne,' he continued, 'that it is the unhappy, though most unexpected, result of an experiment of my own! You must know, that for my father and grandfather's time, at least, the apartment which was assigned to you last night had been shut on account of reports that it was disturbed by supernatural sights and noises. When I came, a few weeks since, into possession of the estate, I thought the accommodation which the castle afforded for my friends was not extensive enough to permit the inhabitants of the invisible world to retain possession of a comfortable sleeping apartment. I therefore caused the Tapestried Chamber, as we call it, to be opened; and without destroying its air of antiquity, I had such new articles of furniture placed in it as became the modern times. Yet as the opinion that the room was haunted very strongly prevailed among the domestics, and was also known in the neighbourhood and to many of my friends, I feared some prejudice might be entertained by the first occupant of the Tapestried Chamber, which might tend to revive the evil report which it had laboured under, and so disappoint my purpose of rendering it a useful part of the house. I must confess, my dear Browne, that your arrival yesterday, agreeable to me for a thousand reasons besides, seemed the most favourable opportunity of removing the unpleasant rumours which attached to the room, since your courage was indubitable and your mind free of any preoccupation on the subject. I could not, therefore, have chosen a more fitting subject for my experiment.'

'Upon my life,' said General Browne, somewhat hastily, 'I am infinitely obliged to your lordship—very particularly indebted indeed. I am likely to remember for some time the consequences of the experiment, as your lordship is pleased to call it.'

'Nay, now you are unjust, my dear friend,' said Lord Woodville. 'You have only to reflect for a single moment, in order to be convinced that I could not augur the possibility of the pain to which you have been so unhappily exposed. I was yesterday morning a complete sceptic on the subject of supernatural appearances. Nay, I am sure that had I told you what was said about that room, those very reports would have induced you, by your own choice, to select it for your accommodation. It was my misfortune, perhaps my error, but really cannot be termed my fault, that you have been afflicted so strangely.'

'Strangely indeed!' said the general, resuming his good temper; 'and I acknowledge that I have no right to be offended with your lordship for treating me like what I used to think myself—a man of some firmness and courage.—But I see my post-horses are arrived, and I must not detain your lordship from your amusement.'

'Nay, my old friend,' said Lord Woodville, 'since you cannot stay with us another day, which, indeed, I can no longer urge, give me at least half an hour more. You used to love pictures, and I have a gallery of portraits, some of them by Vandyke, representing ancestry to whom this property and castle formerly belonged. I think that several of them will strike you as possessing merit.'

General Browne accepted the invitation, though somewhat unwillingly. It was evident he was not to breathe freely or at ease until he left Woodville Castle far behind him. He could not refuse his friend's invitation, however; and the less so, that he was a little ashamed of the peevishness which he had displayed towards his well-meaning entertainer.

The general, therefore, followed Lord Woodville through several rooms, into a long gallery hung with pictures, which the latter pointed out to his guest, telling the names, and giving some account of the personages whose portraits presented themselves in progression. General Browne was but little interested in the details which these accounts conveyed to him. They were, indeed, of the kind which are usually found in the old family gallery. Here was a cavalier who had ruined the estate in the royal cause; there a fine lady who had reinstated it by contracting a match with a wealthy Roundhead. There hung a gallant who had been in danger for corresponding with the exiled Court of St Germain's; here one who had taken arms for William at the Revolution; and there a third that had thrown his weight alternately into the scale of Whig and Tory.

While Lord Woodville was cramming these words into his guest's ear, 'against the stomach of his sense', they gained the middle of the gallery, when he beheld General Browne suddenly start, and assume an attitude of the utmost surprise, not unmixed with fear, as his eyes were caught and suddenly riveted by a portrait of an old lady in a sacque, the fashionable dress of the end of the seventeenth century.

'There she is!' he exclaimed; 'there she is, in form and features, though inferior in demoniac expression to the accursed hag who visited me last night!'

'If that be the case,' said the young nobleman, 'there can remain no longer any doubt of the horrible reality of your apparition. That is the picture of a wretched ancestress of mine, of whose crimes a black and fearful catalogue is recorded in a family history in my charter-chest. The recital of them would be too horrible; it is enough to say, that in yon fatal apartment incest and unnatural murder were committed. I will restore it to the solitude to which the better judgement of those who preceded me had consigned it; and never shall any one, so long as I can prevent it, be exposed to a repetition of the supernatural horrors which could shake such courage as yours.'

Thus the friends, who had met with such glee, parted in a very different mood; Lord Woodville to command the Tapestried Chamber to be unmantled and the door built up; and General Browne to seek in some less beautiful country, and with some less dignified friend, forgetfulness of the painful night which he had passed in Woodville Castle.


The Waverley Novels


SOURCE: Robertson, Fiona. "Secrecy, Silence, and Anxiety: Gothic Narratology and the Waverley Novels." In Legitimate Histories: Scott, Gothic, and the Authorities of Fiction, pp. 161-95. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

In the following excerpt, Robertson asserts that in the Waverley Novels "Scott's narrative techniques of deferral and denial have much in common with the Gothic, and are used with a complex alertness to their literary signification."

What is this secret sin; this untold tale, That art cannot extract, nor penance cleanse?1

They dare not murder me,—they dare not incarcerate me;—they are answerable to the court to which I have appealed for my forthcoming,—they dare not be guilty of any violence.

                 (Monçada, Melmoth the Wanderer)2

When Edie Ochiltree is not sitting at his elbow Scott writes stories structured by loss, anxiety, and what is called in Peveril of the Peak 'the influence of undefinable apprehension'.3 It would be easy, given the common critical association of Gothic, repression, and the unconscious, to make these stories into subtexts of the Waverley Novels, 'buried letters' of the type Mary Jacobus has proposed for the workings of Gothic in Villette.4 This [essay proposes instead] to interpret individual Waverley Novels in some detail without presupposing any such aesthetic ranking or blurring the distinction between the claims that Scott uses Gothic devices to represent anxiety and that Gothic can in any way be equated with Scott's personal fears. [T]he argument aims first to establish that imitation, parody, and extension of Gothic conventions in the Waverley Novels help Scott to construct some of the non-authorial and even anti-authorial voices described in the previous chapter. The discussion of The Pirate, Rob Roy, and Peveril of the Peak in this [essay] focuses on the techniques (not lapses) of tone, narrative structure, description, and interior monologue by which Scott both raises and controls interpretations of the social world which sharply contradict the interpretations endorsed by his rational authorial voice. From this discussion two points emerge most strongly. One is that Scott's narrative techniques of deferral and denial have much in common with Gothic, and are used with a complex alertness to their literary signification. This is particularly true of the manipulation of secrets and narratorial secrecy, and it reinforces the argument that when looking for the impact made by Gothic on the Waverley Novels critics must attend to technique and tone as well as to events and settings. All Scott's plots depend upon the preservation then unravelling of secrets, although few go so far as Kenilworth, which can be read as an allegory of secrecy, as a cautionary tale about what happens when a man compromises with truth and plain-dealing, and when the secret (Amy) to which he rashly commits himself bursts out of his control. The second main point is that Scott, so often censured for a supposed shallowness in psychological representation, is much more versatile and resourceful as an analyst of states of mind than he first appears.

The first section of Chapter 2 [in Legitimate Histories: Scott, Gothic, and the Authorities of Fiction] analysed the methods developed in Gothic fiction to ritualize 'not secrets … but Secrecy', in Kermode's formulation. This process in Gothic is self-consciously literary, bolstered by close reference to other texts. The first epigraph to this [essay], the plea for explanation in Walpole's play about incest, The Mysterious Mother (1781), became a favourite point of reference in later Gothic fiction, used to suggest both the fearfulness and the inexpressibility of the secrets around which literary Gothic is plotted. A constant point of reference in Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest and The Italian, the 'untold tale' of 'secret sin' hints at the forbidden subject of incest (between Montalt and Adeline, Schedoni and Ellena) with which both novels flirt, but which they finally evade.5 More generally, novelists used the promise of the 'untold tale' both as a stimulus to readers' curiosity and as an acknowledgement of the limits of the fictional 'art' which could never hope to satisfy it. Although all narratives depend upon a degree of secrecy, Gothic novels are particularly dominated by the sense of 'secret sin', the unutterable or unnarratable source of mystery which must remain safely beyond the bounds of fiction.

The Waverley Novels, likewise, hint repeatedly at horrors which they do not enact, and build mysterious plots around the silence (willed or enforced) of key characters. In order to do this they employ techniques of deferral and delay which owe much to the example of Gothic; and they also develop ways of suggesting forms of free-floating anxiety, best analysed by Alexander Welsh in his discussion of Rob Roy, which again have much in common with the construction of fear in Radcliffean Gothic. Secret sins and unvoiced (what Melmoth the Wanderer terms 'unutterable') fears are traceable to many of the same narratorial ploys and habits of imaginative reference. A simple and striking instance may be found in the passage in The Fortunes of Nigel in which the Lady Hermione relates her life-story to Margaret Ramsay and delays its crisis by lingering over insignificant details:

'It is only,' said the Lady Hermione, 'because I linger like a criminal on the scaffold, and would fain protract the time that must inevitably bring on the final catastrophe. Yes, dearest Margaret, I rest and dwell on the events of that journey, marked as it was by fatigue and danger, though the road lay through the wildest and most desolate deserts and mountains, and though our companions, both men and women, were fierce and lawless themselves, and exposed to the most merciless retaliation from those with whom they were constantly engaged—yet would I rather dwell on these hazardous events than tell that which awaited me at Saint Jean de Luz.'6

The long sentence, elaborating on details of the journey, delays the moment when Hermione must instantiate Dalgarno's villainy. When, anticipating many other readers, Maria Edgeworth complained of Scott's tendency to 'huddle the cards together in such a shameless manner' at the end of his novels, she responded to a structural pattern characteristic of fictions based on secrets, seen here in miniature in Hermione's effort to expand on every detail except the one her listener wants to hear.7


The Author of Waverley has got rid of the tagging of rhymes, the eking out of syllables, the supplying of epithets, the colours of style, the grouping of his characters, and the regular march of events, and comes to the point at once, and strikes at the heart of his subject, without dismay and without disguise. His poetry was lady's waiting-maid, dressed out in cast-off finery: his prose is a beautiful, rustic nymph, that, like Dorothea in Don Quixote when she is surprised with dishevelled tresses bathing her naked feet in the brook, looks round her abashed at the admiration her charms have excited. The grand secret of the author's success in these latter productions is that he has completely got rid of the trammels of authorship; and torn off at one rent (as Lord Peter got rid of so many yards of lace in the "Tale of a Tub") all the ornaments of fine writing and worn-out sentimentality. All is fresh, as from the hand of nature: by going a century or two back and laying the scene in a remote and uncultivated district, all becomes new and startling in the present advanced period. Highland manners, characters, scenery, superstitions, northern dialect and costume, the wars, the religion, and politics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, give a charming and wholesome relief to the fastidious refinement and "over-laboured lassitude" of modern readers, like the effect of plunging a nervous valetudinarian into a cold-bath.

SOURCE: Hazlitt, William. "Sir Walter Scott." The New Monthly Magazine 10, no. 40 (April 1824): 297-304.

There are close technical links, therefore, between narratorial delay (the 'huddled' structure), secrecy-driven plotting, and the suggestion, but not explication, of anxiety. By bringing these closer together in the following discussion I hope also to question one of the most common and most damaging of all complaints about Scott: that is, that he did not understand, or did not care to investigate, the workings of the mind in states of anger, obsession, neurosis, or desire. Lukács, as usual, pronounces decisively on the matter: 'Scott does not command the magnificent, profound psychological dialectics of character which distinguishes the novel of the last great period of bourgeois development.'8 A belief in Scott's 'sunny' disposition may have been useful for writers who, like Carlyle, wished to attack the morbid tendencies of modern literature. For twentieth-century critics, however, accustomed to praise different (and equally conventional) methods of psychological examination in fiction, Scott has sometimes seemed embarrassingly inadequate. Even for Carlyle, the conviction that Scott was 'a genius in extenso, as we may say, not in intenso' limited his artistic standing.9 Virginia Woolf, reappraising Scott at a time when his work was out of fashion among critics, had to conclude that he was 'not among the great observers of the intricacies of the heart'.10 David Cecil agreed: 'Scott was no analyst.'11 Scott himself made coy asides referring to this supposed deficiency. 'I like so little to analyze the complication of the causes which influence actions', he demurs (thinking of Fielding) in the first chapter of The Antiquary. 12 The aside in The Antiquary is clearly misleading, however. Scott does deal with the darker aspects of psychology, but in order to preserve the usefulness of his rational narrative persona he is obliged to find alternative, extra-narratorial ways of exploring them. If one leaves aside for a moment the complications introduced by fictional contexts, the technique can be seen quite clearly at work in Scott's private writings. When obliged to describe distressing experiences in his own life in his letters and Journal he uses a distinctive language of literary reference and suggestion, overstatement and cliché. A friend's disgrace leads him to reflect in the Journal:

It is a mercy our thoughts are concealed from each other. O if at our social table we could see what passes in each bosom around we would seek dens and caverns to shun human society. To see the projector trembling for his falling speculations, the voluptuary ruing the event of his debauchery, the miser wearing out his soul for the loss of a guinea—all—all bent upon vain hopes and vainer regrets—we should not need to go to the hall of the Caliph Vathek to see men's hearts broiling under their black veils.13

In this passage, Scott progressively distances himself from the immediate cause of his abhorrence by making it increasingly figurative and literary. He first imagines other examples which elaborate his friend's disgrace but which also place it in a more general moral context. Here he is close to the practice of eighteenth-century moralists and ultimately to the evocative style of the pulpit. Then he uses literary precedent (Vathek) and exaggerated literary language ('hearts broiling under their black veils') as a form of protection by exaggeration. Elsewhere in his personal writings, Scott imagines the conflicts between abstracted qualities of the mind in strikingly literary ways, some of which resemble the common elements of his own novels. Trying to express his feelings about the suicide of his friend Huxley, for example, he writes in his Journal in December 1826:

A thousand fearful images and dire suggestions glance along the mind when it is moody and discontented with itself. Command them to stand and shew themselves and you presently assert the power of reason over imagination. But if by any strange alterations in one's nervous system you lost for a moment the talisman which controuls these fiends? Would they not terrify into obedience with their mandates rather [than] we would dare longer to endure their presence?14

This passage, sparked by the experience of a vivid nightmare, echoes a passage from the fictional journal of Darsie Latimer in Redgauntlet, written eighteen months earlier. In turn, both passages recall Clarence's account of his dream in the first act of Richard III ('Methoughts I saw a thousand fearful wracks …').15

Scott uses comparable techniques of detachment followed by literary exaggeration at emotional crisis-points in his fiction. Faced simultaneously with emotional and linguistic collapse, characters search, like Scott in his Journal, for a 'talisman' by which to control the fiends of imagination. This talisman is as much linguistic as rational. Their passivity being strongly linked to an inability to speak effectively, they are reduced, like Rob Roy 's Frank Osbaldistone, to outbursts of childish passion rendered in self-consciously literary terms:

Heaven knows, it was not apathy which loaded my frame and my tongue so much, that I could neither return Miss Vernon's half embrace, nor even answer her farewell. The word, though it rose to my tongue, seemed to choke in my throat like the fatal guilty, which the delinquent who makes it his plea knows must be followed by the doom of death…. I felt the tightening of the throat and breast, the hysterica passio of poor Lear; and, sitting down by the wayside, I shed a flood of the first and most bitter tears which had flowed from my eyes since childhood.16

Frank Osbaldistone's inability to grasp the reality of his youthful experiences is to some extent a special feature of his individual personality.17 Even so, the way in which Frank describes his outburst of emotion, veering away from the uncomfortably personal to the safely literary (King Lear), has much in common with distinctive habits of Scott's narrative technique throughout the Waverley Novels. The intrusion of possibly incongruous literary references does not always work so abruptly to defuse moments of horror as does the sudden appearance of Fang and Snare in the climactic confrontation from Melmoth the Wanderer described in Chapter 2 [of Legitimate Histories: Scott, Gothic, and the Authorities of Fiction], but it works on the same principle of literary transgression.

Frank Osbaldistone's description of a baffling and complex paralysis—physical, emotional, and linguistic—holds true for the experiences of many characters in Scott's novels. Like many Gothic fictions, the Waverley Novels trace the consequences of the sins of curiosity, a movement out of the unaccountability of childhood not into adult power but into adult responsibility, often detached from power. Julia Mannering, the heroine of Scott's second novel, gives a memorable account of this process:

I feel the terrors of a child, who has, in needless sport, put in motion some powerful piece of machinery; and, while he beholds wheels revolving, chains clashing, cylinders rolling around him, is equally astonished at the tremendous powers which his weak agency has called into action, and terrified for the consequences which he is compelled to await, without the possibility of averting them.18

Such a perception of the world is very close to that lack of control so vividly described by Maturin's Monçada in Melmoth the Wanderer, where human beings, in a kind of parody of the Newtonian universe, set machines moving which they are then unable to halt:

Every thing passed before me as in a dream. I saw the pageant move on, without a thought of who was to be the victim. I returned to the convent—I felt my destiny was fixed—I had no wish to avert or arrest it—I was like one who sees an enormous engine (whose operation is to crush him to atoms) put in motion, and, stupefied with horror, gazes on it with a calmness that might be mistaken for that of one who was coolly analysing the complication of its machinery, and calculating the resistless crush of its blow.19

This sense of physical paralysis extends, as many critics after Alexander Welsh have noted, to a breakdown of control and a rhetoric of anxiety and persecution. The rationalist commitments of the Waverley Novels are continually undermined by the terms in which Scott's protagonists perceive and describe their experiences. 'Undefinable apprehension', 'acute anxiety', and 'irrational dread' beset one protagonist after another. Even the redoubtable Hereward the Varangian of Count Robert of Paris, left alone in a chamber which leads to the palace dungeons, responds in the unmistakable tones of Waverley-Novel anxiety: '"I have done nothing," he thought, "to merit being immured in one of these subterranean dens…."'20 As Nigel Oliphant complains, the hero is placed in a situation 'where every fair construction of [his] actions and motives is refused [him]'.21 Alternatively, as Scott describes the situation of Harry Bertram, in terms which already move his experiences one step away from actuality, he is confused by 'the mysteries which appeared to thicken around him, while he seemed alike to be persecuted and protected by secret enemies and friends'.22

The form of paralysis which is most rewardingly analysed in the context of Gothic, however, is the linguistic variety, recalling the many scenes in Gothic in which characters are implored to speak or to take decisive action to save loved ones (typified, perhaps, by Lorenzo's nightmare vision of Antonia's death near the beginning of The Monk). Scott's young heroes struggle for speech yet find themselves 'chocked', struggle to declare their love or honour yet are laughed at as children, seek action but find paralysis, 'enchantment', and imprisonment. Ironically, the Waverley Novels built their reputation upon speech. In the opening chapter of The Bride of Lammermoor, Dick Tinto complains that Peter Pattieson's characters 'make too much use of the gob box … there is nothing in whole pages but mere chat and dialogue'.23 Yet despite the garrulousness of some characters many others undergo agonies of self-expression in which they are silent, inarticulate, and hesitant. The Waverley Novels repeatedly test the hero who cannot speak out, or who stifles his emotions, often in legal situations or crises which are described in the language of law. Two such narratives—Rob Roy and Peveril of the Peak —are analysed below. The focus of the first part of the chapter, however, is one of Scott's most complex analyses of secrecy and the ideological implications of secrecy-driven plotting—The Pirate. It is chosen here partly because it is one of the Waverley Novels most frequently decreed to have been spoilt by inappropriate literary conventions, and partly because it seems to be such a clear endorsement of rational interpretations of life. David Brown is typical in linking the proliferation of supernatural and fantastic elements to a lack of basic historical understanding: 'With only a limited understanding of the period and setting concerned, Scott instinctively falls back on Gothic horrors, spurious romance, and antiquarian curiosities to sustain the novel for its four hundred pages.'24The Pirate, however, was the novel which irritated Coleridge into his marginal comments on the 'make-believe' supernatural in the Waverley Novels, already quoted in the Introduction. Throughout The Pirate Scott experiments with different literary forms with the apparent intention of sorting and ranking them, and it is not difficult to determine which form(s) win. Despite this, however, it is significant that Coleridge registers such tensions and difficulties in the novel. The Pirate seems to offer supporters of a pro-rationalist, anti-Gothic Scott their ideal text. Yet the contest actively foregrounds the complexity of the forces at work.

1. The Pirate: 'The Interest of a Riddle'

I must remain the dreaded—the mystical—the Reimkennar—the controller of the elements, or I must be no more! I have no alternative, no middle station…. The parricide shall never also be denounced as the impostor!

                    (Norna of the Fitful Head)25

In The Pirate, Scott takes up the social and literary challenges presented by piratical heroes from Byron's Conrad to Maturin's Bertram, firmly rejecting the charismatic misanthropy which they had substituted for heroism. Although some of this rejection stems from the ironic depiction of the pirate, Clement Cleveland, much is conducted on the level of plot. The Pirate is a deconstruction of mystery and its alliance with anti-social imagination. In spite of all Norna's misgivings, it systematically denounces the parricide as the impostor, the rebel against society as the victim of delusive visions.

In The Pirate, as in Gothic fiction, readers play a double role which makes them simultaneously detectives, actively piecing together evidence, and passive listeners, knowing that everything strange will eventually be explained. After a brief introduction to the geography and social conditions of Zetland at the end of the seventeenth century, The Pirate confronts its readers with a series of mysteries, which are presented as imaginatively compatible with its desolate and recess-riddled scenery. In the order in which they are introduced, these mysteries are: Basil Mertoun's misanthropic gloom, misogyny, and indifference towards his son Mordaunt;26 the instinctive enmity between Mordaunt Mertoun and the pirate, Clement Cleveland; Mordaunt's sudden expulsion from the charmed circle of the Troil household; and the 'fatal secret' of Norna's alienation from society. When introducing the first of these, the strange isolation and misanthropy of Basil Mertoun, Scott acknowledges the special imaginative appeal of the principle of mystery itself. Deciding that none of Basil Mertoun's qualities equals in the eyes of the Zetlanders the mystery surrounding him, the narrator concludes: 'Above all, Mr Mertoun's secret seemed impenetrable, and his presence had all the interest of a riddle, which men love to read over and over, because they cannot find out the meaning of it.'27 These are highly reader-conscious terms. They also anticipate the strong interest shown throughout The Pirate in riddles, 'wild' rhymes, and mysterious withheld speech. Not only is the narrative itself a triumph of rational explanation over riddling mystery. The novel's restructuring of social and domestic life after the mysteries in which it begins also follows the principles established by clear and direct speech. Language triumphs over gesture. Open communication replaces rumour and incantation.

In the imagination of Mordaunt Mertoun, also, mystery is given a special prominence. He is seen meditating the secrets of the ocean, 'aided by the dim twilight, through which it was imperfectly seen for more than half the year'. Vividly the narrator describes the creatures thought to inhabit the 'bottomless depths and secret caves', the mermaid, kraken, and sea-snake, sometimes glimpsed by mariners through banks of fog.28 Scott presents Zetland as a land enshrining secrets. And it is significant that the man who both casts dissension into the community of Zetland and eventually brings about its more lasting harmony—the pirate himself—is plucked from the sea by Mordaunt in contravention of all the islanders' convenient taboos about sea-rescue. Through this association Cleveland himself becomes a sort of kraken, rising from the secrets of the past.

The mysteries of The Pirate are capable of being solved at any moment by a few words uttered by two characters, Norna of the Fitful Head and Basil Mertoun, who have been lovers many years before and have had an illegitimate child. Norna believes this child to be Mordaunt, who is assumed by the Zetlanders to be Mertoun's only son, but it transpires that Mordaunt is Mertoun's second son, his child by a failed later marriage. Norna discovers too late that her son is in fact the pirate, Cleveland, whose schemes she has worked so hard to frustrate. One part of the mystery, then, is their youthful love-affair and the extreme distrust of women it has produced in Mertoun. The second is Norna's conviction that she is to blame for the death of her father, which leads to her self-imposed isolation and necromantic 'enthusiasm'. These mysteries are linked thematically by the moral and social question of the proper relationship between father and child.

When the novel opens, Norna and Mertoun are living as strangers to each other in a community ignorant of their secret but intrigued by their different styles of linguistic indirectness. The misanthropic Mertoun is nicknamed the 'Silent Man of Sumburgh'.29 Norna, in her role as 'Sibyl', 'Pythoness', 'Reimkennar', speaks predominantly in riddles or in a form of inspired private language. Her closest tie is with her dumb servant, Nick Strumpfer (or 'Pacolet', one of Scott's favourite nicknames for minor characters). In a rhetoric which recalls Melmoth the Wanderer, and all the traditions of Faustian overreaching which lie behind it, she repeatedly hints that the reason for her outcast speech is a pact made with the dark powers and 'a sacrifice which human tongue can never utter'.30 The two interviews between these cryptic recluses are neatly designed as complementary exercises in linguistic indirection and revelation. In the first, Mertoun meets Norna at the ruinous church of St. Ninian, hoping to hear news of his missing son. Ignorant of Norna's true identity and failing to recognize in the mysterious sibyl his former beloved, Mertoun conjures her disdainfully to speak plainly, to 'Lay aside this useless affectation of mystery'.31 Norna complies, but only by whispering words to him which are with-held from the reader:

'Hearken, then!' said the old woman. 'The word which I speak shall touch the nearest secret of thy life, and thrill thee through nerve and bone.'

So saying, she whispered a word into Mertoun's ear, the effect of which seemed almost magical.32

In their second meeting, this time in the cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall, it is Mertoun's turn to break the silence by revealing that Cleveland, not Mordaunt, is Norna's son. His explanation breaks the spell of what Mertoun calls 'the legerdemain of lunacy—the mere quackery of insanity'.33 Realizing the true limits of her power and knowledge, Norna resumes her name and her original place in society.

The Zetland community as a whole is beset by other silences and mysterious forms of speech or riddles. In the central chapter of the novel (chapter 21 out of forty-two), Magnus Troil asks his guests, and obliges his daughters, to take part in a traditional fortune-telling conducted through riddling rhymes, and in a later explanation of the mysteries of Norna's wonderful knowledge and power, the narrator demonstrates how the everyday instances of Norna's dealings with the supernatural powers depend upon pacts of silence. The islanders who provide her with information are ignorant of each other's actions, and, 'as her orders were generally given under injunctions of the strictest secrecy, men reciprocally wondered at occurrences, which had in fact been produced by their own agency, and that of their neighbours, and in which, had they communicated freely with each other, no shadow of the marvellous would have remained'.34 As the love-story of The Pirate emphatically declares, only when characters communicate freely are they able to break the spells which surround them. The Pirate is torn between the recognition that sociability and speech are essential to happiness and stability, and a fascination with anti-social, secretive, and silent characters.

On the one hand, the narrative voice insistently denies the fanciful claims of the superstitious and romantic characters, repeatedly explaining, for example, that Norna's supernatural powers are merely delusions of her imagination, and can be explained by reference to the specific historical and cultural conditions of Zetland. It makes Norna's addiction to mysterious speech both comic and maddening, as in the scene soon after Mordaunt becomes an unwelcome guest at Burgh-Westra, when she tries to warn Mordaunt of 'the machinations of a villain',35 without giving him enough information to be of practical use. To Norna's fanciful description of the adder who has crept into the eagle's nest, Mordaunt replies: 'You must speak more plainly, Norna … if you would have me understand or answer you. I am no guesser of riddles.'36 The same sceptical narrative voice exposes the connections between superstition, madness, and imagination.37 It insists that Norna's imagination has led to madness and alienation, and that the same fate threatens 'the high-minded and imaginative Minna', as a result of her 'unusual intensity of imagination'.38 Minna is constitutionally inclined to the sublime scenery of 'solitary and melancholy grandeur' suited to her 'wild and poetical visions'.39 When she falls into a nervous illness brought on by her consciousness of the secret (as she thinks it) that Cleveland has murdered Mordaunt, her plight is described in terms which closely echo Norna's description of the secret of her parricide. It is a 'horrible secret, which haunted her while awake, and was yet more tormenting during her broken and hurried slumbers'. The narrator underlines the point: 'There is no grief so dreadful as that which we dare not communicate.'40 Minna is taken to Norna's strange outpost dwelling, a place described in terms which make literal the threat of division imperilling her, and defining Norna:

This natural fosse, which seemed to have been the work of some convulsion of nature, was deep, dark, and irregular, narrower towards the bottom, which could not be distinctly seen, and widest at top, having the appearance as if that part of the cliff occupied by the building had been half rent away from the isthmus which it terminated,—an idea favoured by the angle at which it seemed to recede from the land, and lean towards the sea, with the building which crowned it.41

Norna's unnatural (though unintentional) crime against her father is repeated in the image of the rock torn away by natural convulsion, and leaning out towards the sea which (conventionally enough) is the source of passion and secrecy in the novel.

On the other hand, however, Scott shows that imagination and desire are stimulated by denial and silence, a recognition which, as I have suggested, is implicit in the organization of his own mystery-novel. He describes Mordaunt's distress when the Troil sisters withdraw their friendship:

Mordaunt felt, as it were, assured upon the instant, that the regard of Minna was extinguished, but that it might be yet possible to recover that of the milder Brenda; and such is the waywardness of human fancy, that though he had never hitherto made any distinct difference betwixt these two beautiful and interesting girls, the favour of her, which seemed most absolutely withdrawn, became at the moment the most interesting in his eyes.42

The whole imaginative venture of The Pirate is based on the same association between what is withheld and what is desired. Scott's readers, like Mordaunt Mertoun, are to be shown that it is wrong to equate denial with desire.

At all its stages the story told in The Pirate constructs this lesson by contrasting the powers of communication and silence. Near the end of the first volume in the Magnum Opus edition, Minna and Brenda tentatively discuss the barriers to their free communication which have been created by their love for two men who are enemies. This scene is contrasted to the failures of communication between Mordaunt and Basil Mertoun, and between Mordaunt and Magnus Troil. Soon afterwards, Minna and Brenda take part in a fortune-telling scene in which Norna foretells in rhyme their future lives and loves. Finally, the romantic entanglements of the plot are explicable in terms of communication and silence. Minna and Cleveland never communicate directly enough to establish the differences between her ideals of an ancient sea-king and the reality of his life as a pirate. Mordaunt's imagination is stimulated by Minna's silence, and his emotions baffled by his father's silence, but his love is fixed by Brenda's speech. Only Brenda risks her family's displeasure to explain to Mordaunt the reasons for his fall from favour, and tries to help Minna by discussing her fears with Mordaunt. Minna, by contrast, is nearly driven mad because she must not communicate her own 'fatal secret'.43 Brenda, the heroine of communication, and the sociable Mordaunt, break out of the bond of secrecy and silence which holds other characters fatally entranced.

Even in their dreams, Minna and Brenda are contrasted in terms of speech and silence. Before they awake to discover Norna sitting by the hearth, singing, her voice has become interwoven with their dreams. Each dream is symbolic of one sister's situation. Minna dreams that she is alone in a desolate cavern by the seashore, and is beckoned by a mermaid who sings to her a prophetic song of 'calamity and woe'. Brenda dreams that she is sitting in a bower surrounded by her father and his friends. She tries to entertain them with her favourite lively song, but loses control of her voice, which assumes, 'in her own despite, the deep tones and wild and melancholy notes of Norna of Fitful-head'.44 Brenda is the heroine of society and also its entertainer, its speaker and singer. Minna is silent while another sings. Brenda's dream is also expressive of her plight while forbidden by her father to communicate with Mordaunt, to assume cold words which are not her own. Since Norna is about to tell the story of her demonic pact and supposed parricide, it is also significant that it is her song which intrudes in each sister's dream. Norna is the mermaid tempting Minna from society, the voice she must resist. She is also the doleful voice against which Brenda must struggle to assert her own right of social, harmonious speech.

The drama of language, imagination, and desire conducted in The Pirate touches on some of the most prevalent concerns of Scott's fiction. Although all the Waverely Novels demonstrate Scott's interest in language as the primary medium of social interaction, and his commitment to finding a suitable language of fiction to achieve the same ends, most also contain one or more characters whose non-conforming speech, or whose refusal or inability to speak, is a threat. Some of these are characters whose language does not seem to obey the conventions of social speech (like the songs of Davie Gellatley in Waverley and Madge Wildfire in The Heart of Midlothian ) although it is later discovered to be meaningful in its own way. Other characters harbour terrible secrets which they must eventually tell, such as Elspeth Mucklebackit in The Antiquary and Norna in The Pirate. A third, and especially threatening, group consists of mute or seemingly mute characters. It includes Norna's dumb dwarf Nick Strumpfer and the fake mute Fenella in Peveril of the Peak, supported in the introduction to the Magnum Opus by the tale of the servant girl 'Dumb Lizzie' from Scott's own family history. This is the context of debate about society and language in which one should position The Pirate 's contrast between Minna and Brenda Troil, and between the characters in the novel who take to extremes the principles by which this contrast is governed (Norna being the correlative of Minna's guilty silence and Magnus Troil, or less flatteringly the gossip Bryce Snailsfoot, being the correlative of Brenda's social speech). Equally complex is Scott's evaluation of imagination in the context of secrecy or of what is tantalizingly withheld. The plots of the Waverley Novels usually punish anti-social and secretive characters who misuse imagination, like George Staunton in The Heart of Midlothian and Richard Middlemas in "The Surgeon's Daughter," crushed to death by a ceremonial elephant which is a kind of grotesque symbol of his Indian fantasy-life. More sentimental images of the romantic imagination (usually feminized, although Scott's most savage portrayals of imagination also take female form), such as Minna Troil, prove problematic, however. Minna's renunciation of her dreams at the end of The Pirate is a particularly sour version of the conflict between 'romance' and 'real history' which, since Edward Waverley, Scott's imaginative characters had had to negotiate. Minna declares to Cleveland: 'The delusions which a solitary education and limited acquaintance with the modern world had spread around me, are gone and dissipated forever.'45 Scott recognizes the harshness of this, however, and is anxious to reassure. 'Reader, she was happy', declares the narrator, making an unusually direct and decisive intervention.46 In The Pirate, Scott restricts his characters' imaginative indulgences, exposing the dangers of allowing the world of private imagination to dominate the social, public world. Clearly there is much more at stake in the novel's creation of an alternative, extra-rational, highly charged world of the imagination than critics usually grant.

The Pirate, in conclusion, is a deconstruction of fictions based on mystery but also a powerful reinvention and redirection of Gothic plotting. It replaces silence with speech and secrecy with openness, but in doing so it continues rather than discredits Gothic aesthetics as typified by Radcliffe. As in Gothic, the genuine complications are to be found not in the explicit statements made by the narrative voice but in the imaginative activity prompted in the reader. Readers of The Pirate are engaged in solving mysteries while its hero is being taught that such fascinations are delusive. In a more subtle way, however, they are engaged in a fiction which accepts conventions—including novelistic ones—as a precondition of social interaction. The contrast with the 'unutterable' in Melmoth the Wanderer is instructive. In this novel, Maturin celebrates a private language, exemplified by Immalee-Isidora who learns social corruption as she learns a system of speech but who always retains a degree of linguistic as well as moral purity. Maturin shows language to be necessarily social but ideally also personal, and ultimately a private instrument of communication with God. In The Pirate Scott rejects a range of private, 'secret' languages and in the marriage of his hero and heroine enshrines the sociability of speech. To do so, however, he is forced to deploy all the authority of his narrating voice: 'Reader, she was happy.' Not all his novels choose to make so unequivocal an intervention.


1. Horace Walpole, The Mysterious Mother: A Tragedy (London, 1781), I. iii. 8.

2. Melmoth, ii. 31.

3. WN [The Waverley Novels] xxix. 186.

4. 'The Buried Letter: Villette' (1979), repr. in Reading Woman: Essays in Feminist Criticism (London, 1986), 41-61.

5. Italian, chs. 1, 4, 9; Romance of Forest, ch. 2.

6. WN xxvii. 50-1.

7. In a letter of Jan. 1824 about St Ronan's Well, quoted in Letters, viii. 142 n.

8. Lukács, Historical Novel, 34.

9. Carlyle, Works, xxix. 35.

10. Woolf, Collected Essays, 4 vols. (London, 1966–7), i. 142.

11. Cecil, Scott, 36.

12. WN v. 13. David Craig links this to Scott's supposed unwillingness to examine his own psychology, in Scottish Literature and the Scottish People, 311. Kurt Wittig notes that Scott does not pry into 'the dark abysses of its deepest passions', The Scottish Tradition in Literature (Edinburgh, 1958), 221.

13. Journal, 236-7. Scott was probably reacting to the Heber scandal, which he reports, Journal, 162.

14. Journal, 253 (Scott's attempt to deal with his thoughts of Huxley's suicide, which he describes in terms of macabre compulsion: see his nightmares about Huxley, pp. 247-8). For Scott's growing fear of madness and loss of control, see also pp. 615, 621, 632.

15. WN xxxvi. 47; Richard III, 1. iv. 24.

16. WN viii. 271-2.

17. The argument proposed by Millgate, Making of the Novelist, ch. 7.

18. WN iv. 18.

19. Melmoth, i. 233-4.

20. WN xlvi. 66.

21. WN xxvii. 243.

22. WN iv. 210.

23. WN xiii. 271: see Woolf on Scott's 'chatterboxes', Collected Essays, i. 42.

24. Historical Imagination, 187.

25. WN xxv. 221.

26. Not really a problem, according to Nassau Senior in his review of The Pirate, Quarterly Review, xxvi (Oct. 1821), 456, where he notes Mertoun's misanthropy and silence, 'which, at once, indicate, to a practised novel-reader, one of the numerous family of retired criminals, or injured lovers'.

27. WN xxiv. 8.

28. All quotations from WN xxiv. 25.

29. WN xxiv. 80.

30. WN xxiv. 175.

31. WN xxv. 94.

32. WN xxv. 95.

33. WN xxv. 355.

34. WN xxv. 212: the link is reinforced by the presence of Norna's dumb dwarf, 'Pacolet', xxv. 122-3.

35. WN xxiv. 177.

36. WN xxiv. 176.

37. WN xxv. 99, 225, 354-5: on Minna, xxiv. 333, xxv. 36, 66, 112, 130, 148, 371: contrast Brenda, xxiv. 353, xxv. 106, 370-1: Halcro's alternative opinion, xxiv. 228.

38. WN xxv. 371, xxiv. 333.

39. WN xxiv. 36, 40.

40. Both quotations from WN xxv. 98.

41. WN xxv. 118.

42. WN xxiv. 207-8.

43. WN xxv. 98-101 (100).

44. The dreams passage, WN xxiv. 331-2.

45. WN xxv. 365.

46. WN xxv. 371.


Brown, David, Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination (London, 1979).

Carlyle, Thomas, The Works of Thomas Carlyle, Centenary Edition, ed. H. D. Traill, 30 vols. (London, 1896–9).

Cecil, Lord David, Sir Walter Scott, The Raven Miscellany (London, 1933).

Lukács, Georg, The Historical Novel (1937), trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (London, 1962).

Maturin, Charles Robert, Melmoth the Wanderer: A Tale, 4 vols. (Edinburgh, 1820). [Ed. and introd. Alethea Hayter (Harmondsworth, 1977).]

Millgate, Jane, Walter Scott: The Making of the Novelist (Edinburgh, 1984).

Radcliffe, Ann, The Romance of the Forest: Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry, 3 vols. (London, 1791). [Ed. and introd. Chloe Chard (Oxford, 1986).]

――――――, The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents: A Romance, 3 vols. (London, 1797). [Ed. and introd. Frederick Garber (Oxford, 1968, 1981).]

Scott, Sir Walter, Bt., Rob Roy, 3 vols. (Edinburgh, 1818, for 1817).

――――――, The Waverley Novels, 48 vols. (Edinburgh, 1829–33).

――――――, The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. H. J. C. Grierson et al., 12 vols., Centenary Edition (London, 1932–7).

――――――, The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, ed. W. E. K. Anderson (Oxford, 1972).

Shakespeare, William, The Riverside Shakespeare, textual ed. G. Blakemore Evans, gen. introd. Harry Levin et al., essay on stage history Charles H. Shattuck (Boston, Mass., 1974).

Woolf, Virginia, Collected Essays, 4 vols. (London, 1966–7).


SOURCE: Le Tellier, Robert Ignatius. "Gothic Motifs in the Waverley Novels." In Sir Walter Scott and the Gothic Novel, pp. 125-49. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.

In the following excerpt, Le Tellier surveys the Gothic elements in the Waverley Novels.

VI. Gothic Motifs in the Waverley Novels

The Waverley Novels constitute a vast corpus of 22 novels written over a span of 18 years. The approach adopted here in endeavouring to investigate a particular type of influence and occurrence will initially be different from that used in looking at the poems, a much more contained group, and also the beginning of Scott's creative writing. The analogy of the overture will be recalled: the poems present in miniature, in artful compression, many of the themes and ideas worked out in immense detail in the novels. The nature and density of the influence obviously varies from work to work.

As in the exercise on the poems, the pioneer in this exploration who provides the foundation of scholarly enquiry after the texts themselves, is Freye who concentrates essentially on the poetry but devotes a small section to the supernatural occurrences in the novels,1 and Hartland who also has a chapter on the novels,2 while Parsons in his section on the prose provides the most detailed study available on the diverse types and strands of folklore found in Scott's fiction.3


It is no accident that the enduring fame of Mrs Radcliffe's most illustrious work, The Mysteries of Udolpho, contains in the title so much of its mystique, a mystique of faraway time and place. This is rendered even more intangible by the nexus of riddles and puzzles which complicate the course of the action and make the unfolding of the heroine's progress synonymous with a process of clarification of unanswered questions and unsolved enigmas that reach back into the remotest past. It will be remembered that the central thread running through the plot of the verse romances is invariably related to a concealed identity, of De Wilton in Marmion, of James V in The Lady of the Lake and of Redmund O'Neal in Rokeby. Indeed, kidnapping, borrowing, disguising and imposture run through the poems, and also through the novels, so providing a nexus of recurrent ideas, helping to create "a single, though not seamless, body of work mysteriously united by a continuing return to a number of key images and ideas".4 Connected with this is a series of figures which Wilt sees generated by a recurrent sense of a type of original sin in civilization which she identifies as "usurpation", violent and illegal self-appropriation, which gives rise to types like "the red-handed king, the reluctant soldier, the corrupted priest" from real history, and other types like "the spellbinding lady, the Protean outlaw, the shape-shifting minstrel-author of Waverley himself" who emerges from the romance world of the Gothic or pure fantasy. For Wilt the central crisis of usurpation can eventually be explained in terms of "the fragmentation and virtual disappearance of the kingdom called Christendom which is part of the construction of state and self." It is this which "causes him the greatest unease of all, [and] is at the very root of the long Waverleyan dream/history of the the loss that gains. "The illegitimate actions on the part of these various types of people enable a construction of those modern fictions of legitimacy, the state and the self": the first is an appropriation, a romance of property,5 that justifies usurpation; the second is the fixing of an identity, the ending of uncertainty, disguise or imposture.


We have this moment finished Waverley. It was read aloud to this large family, and I wish the author could have witnessed the impression it made—the strong hold it seized of the feelings both of young and old—the admiration raised by the beautiful descriptions of nature—by the new and bold delineations of character—the perfect manner in which every character is sustained in every change of situation from first to last, without effort, without the affectation of making the persons speak in character—the ingenuity with which each person introduced in the drama is made useful and necessary to the end—the admirable art with which the story is constructed and with which the author keeps his own secrets till the proper moment when they should be revealed, whilst in the mean time, with the skill of Shakespeare, the mind is prepared by unseen degrees for all the changes of feeling and fortune, so that nothing, however extraordinary, shocks us as improbable; and the interest is kept up to the last moment. We were so possessed with the belief that the whole story and every character in it was real, that we could not endure the occasional addresses from the author to the reader. They are like Fielding; but for that reason we cannot bear them, we cannot bear that an author of such high powers, of such original genius, should for a moment stoop to imitation. This is the only thing we dislike, these are the only passages we wish omitted in the whole work; and let the unqualified manner in which I say this, and the very vehemence of my expression of this disapprobation, be a sure pledge to the author of the sincerity of all the admiration I feel for his genius.

SOURCE: Edgeworth, Maria. An excerpt from a letter to Sir Walter Scott. In The Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth, Vol. I, edited by Augustus J. C. Hare, pp. 239-44. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895.

Thus central to the plot of so many of Scott's works is a sustaining of mystery, a mystery invariably centred on a cloudy or lost origin, of heroes and heroines whose parents are unknown. At the end of the novel, the child recovers his family and his legitimate property—so that state and self are affirmed.6 The matter is presented with clarity already in 1815 in his second novel, Guy Man-nering which presents a good example of this type of mystery. George Brown, lover of Julie, the daughter of Guy Mannering, after many adventures and setbacks, is at last able to marry Julie since it is proved that he is the son of Bertram the landowner and inheritor of Ellogowan Castle. Brown was kidnapped by gypsies when he was small in an act of vengeance on Bertram for the expulsion of the gypsies from his land.

At the very end of his literary career, Scott was to use this very same mystery as a principle of plot. Towards the end of Castle Dangerous (1832), one learns that the young man Augustine, presumed the son of a minstrel, is the heroine Augusta of Berkley, betrothed to the castellan, Sir John de Walton. She is in danger of being treated as a spy by Sir John before her identity is discovered, only to be captured by the enemy Sir James Douglas, and is then offered in exchange for the castle. Sir John's impossible position which would entail the loss of the all-important property is solved by the arrival of orders to surrender the castle, after which the lady is restored to her lover. State and identity, both of the Lady Augusta and of Sir John, are preserved. The novels between Guy Mannering and Castle Dangerous often conceal the nature of this mystery. It is, for example, only at the end of The Black Dwarf (1816) that one learns who the mysterious dwarf is, and from where he derives his authority over the other principal characters. He secretly and beneficently intervenes in the story to the advantage of his neighbours, saving Grace Armstrong from abduction by robbers, and restoring her to her lover Hobbie Elliot, and preventing the marriage of Isabella Vere with Sir Frederick Langley. Isabella's father, the Laird of Ellieslaw, has wrung her consent to the marriage for his own ends. The Dwarf is eventually revealed to be the rich Sir Edward Manley, a near kinsman of Isabella, a man embittered by deformity and his unhappy love for Isabella's mother, who has long been supposed dead. The revelation restores identity, clarity, a mystery in family history, and saves the integrity of Ellieslaw's self and property.

It is similarly only at the end of A Legend of Montrose (1819) that one recognizes in Annot Lyle, the long-lost daughter of Sir Duncan Campbell. He has believed her to be dead, lost in the capture of his castle and killed along with his other children by a group of Highland bandits known as "the Children of the Mist". The McAulays had saved her and adopted her at the time when they had launched a punitive expedition against the wild tribe.

The mystery of Annot's origin, the obscurity of her birth, prevent both Allen McAulay and the Earl of Menteith from pressing their suit. Only when the deathbed confession of the leader of the Children of the Mist reveals that Annot is the daughter of Sir Duncan Campbell does her marriage with Menteith become possible. The proof of her identity arrives opportunely to give a happy denouement to the story, confers on her not only a full perception of self, her status in society, but also restores her property, "the castle of her father" (ch. 23).

Mordaunt Morton in The Pirate (1822) learns from the mouth of Ulla Troil (Norna of the Fitful Head) that he is her son. But this is a false trail in a nexus of family secrets, and at the very end of the novel one learns that he is in fact the legitimate son of Basil Mertoun, and it is his rival, the disturbing buccaneer interloper Cleveland who is her son by an earlier illicit union with Basil. The truth about the family relationships leads to clarity about identity and origins, the dangerous stranger moving away and the legally sanctioned son affirming self and property in his marriage and the implied inheritance of two families.

Similar mysteries envelop Darsie Latimer in Redgauntlet (1824) who is really the head of his house, a fact hidden from him. He is kidnapped by his ruthless uncle, Herries of Birrensworth, a fanatical Jacobite, as part of a last-ditch attempt to restore the Stuarts, to secure the support of his followers. Only after many experiences based on the attempts of his friend Alan Fairford to rescue him, does Darsie learn who he really is—Sir Arthur Darsie Redgauntlet—and is he able to assume his rightful role and his responsibilities as head of his family.

There is similarly a mystery hanging over the parentage of Roland Graeme in The Abbot (1820) who is sent as a page to the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots and becomes an active agent in devising her flight. The mystery of his birth is explained and he is found to be heir of the house of Avenel. He is pardoned by the Regent and able to marry Catherine Seyton in full possession of self and state.

The pattern is similar for the poor Scottish Crusader, Sir Kenneth or the Knight of the Leopard, in The Talisman (1825) who must live through trials and humiliations before a final combat with his enemy, the Marquis of Monserrat whom he defeats and wounds, and is revealed to be Prince David of Scotland. The obstacle which his supposed lowly birth presented to his union with Edith Plantagenet is thus removed.

The mystery pattern is thus at the heart of concepts of the self and one's role in society. The family and possession of identity, integrity, status, or property and its attendant public duties, is the ideal medium of expression. The pattern is usually a positive one, the revelation and secret disentangling of a network of disabling mysteries resulting in restoration or resumption of what was lost or usurped.

Sometimes though the outcome is reversed: the clarification of mysteries reveals crime and precipitates distress or loss. The medium is always that of the family though. In The Heart of Midlothian (1818) Effie Deans bears the illegitimate child of one Robertson who is really a young nobleman, George Staunton. Effie is accused of the murder of her child and her life is saved only because of the heroic action of her sister Jeanie, after which she is able to marry her lover and becomes Lady Staunton, in possession both of identity and property. Her illegitimate son was not murdered, but rather kidnapped by Madge Wildfire, the insane daughter of Margaret Murdockson (an old harridan who had charge of Effie during her confinement). The boy has grown up with banditti and when Staunton, now Sir George, in his efforts to recover his son, comes upon them unexpectedly, he is killed by his own son. A nexus of disruption, violence and crime has rent asunder family ties and social restraints leading to fatal loss of self and destruction of life itself.

This negative pattern is repeated in St Ronan's Well (1824) which is also realized entirely in terms of family relationships. The story centres around two half-brothers, sons of the late Earl of Etherington, who had married secretly abroad and then publicly at home. The younger brother, though unentitled, bears the title and is at bitter emnity with his half-brother, Francis Tyrrel. He has intervened in a love affair between Francis and Clara Mowbray, and has actually impersonated his brother at a midnight marriage with Clara who finds herself married to a man she hates. The brothers make a compact to leave Clara undisturbed and still bearing her maiden name, both of them undertaking never to return to Scotland. But Etherington, who is threatened with dispossession of the earldom by Francis, and tempted to believe that fortune will accrue if his marriage with Clara is acknowledged, returns to demand her hand in a more open manner and public celebration of the marriage. He puts pressure on her brother Mowbray who in turn menaces Clara with death if she does not co-operate. Although the plotter is finally exposed, Clara's mind has been unhinged by the terror and pressures and she dies. The secret and general miasma of mystery has led to an unravelling of the structures of society, to chaos and eventually death itself.

Just how much the mystery motif, the search for true identity, is central to the establishment of self and state is illustrated most sustainedly and positively in Ivanhoe (1819) where the action is interlaced by decisive appearances of both the outlaw Robin Hood and the king himself, Richard Coeur-de-Lion, both in numbers of various disguises and personae. Richard intervenes to save Ivanhoe at the beginning and at the end of the novel, as does Robin Hood in the middle. Both represent poles of authority and rightness—one outside the law, the other the embodiment of the law. Both are active in a lawless society where the usurpation of power is endemic and sanctioned by the ambitions of Prince John during Richard's supposed imprisonment ("kidnapping") in Austria. Both intervene to restore order, symbolized in the the disclosure of their identities. The revelation of self is directly connected to the restoration of the state; clarification of mystery is associated with legitimacy, the foiling of usurpation, the ascendancy of law.


The Gothic novels are famous for their evocation of terror, for an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear provoked by superstitious dread, emotional anxiety, the advent of the supernatural, whether real or imagined, and a confrontation with distress provoked by actual encounter with violence and pain. If the terrors of Mrs Radcliffe's heroines stop short of this actual encounter with the unspeakable, while using the potential and imminence of such a possibility to the full, then in Lewis, as later with Maturin, the potential becomes actual and the imminent made present. The darker side of Romanticism found its first release in the scenes of stress in the Gothic novel, initiating what Mario Praz came famously to call the "Romantic Agony".7 This aspect of the Romantic experience was considered in terms of its aesthetic meaning in the discussion of sublimity. Mrs Radcliffe distinguished clearly between terror and horror,8 although she remained always a practitioner of terror only, of a terror understood as a stimulus, an emotional response to over-whelming sensory perception, akin to fear. Lewis's depiction of the fate of Agnes in the vaults of the monastery in The Monk is a case in point: while the evocation of of these subterranean prisons is a source of mystery and terror, the actual description of Agnes's imprisonment, the detailed account of her anguish, her torment with the death and corruption of her baby, is pure horror. The mind is numbed, or recoils from the graphic nature of the experience. Scott's appropriation of this famous episode in Marmion underlines the aesthetic difference very pertinently: his account of the vaults in St Cuthbert's is full of the sublime evocation of terror, but avoids actually describing her fate; it is suggested in the terrifying screams of fear which can be heard as the inquisitional tribune leaves the place of trial.

The Gothic novel is justly famous for its evocation of fear and agony, and it is probable that the agonies of The Monk with their echoes of the German Schauerroman, contributed to fashioning a tendency in Scott to produce scenes of surprising fearfulness which use the principles of terror and horror. Several of the Waverley Novels depict scenes of great distress and suffering which are in the mainsteam of the Romantic Agony.

At the end of his first novel Waverley, there is an account of the execution of Fergus McIvor which illustrates the tendency, and also draws attention to the application of the aesthetics of fear. The scene opens with a static tableau that focuses on some frightening detail.

The court was occupied by a squadron of dragoons and a battalion of infantry, drawn up in hollow square. Within their ranks was the sledge, or hurdle, on which the prisoners were to be drawn to the place of execution…. It was painted black, and drawn by a white horse. At one end of the vehicle sat the Executioner, a horrid-looking fellow … with the broad axe in his hand …

                                (Waverley ch. 69)

The impression is visual and singles out hurdle, axe and headsman. When it continues, the emphasis is aural.

The dead march was then heard, and its melancholy sounds were mingled with those of a muffled peal, tolled from the neighbouring cathedral. The sound of the military music died away as the procession moved on …

The last part moves away from the outer scene to focus on Waverley's reactions which reveal the classic symptom of terror, of a mind numbed with the perception of dread and grief.

… the court yard was now totally empty, but Waverley still stood there as if stupified, his eyes fixed upon the dark pass where he had seen the last glimpse of his friend.

At no point is the actual execution depicted; the closest one comes is to placing the traitors' heads on the walls, and even here the actual and inescapable confrontation with the agony is obviated.

He dared hardly look back towards the Gothic battlements …

'They're no there,' said Alan Polwarth … with the vulgar appetite for the horrible, [he] was master of each detail of the butchery—'the heads are ower the Scotch yate …'

The treatment of this scene has been more in the manner of Mrs Radcliffe than Lewis. Here is how the latter deals with Ambrosio's treatment by the Inquisition.

Returned to his dungeon, the sufferings of Ambrosio's body were far more supportable than those of his mind. His dislocated limbs, the nails torn from his hands and feet, and his fingers mashed and broken by the pressure of the screws, were far surpassed in anguish by the agitation of his soul …

                                  (Monk III, 425)

The scene is horrific, but in its lurid yet impersonal details and broad description of human reactions, it has an unfocused quality which leaves its effects melodramatic and generalized. In Old Mortality (1816), Scott again conjures up scenes of terror. Initially, the impression is rather like that of the execution scene in Waverley. There is a procession which instils dread.

Trumpets, drums, and kettle-drums, contended in noise with the shouts of a numerous rabble …

                              (Mortality ch. 35)

The mood is suddenly changed by the undramatic appearance of grisly details.

The next object was two heads borne upon pikes; and before each bloody head were carried the hands of the dismembered sufferers …

Morton's reaction is like Waverley's, weak with the apprehension of terror. However, what ensues is in a different league altogether: when Hartland asserts, "ajoutons cependant que les horreurs de Scott ne sont jamais si crues que celles de Lewis. Néanmoins il s'en souvient constamment",9 he is right about Scott's subtler approach, but even Lewis does not produce the following effects. The opening part of the scene of Macbriar's torture is a classic instance of the inducement of terror: there is a definite effect on the spectator.

A dark crimson curtain, which covered a sort of niche, or Gothic recess in the wall, rose at the signal, and displayed the public executioner, a tall, grim, and hideous man, having an oaken table before him, on which lay thumbscrews…. Morton who was unprepared for this ghastly apparition, started when the curtain rose …

                                  (Ibid. ch. 36)

But the scene is developed further, and the reader is trapped with Macbriar in an horrific and inescapable situation of agony and distress. The refinement of detail and psychological reaction produces a hair-raising effect, even in reading.

The executioner … enclosed the leg … within the tight iron boot, or case, and then placed a wedge of the same metal between the knee and the edge of the machine, took a mallet in his hand, and stood waiting … the second blow fell. The third and fourth succeeded; but at the fifth, when a larger wedge had been introduced, the prisoner set up a scream of agony. Morton, whose blood boiled within him at witnessing such cruelty, could bear no longer …

Other scenes of fear centre on torture and execution which run like a Leitmotif through the Waverley Novels. In Ivanhoe there is the grim spectacle of Front-de-Boeuf's torture chamber where Saracen slaves from Palestine become executioners and prepare the instruments of torture with which to begin the torment of Isaac of York to induce him to pay up a vast ransom. The scene is full of gloom and fear as the surroundings, the props, the intentions, elicit terror in the imminent prospect of the horror of torture (ch. 22).

Scenes of execution occur at various times. In A Legend of Montrose, among the traces of the brutality of the Highlanders is the cruel fate of the "Children of the Mist". Dalgetty observes the lugubrious testimonies of their repression as he approaches the Castle of the Marquis of Argyle, images of suffering and death ("Midway this space was erected a rude gibbet, on which hung five dead bodies …" ch. 12).

The executioner himself is described in The Talisman (ch. 17). As a character he also appears in Anne of Geierstein, surrounded by the appurtenances of his trade (ch. 14), as in Old Mortality. The horror of the actual execution is depicted in this novel. The matter-of-factness of the events reduce the horror of the description, but not the power of the detail.

… somewhat behind the captive, appeared a tall man, attired in red … the sword was brandished, the blow was struck, and the victim's head rolled on the scaffold … while the headless corpse shot streams from the arteries, which were drunk up by the saw-dust that strewed the scaffold …

                                   (Geierstein ch. 16)

Closely related to these images of pain and death, and directly linked to the perception of horror, are the reiterated situations of imprisonment so common in the Waverley Novels. Again the idea is central to the Gothic experience where at some point the central protagonists find themselves entrapped, often incarcerated and menaced. Emily's central adventure in Udolpho entails a confinement, an inescapable loss of freedom in a distant wilderness of castle, mountain and forest. Ellena is Schedoni's prisoner in the sea cottage in Apulia in The Italian, while Agnes's immuring in the vaults of St Clare is a locus classicus of Gothic horror. Imprisonment is established as a dominant motif in Waverley where the hero's romantic attachment to a dangerous cause leads to arrest and imprisonment from which he must be rescued by his devoted Rose. In Guy Mannering, the rascal lawyer Glossin and the smuggler Hatteraick are finally seen in prison together where Glossin is murdered by Hatteraick who then takes his own life. The prison becomes the symbol of the nexus of crimes and villainy the two have perpetrated. The prison scene in Old Mortality has already been mentioned. The very title of The Heart of Midlothian is that of a prison; it opens with the storming of the prison and the lynching of Captain Porteous.

The purported infanticide of Effie means that she is imprisoned in the Talbooth as well until Jeanie Deans secures her pardon. In A Legend of Montrose Dalgetty experiences imprisonment in Argyle Castle, while the central episode of Ivanhoe depicts the mass imprisonment of Cedric and Rowena, the wounded Ivanhoe, Athelstane, Isaac of York and Rebecca. The dungeons and turrets of Torquilstone represent the locus of lawlessness, the collapse of civilized standards. Rebecca is later held captive on a charge of witchcraft until freed by Ivanhoe's victory on her behalf.

The Abbot is similarly centred on the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots held at Lochlevan Castle, the archetypal tragic Romantic heroine held against her will by the harsh forces of an anti-romantic political reality. Kenilworth likewise is built around the de facto incarceration of the beautiful Amy Robsart, who has secretly married the Earl of Leicester. He is forced to conceal his marriage for fear of incurring the wrath of the jealous Queen Elizabeth. Amy is accordingly mewed up in Cumnor Place, an old country house near Oxford, where through evil misrepresentation and intrigue, she is done to death.

Imagery of capture and imprisonment also occur in The Pirate, where Magnus and his daughters are apprehended by the pirates before they themselves are taken prisoners by the frigate 'Halcyon'.

In The Fortunes of Nigel the young hero is led into bad ways and caused to break the law against duelling by his enemy Lord Dalgarno: he is imprisoned in the Tower from where he is rescued only by the efforts of his beloved, Margaret Ramsay. His imprisonment is part of the loss of his inheritance, reputation and name, the low-point of his disrupted fortunes which reflect a corruption in society, as embodied in the court. The same pattern and implication is traced in Peveril of the Peak, where Julian Peveril and his father fall foul of the Duke of Buckingham, and are accused of complicity in the Popish Plot. Only with the help of the mysterious Fenella is their case brought to the notice of the King who intervenes to save them, sharing a sense of obligation for the kindness shown in the past by the old cavalier, Sir Geoffrey Peveril.

Quentin Durward is full of images of violence and imprisonment. The reference to Louis XI's dreaded castle of Loches not only captures the Gothic flavour of the prison imagery, but serves as a representative symbol for all the prisons of the Waverley Novels. These are often prisons of the mind, as in St Ronan's Well, where the setting is contemporary and domestic, and yet the fate of Clara is a type of psychological enthrallment which is simply another form of imprisonment. Also in Redgauntlet, the prison idea is not literal: Darsie is kidnapped by his uncle and legally restrained by him (itself a type of deception with an injunction from a corrupt magistrate). The imprisonment is far more to do with the spirit, with the hold of the past as represented in an untenable ideology embodied by Herrie's Jacobite fanaticism.

The notions of prisons of the mind and emotions are further explored in the Crusader novel The Betrothed, where both the heroine Eveline Berenger and the old constable, Hugo de Lacy, idealistically sign away their freedom of action and choice in rash vows, which they feel obliged to honour in spite of changed circumstance and the pressures of time and age. Hugo's absence on Crusade and Eveline's growing love for the young Damian, as well as the machinations of Randal de Lacy, lead to a charge of high treason and actual imprisonment, which is cleared up by the rational behaviour of the old constable. In The Talisman Sir Kenneth's ignorance of his true identity, his victimization, detention and near execution before being rescued by Saladin, are all metaphysical extensions of a type of imprisonment of his true self.

Woodstock too presents a prison more of the mind than actually. Charles II's hiding in the old lodge is a kind of self-imposed imprisonment because of the opportunities for concealment offered by the place. Cromwell hopes that Charles will take advantage of this facility and be captured there, but the intrigue which follows, the simulated haunting of the mansion, foils the plan and shows the Puritan soldiers to be prisoners of superstition.

Scott's last novels are also full of the imagery of imprisonment. In Anne of Geierstein the Philipsons are seized by Archibald of Hagenbach, and only narrowly escape death by the uprising of the people and his condemnation and execution by the Vehmgericht. In Count Robert of Paris the hero and his wife are detained as hostages for the Crusaders when they cross to Asia, Robert is thrown into prison and must be rescued by the chivalrous Hereward. In Castle Dangerous Augusta de Berkley is captured by the Douglas and offered in exchange for the castle. The vulnerable, uncertain identity of all these characters is stressed by their victimization symbolized in imprisonment.

The terror and horror of abduction, kidnapping, torture, imprisonment and execution finds expression in other images of disruption and chaos, like the evocation of mass violence which is a hallmark of the Gothic novel, and shows a fundamental disruption in nature and the heart of man reflected in the chaos of uncontrolled and uncontrollable behaviour. In The Monk, the riot which develops outside the convent rapidly degenerates into mass confusion, in which elemental forces of destruction are unleashed, the outcome of which is the murder of the Abbess.

… one of the Gates was forced open. The Rioters poured into the interior part of the Building…. The Flames rising from the burning piles caught part of the Building, which being old and dry, the conflagration spread rapidly from room to room. The Walls were soon shaken by the devouring element: … nothing was to be heard but shrieks and groans; The Convent was wrapped in flames, and the whole presented a scene of devastation and horror.

                            (Monk III, 357-358)

Scott reflects this perception of the frightening potential for violence and chaos in the hearts of men most startlingly perhaps in the account of the Porteous Riots of 1736 in the opening episodes of The Heart of Midlothian. As in the torture scenes, Scott's handling of materials is sharper than Lewis's, more perceptive of detail and hu-man motivation and reaction. The violence and chaos are as torrential though.

A huge red glaring bonfire speedily arose close to the door of the prison … illuminating the ferocious and wild gestures of the rioters who surrounded the place, as well as the pale and anxious groups of those who, from windows in the vicinage, watched the progress of this alarming scene…. The flames roared and crackled … and a terrible shout soon announced that the door had kindled and was in the act of being destroyed … the rioters rushed … over its yet smouldering remains. Thick showers of sparkles rose high in the air …

                            (Midlothian ch. 6)

This type of scene is found throughout the Waverley Novels, but is related more to the human confusion of purpose that leads to conflict, often on a vast scale of confrontation, as already seen in Marmion. The description of the Battle of Prestonpans in Waverley is a decisive turning-point in the hero's life, and the cause for him to question his romantic espousement of a lost cause. The same occurs in Rob Roy, where Francis Osbaldistone becomes the unwilling witness of an encounter between clansmen and royal troops, the symbol of a dangerous and futile way of life.

It is in Ivanhoe though that such scenes of violence and chaos are considered in several variations. The tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche represents a controlled form of violence, but is symptomatic of a wasteful arrogance in the heart of man. The siege of Torquilstone is a great set-piece, and a sustained evocation of destructive chaos which culminates in the conflagration of the castle. During the siege the discussion between Ivanhoe and Rebecca represents a central point of reference to the place and meaning of anger and violence in human affairs. The theme is brought to a sustained consideration in The Fair Maid of Perth, filled with the imagery of violence and chaos which reaches its highpoint in the battle of the champions from the clans of Qulele and Chatten in the final episodes. The violence and carnage cause the hero Henry Smith to reconsider his life and attitudes to impulsiveness, anger and violence. The final defeat of Charles the Bold by the peaceable Swiss at the Battles of Granson and Morat in Anne of Geierstein signifies the choice of moderation over the glamorous but facile and destructive violence that is the heritage of original sin.

Closely connected with the terror and the horror of the mass violence are the instances of personal acts of anger and force in the Gothic novel. Crimes by individuals are recurrent. As always, the differences between Mrs Radcliffe and Lewis are instructive. The closest Mrs Radcliffe comes to depicting murder is Schedoni's sinister contemplation of the sleeping Ellena in The Italian. In The Monk though, the horrendous high-point to the criminal career of Ambrosio is the murder of Elvira followed by the rape and murder of Antonia. The personal crime is a reflection of the disruption in the universe and the reality of evil.

The Waverley Novels do not present personal violence in quite this lividness, but nevertheless trace a series of frightening actions which violate the natural law and the standards of love. Some of the crimes of violence are fundamental to this movement of plot, like the succession of abductions and kidnappings, the recurrent imprisonments. But these more individual and isolated actions of violence are threaded throughout the novels as points of disruption, and often as moments of personal confrontation.

In Guy Mannering Bertram [=Brown] is wrongly suspected by Mannering of paying attentions to his wife, and is wounded by him in a duel and left for dead. The forcible expulsion of the gypsies from the Ellogowan estate, and the murder and suicide in prison of Glossin and Hatteraick respectively, continue the record of violent deeds. Old Mortality depicts the assassination of the Archbishop of St Andrew's, Rob Roy the murder of the spy Morris by Helen McGregor; Rashleigh is killed by Rob Roy after having betrayed his Jacobite associates. The Heart of Midlothian depicts the lynching of Captain Porteous as well as the parricide of George Staunton by the Whistler, his own son. In The Bride of Lammermoor Lucy murders her husband on their wedding night, while in A Legend of Montrose the wedding of Annot Lyle and Menteith is interrupted by Allan MacAulay, who stabs his rival. Ivanhoe is filled with images of violence and pain, with its multiple abductions, imprisonments, tournaments, all of which are highlighted in the final ironic comment on violence when Bois-Guilbert falls dead in combat with Ivanhoe, although untouched by his rival's lance.

Amy Robsart is murdered in Kenilworth; Lord Dalgarno is killed by robbers as he proceeds to Scotland in a last attempt to seize Nigel's property. The Talisman as well is filled with violence, an attempted assassination of Richard Coeur-de-Lion, and the combat between Conrad de Monserrat and Sir Kenneth. The Fair Maid of Perth similarly moves from one act of disruption to another, the attempted abduction of Catherine by Rothsay, the hacking off of Ramornay's hand by Henry Smith, the murder of Rothsay in the Castle of Falkland, the suicide of Conachar. It is the last word in Scott's consideration of the disruption and confusion endemic to the view of the world explored in dark Romanticism, and an integral part of the imagery used by Scott to explore his own universe more fully.

Associated in a minor way with these acts of criminality and violence are figures from the world of romance, who both add to the mystery of the plots and intensify the elements of terror and horror. These are those embodiments of the exotic and the lawless that haunt the pages of Romantic fiction, the gypsies and robbers, both groups used extensively in the German literature and the Gothic novel, which so influenced Scott, from Goethe's robber baron Götz von Berlichingen (1773) and Schiller's Die Räuber (1782) through the banditti of Mrs Radcliffe and Lewis. Mrs Radcliffe constantly heightens the sublime effect of her wild scenes by etching the landscape with figures of outlaws, discerned in the distance, menacing life and property, but safely at a remove.

There was a singularity in their dress, and a certain ferocity in their air, that fixed her attention. She withdrew from the casement while they passed, but soon returned to observe them further. Their figures seemed so suited to the wildness of the surrounding objects, that, as they stood surveying the castle, she sketched them for banditti amid the mountain view of her picture …

                             (Udolpho I, 280-281)

In The Monk the balladesque terrors of Raymond's tale set in the forests of Germany contains a skirmish with robbers.

Robbers (and their variants, banditti, smugglers and pirates) are always a symbol of extreme lawlessness and disruption. Robbers occur in The Heart of Midlothian and The Fortunes of Nigel, where they cause death to protagonists who have themselves engaged in criminal activity. The buccaneers of The Pirate represent an alien intrusion that a close and ordered society cannot contain. In Guy Mannering, the challenge to law and possession is symbolized in the kidnapping of Bertram by smugglers, while the exercise of just and prudent stewardship is stressed by the way the nomadic and lawless gypsies are treated. Meg Merrilies, one of Scott's most vivid creations, represents a world of folklore and mystery, a challenge to order and to crime alike, since it is her reaction to the reckless disregard for tradition embodied in the Laird of Ellangowan's expulsion of the gypsies from his illegally acquired estates, symptomatic of a violation of the deeper values of tradition and justice. It is her action further which reveals the conspiracy of Glossin and Hatteraick to kidnap Harry Bertram again, and leads to the restoration of true identity and property.

In Quentin Durward, gypsies also make an ambiguous contribution, beyond the law, but an elemental force that if harnassed sympathetically, can put the hero in touch with untapped springs of folk wisdom and insight.


Mystery and terror are partially underpinned in the Waverley Novels by an undertow of unease, eeriness or premonition induced by the introduction of the supernatural or the superstitious. The debate about the nature of the marvellous, as to whether Walpole's or Lewis's direct presentation of a numinous world, or Mrs Radcliffe's technique of indirect presentation through sensory deception and rational explanation, is discussed by Scott in his Lives of the Novelists. It will be recalled that while professing to dislike the explained supernatural, the evidence of his poems shows a movement from numinous reality through mystification by explicable means to psychological impressionability. The Waverley Novels themselves occupy an ambiguous position since he includes episodes derived from Scottish and German folklore that have a numinous nature with other events that are disturbing but fixed in human behaviour.

This ambiguity of response is present from the outset in Waverley, where the clansman Vich Ian Vhor sees the Bodach Glas, the grey ancestral spirit that predicts the imminence of death. The spectre is real to its recipient, but rationally explicable to Waverley as a sociological/psychological phenomenon. No editorial intrusion tries to manipulate the reader in either direction.

"… I … was astonished at the man's audacity in daring to dog me. I called to him but received no answer. I felt an anxious throbbing at my heart; and to ascertain what I dreaded I stood still…. By Heaven, Edward, turn where I would, the figure was instantly before my eyes at the same distance! I was then convinced it was the Bodach Glas. My hair bristled, and my knees shook…. I made the sign of the cross, drew my sword, and uttered, 'In the name of God, Evil Spirit, give place!' 'Vich Ian Vohr,' it said, in a voice that made my very blood curdle, 'beware tomorrow!' The words were no sooner spoken than it was gone…." Edward had little doubt that this phantom was the operation of an exhausted frame and depressed spirits, working on the common belief to all Highlanders in such superstitions.

                             (Waverley ch. 59)

The Doppelgänger motif borrowed from German literature, appears again without sceptical qualification in Old Mortality, where during Morton's long absence from England, there is a supposed apparition of him in his home areas, as if his inheritance were guarded by a manifestation of himself, an assertion of his living presence. In A Legend of Montrose, the Doppelgänger reappears and is rather more sinister, as it predicts to Allan the violence he will perpetrate on his rival.

The most famous example in Scott of the use of the direct supernatural, occurs in The Monastery in the person of the ghostly White Lady, a figure again derived from German legend of the elemental spirits of the water, the undine, which Scott had read about in Baron Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's Novelle (1811). She is represented as a guardian figure of the Avenel family and provides a mystic tie between humans and creatures of the elements, and appears from time to time to give predictions and advice, and work acts of beneficence, like restoring Sir Percy Shafton to life after he has been fatally wounded, appearing and disappearing at will, a real spirit.

Another instance of apparently genuine ghostly manifestation is in The Betrothed, where Evelyn is visited by a lady with a bleeding finger who predicts the pattern of events to follow.

These examples of the genuinely marvellous are rare exceptions in the Waverley Novels, the heritage of all Scott's reading and researches into demonology and sorcery.

Instances of the use of the superstitious, explicable forms of folktale or the eerie, occur in characters like Meg Merrilies, whom Mannering comes across in the Gothic ruins of Ellogowan Castle. He finds her spinning a thread drawn from wool of three different colours, black, white and grey. She sings and spins a kind of spell, which is an evocation of the ancient connection between fate and spinning. The model for Scott has surely been the Three Norns of German mythology familiar from his wide reading in German superstition and in his correspondence with Jakob Grimm. Meg provides a connecting link with a kind of preternatural insight, prophetic forewarning throughout the action. Her presence, expanded in eerie effectiveness, is developed in The Bride of Lammermoor into the three old hags who embittered by old age, poverty or neglect, exert a baleful and gloomy influence of foreboding and disaster throughout the novel, like a type of superstitious chorus, "one of Scott's best contributions to demonology".10

Norna of the Fitful-Head in The Pirate also serves to represent dark, pagan forces of pre-Christian belief in her insights and rituals, intensifying the indigenous background and deepening the sense of fatefulness.

Integral to Scott's use of the eerie, the explained supernatural, the probable, so much Mrs Radcliffe's stock-in-trade, are thus conversations, recitals of legends and popular rumours which induce an atmosphere of tension, even alarm. Sometimes characters are disturbed without cause, but rendered uneasy by murmurs or intimations produced by the mist or the night. But as with the great Poetess of Romantic fiction, there is a preference for association of these effects with architectural images—empty, or uninhabited buildings, or newly ruined ones. Caves, crypts, secret passages, trap doors, sliding panels are the essential elements in the construction of intrigue. Fear inspired by apparently supernatural agents are really the result of trickery explained by the rules of Mrs Radcliffe. The conformity with her approach is very close.11

Ruins themselves seem to invite the manifestation of unusual or frightening events, the imagery of abandonment, remoteness and decay providing an objective correlative to the lonely, isolated and frightened/impressionable human consciousness. There is a good example in Guy Mannering where Bertram reaches a building in ruins, where he finds a wounded man watched over by a gypsy. He hides when the accomplices of the sufferer arrive, watching and listening to them from his hiding. When they leave to dispose of the body, he escapes. The scene is full of the remoteness, eeriness, terror and tension of the Gothic (ch. 27-28).

Impelled by curiosity to reconnoitre the interior of this strange place before he entered, Brown gazed in at this aperture. A scene of greater desolation could not well be imagined. There was a fire upon the floor, the smoke of which … escaped by a hole broken in the arch above. The walls, seen by this smoky light, had the rude and waste appearance of a ruin of three centuries old at least …

                             (Mannering ch. 27)

This basic experience of fear is used as a manifestation of the gullibility and impressionability of others, and put to thematic purposefulness in other instances. In The Antiquary, for example, Eddie Ochiltree and Lovel, hidden in the ruins of a church, frighten the Baronet and the scoundrel Dousterswiwel by their groanings and shrill cries in order to foil their dishonest plans (ch. 21). Later the German is terrified anew in these ruins at midnight by his experiences (ch. 25). The Black Dwarf contains analogous passages: a church rather than the ruins provides the emotive setting, where the Dwarf mysteriously intervenes, hidden in the shadows, to interrupt the coerced marriage of Isabella (ch. 17). A similar scene is to be found in The Pirate where Kirkwall intervenes to stop the marriage of Cleveland and Mina (ch. 37).

Closely related to ruin and church, but of a decidedly melodramatic character, is the imagery of secret architecture, of passages and rooms that exist hidden behind the surface and provide a dimension of the clandestine, inevitably for the deception of others, be this for positive or negative reasons.

Dalgetty and Ronald in A Legend of Montrose, for example, are able to escape from Argyle Castle by means of a secret passage. A hidden mechanism opens the door and the passage leads to the apartments of the Marquis (ch. 13-14). Norna in The Pirate bolsters her reputation as a sorceress by the installation of sliding panels and doors in her house by which she and her deformed dwarf are able to exercise their trickery. The Hermit of Engeddi in The Talisman leads Sir Kenneth though secret passages to a magnificent chapel (ch. 4). Only later is the explanation given of the vision he experiences (ch. 8). The arc of tension and the explanation are the classic techniques of the Gothic novel. Peveril of the Peak is full of these frisson-inducing mysteries where the architectural motif is now a prison: Julian in prison is surprised to be addressed by a mystery voice (ch. 35). The following night the same voice speaks to him at length. Only at the end of the novel does one learn how the acrobatic Fenella was able to enter Julian's prison.

But it is in Woodstock where one finds what is probably the most developed instance of the explained supernatural with its concomitant architectural associations so much used by Walpole and Mrs Radcliffe. Doors close violently without apparent human agency; strange sounds are heard, distant subterranean thunder; beds are moved; doors resist being opened, then spring open introducing currents of air which extinguish candles; Everard hears a voice which gives him menacing advice: soon after he finds himself in danger of death; mysterious music is heard and a voice urging Everard to leave Woodstock. The minister Holdenough believes that he sees the ghost of a boyhood friend, first in a mirror, then gliding slowly towards the door (ch. 17). Later one sees the passages and secret appartments where Charles II has been hiding (ch. 22). Then it is revealed that Dr Rochecliffe with his assistants has chased away the agents of the Commonwealth. The nature of this terrorizing has been by architectural-mechanical trickery, all of which is revealed in what must be the most extended instance of the explained supernatural in Romantic literature (ch. 34). Some of the effects could be by Mrs Radcliffe herself, as in this instance of mysterious music so much loved by the authoress.

A wild strain of melody, beginning at a distance, and growing louder as it advanced, seemed to pass from room to room, from cabinet to gallery, from hall to bower, through the deserted and dishonoured ruins of the ancient residence of so many sovereigns; and, as it approached, no soldier gave alarm, nor did any of the numerous guests of any degrees, who spent an unpleasant and terrified night in that ancient mansion, seem to dare to announce to each other the inexplicable cause of apprehension.

                            (Woodstock ch. 15)

The association is not only with Mrs Radcliffe but also with Karl Grosse whose novel Der Genius (1791–95) appeared in English as Horrid Mysteries (1796), and must have been known to Scott. Here the methods of terror and subjugation used by a sinister secret society hinge on just such a sustained and intricate use of mechanical trickery.12

The terrifying apparatus so plentiful in Woodstock reappears in Anne of Geierstein. Arthur on guard duty is mystified and thrilled when he sees the spectral form of Anne (ch. 10). Later he is in prison anticipating the advent of his assassins. Anne and a black figure appear again to relieve him of his bonds; the black form takes him out of prison by the ordinary passages (ch. 15). The older Philipson later feels his bed moving, descending by means of cords and pulleys into a subterranean vault where he is involved in the terrifying ceremonies of a secret society—the centre of a trial of the dread Vehmgericht, and barely escapes sentence of death (ch. 20).

In his last novel, Castle Dangerous, Scott again returns to the appurtenances and architectural ploys of the supernatural, as Ursula with Augusta escapes from her cell by opening a secret door which has access to a tortuous secret passage.

In his use of the marvellous and the improbable then, his incidents and imagery are methods of instilling terror and mystery; all are culled from his memories of the ballads of the Border, the ballads and tragedies of the Schauerromantik, and his own researches into the superstitions, beliefs and practices of Scotland and the Middle Ages. On this foundation he has added circumstances and ideas found already in the Gothic novel which he knew so well. In these instances, the imitation is almost self-conscious, a use of conventions and motifs in the ordering of plot and range of imagery. A subtler integrating of the deeper, disturbing implications of dark Romanticism though can be discerned in his adaptation of the Gothic mode itself, the projection of a view of the world. It is in this adaptation and revitalization of a whole vision that he carries the implications of the roman noir to new depths and insights.


1. Freye, 53-63.

2. Hartland, 57-72.

3. Parsons, 68-285.

4. Wilt, 19-20.

5. Welsh, 93-126.

6. Parsons, 264: "In the strife plot, the problem of worth and status is complicated by war rather than by parentage, as in the identity plot…. The dénouement brings peace after hostilities, the reward of pardon and marriage for the good man, and the punishment of death or disgrace for the bad."

7. M. Praz, The Romantic Agony (London, 1970).

8. "Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them … neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr Burke by his reasoning anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one." Mrs Radcliffe's theory was published in the New Monthly Magazine, 8(1826). See Letellier, Kindred Spirits, 267 for a survey of Mrs Radcliffe's place in the late eighteenth- early nineteenth-century discussions of the aesthetics of the sublime.

9. Hartland, 63.

10. D. Cameron, "The Web of Destiny: The Structure of The Bride of Lammermoor" 185, observes that the taut structure, harmony and effect of this novel lies in "Scott's brilliant use of the supernatural as a device to suggest certain qualities of the historical context, to express the secret desires of the characters, and to control the pace of the narrative."

11. Hartland, 68.

12. Cf. Letellier, Kindred Spirits, 206-209.

I. Primary Texts

a) Poetry

Collected Poetry and Plays. (Oxford Standard Authors.) Oxford, 1904.

b) Novels

—Numerous complete editions exist, among them the first edition, The Waverley Novels: New Edition (Edinburgh: R. Cadell, 1830) and The Centenary Edition (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1871). The Everyman Library contains one of the best collected editions. Fine popular editions include the Collins Library of Classics and the Nelson Classics. Other modern editions of individual novels are published by Penguin. No significant textual variations exist between these different editions. The new critical edition was launched by the Edinburgh University Press in 1993.


Beckford, W. Vathek [1786] in Three Gothic Novels. Ed. P.FAIRCLOUGH with an Introductory Essay by M.PRAZ. Harmondsworth, 1968.

Lewis, M. G. The Monk: A Romance [1796]. Ed. H.ANDERSON. London, 1973.

Maturin, C. R. Melmoth the Wanderer: A Tale [1820]. Ed. D.GRANT. London, 1972.

Radcliffe, A. The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents [1797]. Ed. F. GARBER. London, 1971.

――――――The Mysteries of Udolpho [1794]. (Everyman's Library 865-866.) Introduction R.AUSTIN FREEMAN. 2 vols. London, 1931, 1968.

――――――The Romance of the Forest [1791]. (The World's Classics.) Ed. C.CHARD. Oxford, 1986. Quotations from London first edition.

Reeve, C. The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story [1777]. Ed. J.TRAINER. London, 1967.

Shelley, M. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus [1818] in Three Gothic Novels. Harmondsworth, 1968.

Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto: A Story [1764] in Three Gothic Novels. Harmondsworth, 1968.

II. Secondary Texts

Freye, W. The Influence of "Gothic" Literature on Sir Walter Scott. Rostock, 1902.

Hartland, R. W. Walter Scott et le roman 'Frénétique': Contribution à l'étude de leur fortune en France. Paris, 1928.

Letellier, R. I. Kindred Spirits: Interrelations and Affinities between the Romantic Novels of England and Germany (1790–1820). (Salzburg Studies in English Literature 33:3.) Salzburg, 1982.

Parsons, C. Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott's Fiction. Edinburgh and London, 1964.

Praz, M. The Romantic Agony. Trans. A. Davidson. London, 1970.

Scott, W. Journal (1825–1832). Ed. J. G. TAIT and W. M. PARKER. London, 1950.

――――――. Letters. Ed. GRIERSON, H. J. C. et al. 12 vols. London, 1932–7.

――――――. The Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. 30 vols. Edinburgh, 1834–6.

Welsh, A. The Hero of the Waverley Novels. New Haven and London, 1963.

Wilt, J. Secret Leaves: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott. Chicago, 1985.



Boatright, Mody C. "Scott's Theory and Practice Concerning the Use of the Supernatural in Prose Fiction in Relation to the Chronology of the Waverley Novels." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 50, no. 1 (March 1935): 235-61.

Elucidates the critical principles Scott devised concerning the proper use of the supernatural in fiction, ideas and techniques that he believed would distinguish his novels from those of his Gothic precursors. Boatright then goes on to apply these principles to Scott's works in an attempt to verify the rough order of composition of his novels.

Chandler, Alice. "Origins of Medievalism: Scott." In A Dream of Order: The Medieval Ideal in Nineteenth-Century English Literature, pp. 12-51. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.

Examines Scott's role in introducing medievalism into nineteenth-century English literature.

Hart, Francis R. Scott's Novels: The Plotting of Historic Survival. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1966, 371 p.

A detailed study of the Waverley Novels divided into four sections: "The Quixotic Tragedy of Jacobism," "Opposing Fanaticisms and the Search for Humanity," "The Historical Picturesque and the Survivals of Chivalry," and "The Falls and Survivals of Ancient Houses."

Hayden, John O., ed. Walter Scott: The Critical Heritage. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970, 554 p.

Reprints selected nineteenth-century critical commentary on Scott and his works.

Hennelly, Mark M. "Waverley and Romanticism." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 28, no. 2 (September 1973): 194-209.

Analyzes Scott's use of myth, dialectic, and romantic literary conventions in Waverley.

Irvine, Robert P. "Scott's The Black Dwarf: The Gothic and the Female Author." Studies in Romanticism 38, no. 2 (summer 1999): 223-48.

Evaluates Scott's innovative blending of social-realistic and Gothic elements in his 1816 novel The Black Dwarf in conjunction with his appropriation of feminine authorial discourse in this work.

Jack, Ian. "The Waverley Romances." In English Literature, 1815–1832, pp. 185-212. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963.

A biographical and historical introduction to the Waverley Novels.

Lauber, John. Sir Walter Scott. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1966, 166 p.

A concise introduction to Scott and his writing featuring both biographical and critical material.

Orr, Marilyn. "Repetition, Reversal, and the Gothic: The Pirate and St. Ronan's Well." English Studies in Canada 16, no. 2 (June 1990): 187-99.

Focuses on Scott's use of the Gothic device of the double to represent the opposition between "the rational beneficence of romance" and "the irrational malignancy of its Gothic alternative" in two of the Waverley Novels, The Pirate and St. Ronan's Well.

Parsons, Coleman O. Witchcraft and Demonology in Scott's Fiction: With Chapters on the Supernatural in Scottish Literature. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1964, 363 p.

Discusses Scott's developing use of supernatural elements in his poetry and prose.

Wilt, Judith. "Transmutations: From Alchemy to History in Quentin Durward and Anne of Geierstein." European Romantic Review 13, no. 3 (September 2002): 249-60.

Focuses on two novels set in Renaissance Burgundy; considers elements Scott portrayed through the lens of historical objectivity and those he rendered as Gothic and occult mysteries.

Woolf, Virginia. "Sir Walter Scott." In Collected Essays, pp. 134-43. London: The Hogarth Press, 1966.

Impressionistic assessment of Scott that concludes: "The emotions … in which Scott excels are not those of human beings pitted against other human beings, but of man pitted against Nature, of man in relation to fate."


Additional coverage of Scott's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 22; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 2; British Writers, Vol. 4; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1789–1832; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 93, 107, 116, 144, 159; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists, and Poets; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 15, 69, 110; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 13; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 10; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 32; Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 1; Twayne's English Authors; World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 3; World Literature Criticism; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children.

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Scott, Sir Walter (1771 - 1832)

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