Sir Walter Scott, (1771 - 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet with many contemporary readers in Europe, Australia and North America. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor. Although primarily remembered for his extensive literary works and his political engagement, Scott was an advocate, judge and legal administrator by profession and throughout his career combined his writing and editing work with his daily occupation as Clerk of Session and Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire.
Quentin Durwardby Walter Scott
Quentin Durward (first published in 1823), Scott's first "European" novel, was an experiment in transferring the historical romance to foreign soil. Fifteenth-century France, the French Revolution, and contemporary Britain all come together in this sharp-eyed novel of political expediency and intrigue. Quentin Durward is a young adventurer and soldier of the Scottish guards seeking fame and fortune in the France of Louis XI (1461-1483). Embarking upon a dangerous journey through the forest of the Ardennes seeking a name, a partner (there is a romance involving his love for Isabelle, Countess of Croye), and a position in the world, he knows little and understands less, but Scott represents his ignorance and naivete as useful to "the most sagacious prince in Europe" who needs servants motivated solely by the desire for coin and credit and lacking any interest in France, which would interfere with the execution of his political aims. Meanwhile, the Machiavellian King Louis XI of France, maneuvers his realm out of the hands of feudal barons and into centralized control -- which Scott believed to characterize the modern state. In Quentin Durward Scott studies the first modern state in the process of destroying the European feudal system at a time when the feudal system, which had been the sinews and nerves of national defense, and the spirit of chivalry, by which, began to be innovated upon and abandoned by those grosser characters, who centered their happiness in materialism.
The reception accorded Quentin Durward astounded Scott, his friends and his publishers. France, Germany and Italy went mad over him, realizing then, as now, that this miracle worker had given to European literature an unsurpassed picture of Louis XI and his age. His fame, the world over, was thenceforth permanently fixed. It was cheering news for Scott.
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Sir Walter Scott, father of the historical novel, never perfectly resolved the difference between history and fiction. Indeed, he once said that history was half fiction. We read his tales primarily for their plots and characters, not for minute historical accuracy. But his two novels of Duke Charles of Burgundy, namely QUENTIN DURWARD and ANNE OF GEIERSTEIN, can inspire us to reach for real history books of the same era. *** QUENTIN DURWARD's pivotal year is 1468 in France. We learn of the recent inventions of printing, spectacles and playing cards. Louis XI is King of France, Mephistopheles in morals, cynicism and politics. But wildly superstitious withal: he made the Virgin Mary a countess and a colonel in his Scotch guards. *** Twenty year old Quentin Durward leaves Scotland after the rival Ogilvies wipe out most of his highland family in Glen of the Midges. He finds fortune in his uncle's company of Scottish Archers who guard King Louis XI of France. To this he is helped by a disguised King Louis. Louis assigns Quentin (whose horoscope parallels his own) to escort 16 year old Countess Isabelle to a new refuge with the Prince Bishop of Liege. Isabelle had sought refuge with the King of France when the King's vassal, Charles the Bold of Burgundy had tried to force her to marry his Italian corps commander Campo Basso (who, like Charles, will reappear in ANNE OF GEIERSTEIN). *** Louis XI, an evil, superstitious worldly wise monarch is just the man France needs in the year 1468. The English have been driven out. But the feudal barons want to disintegrate France. Louis strives to weaken them. Towards Charles Louis XI's strategy includes inciting rebellion in Charles's rich cities of Flanders. Lurking in the background and named 300 or more times in the novel is William de la Marck, the 'Wild Boar of Ardennes,' a nobleman gone wrong who leads mercenary freebooters and terrorizes the low countries. *** Louis tries to arrange that the Wild Boar kidnap Countess Isabelle en route to Liege. But Quentin learns what is afoot and prevents that. The novel ends with Louis in the power of his enemy Charles and forced to join in the assault of Liege, whose Bishop the Wild Boar has assassinated. Louis had agreed reluctantly that whichever person killed la Marck would win the hand of the fair Isabelle. Quentin Durward came close, but broke off single combat to save a Flemish maiden who had befriended Isabelle. Meanwhile his uncle finished off the Wild Boar. Quentin's uncle then conceded the hand of Isabelle to his nephew, preventing Isabelle from joining an Ursuline convent. -OOO-