Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Classic Lit: Waverley by Sir Walter Scott

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Date: 1814 (1985)
Format: paperback
Source: Mt. Airy Book Exchange
Read: for Historical Novel course
Pages: 500
Reading time: over a week

From GoodReads: Waverley is set during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, which sought to restore the Stuart dynasty in the person of Charles Edward Stuart (or 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'). It relates the story of a young dreamer and English soldier, Edward Waverley, who is sent to Scotland in 1745. He journeys North from his aristocratic family home, Waverley-Honour, in the south of England (alleged in an English Heritage notice to refer to Waverley Abbey in Surrey) first to the Scottish Lowlands and the home of family friend Baron Bradwardine, then into the Highlands and the heart of the 1745 Jacobite uprising and aftermath.

My review: Waverley started out slow, got more exciting in the middle, and then slowed down a bit until the end, but it never became a slog to read. I wasn't particularly enamored of the characters - I thought of Waverley himself as a doofus, too content to let himself be borne along in the tides of current events, and the rest of the characters seemed mere foils for whatever Scott's purposes were.

Reading this for class perhaps spoiled me as to much aesthetic or intrinsic enjoyment of the novel; while I wasn't dreading having to continue reading, there wasn't anything that stood out to me as something that I would usually discuss in a review as a like or dislike. The main topic brought up in class was nationalism, and mostly what I got from Waverley was a series of which culture Scott seemed to prefer at the moment. The Highland Scots started out strong - they're quaint, and more sympathetically drawn than the Lowland Scots. Waverley feels wronged by his English superiors, giving him a strong reason for following Jacobite sentiments. But then he has a falling-out with his best Highland friend, and other encounters begin to change his views on allegiance. Suffice it to say, by the end Waverley has undergone multiple switches in loyalty and ends up in the company of those I thought him least likely, according to Scott's initial portrayal of them, to befriend. It was an interesting story, but I'm not sure what Scott was really thinking with all of this.

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