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Posted November 6, 2006
WAVERLEY is an astonishingly good first novel. It appeared anonymously in 1814 from the pen of the most popular poet in Europe and North America, Walter Scott. It was the first historical and the first political novel and a masterpiece of the Romantic movement as well. *** As historical, WAVERLEY places a handful of fictitious, vaguely or not so vaguely, pro-Stuart dynasty characters in England and Scotland in 1745 - 46 during the rising of the Scots in support of the exiled legitimate King James Stuart and his son Prince Charles Edward, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie.' These characters go about their business as dreamers, poets, disgruntled nobility and women in and out of love as the great wheel of fate rolls over Scotland. *** In this political novel, Walter Scott's Scotland lost its last good chance to be more than an appendage 'North Britain' in a United Kingdom. The old Highlands were finished. Wearing of plaids and tartans was about to be forbidden. The Highlands Gaelic language was suppressed. People began to be driven off the land for more profitable sheep. Yet almost immediately there arose from the ashes of the battlefield of Culloden the Scottish golden age of literature, philosophy and learning centered on Edinburgh, the era into which Walter Scott was born. *** The old Highlanders were often Catholic and sent their sons and daughters to the continent for education. They knew French and Italian literature and Shakespeare, too. In the autumn of 1745, after Prince Charles Edward occupied Edinburgh and lived in the Holyrood Palace of his Stuart ancestors, there briefly flourished a little court complete with highland nobility and beauties. WAVERLEY iii.vii gives its flavor in an evening party in which 'A dispute occurred whether the Gaelic or Italian language was most liquid and best adapted for poetry: the opinion for the Gaelic ... was here fiercely defended by seven Highland ladies, who talked at the top of their lungs, and screamed the company deaf, with examples of Celtic euphonia.' The ladies then voted between having the Highland hero Fergus play his flute or young Edward Waverley, the Englishman, read Shakespeare. Waverley read ROMEO AND JULIET. Fergus was much taken by Mercutio. Fergus's sister Flora (whom Edward loves in vain) rebuked Romeo for loving before Juliet another young woman who could not return his love. (255f) *** And this is a good part of the 'auld' Scotland that vanished when the Stuart James II was driven from the thrones of England and Scotland. ***
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