The Antiquary, Scott's personal favorite among his novels, is characteristically wry and urbane. A mysterious young man calling himself 'Lovel' travels idly but fatefully toward the Scottish seaside town of Fairport. Here he is befriended by the antiquary Jonathan Oldbuck, who has taken refuge from his own personal disappointments in the obsessive study of miscellaneous history. Their slow unraveling of Lovel's true identity will unearth and redeem the secrets and lies which have devastated the guilt-haunted Earl of Glenallan, and will reinstate the tottering fortunes of Sir Arthur Wardour and his daughter Isabella.
First published in 1816 in the aftermath of Waterloo, The Antiquary deals with the problem of how to understand the past so as to enable the future. Set in the tense times of the wars with revolutionary France, it displays Scott's matchless skill at painting the social panorama and in creating vivid characters, from the earthy beggar Edie Ochiltree to the loquacious and shrewdly humorous Antiquary himself.
The text is based on Scott's own final, authorized version, the "Magnum Opus" edition of 1829.
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Around 1750 Joscelind Glenallan, Countess of a large sweep of northeastern Scotland rising from sea into highlands, wed a wealthy scion of the English Nevilles of Yorkshire. The parties were Roman Catholic, an increasing rarity in both countries. According to their pre-nuptial agreement, if they had sons, the elder would inherit the Scottish title and estates of his mother and the younger the English wealth and lands of the father. These births occurred, though the husband died within two years of his wedding. The elder son was Lord Geraldin Glenallan, the younger was Edward, who at 21, moved south to take control of his deceased father's estates. He became Protestant and was thereby alienated from his mother. He also lived, initially, a rakish, dissolute life. He never married and, dying after a lingering death, willed his estate to some young man or other unknown to the Glenallans. Lord Geraldin Glenallan, the elder son, was secretly married to Eveline, orphaned daughter of his father's favorite male first cousin and later raised a ward of the Glenallans. Geraldin's mother, not yet knowing of the clandestine wedding, but hating Eveline Neville for threatening to demote her to Dowager Countess should she bear her grandson, made her son believe falsely that Eveline was an illegitimate daughter of his father. Geraldin fled at once to the Continent in horror, believing his unpublicized union was incestuous. Eveline went mad, flung herself from the castle heights into the sea but was rescued by a family servant, Elspeth Cheyne of the Craigburnsfoot, blindly devoted to the Countess. Eveline died in premature childbirth. The infant was spirited away by another servant on the orders of his uncle Edward Neville. This prevented Elspeth's carrying out the Countess's command to slay the baby boy with a golden knife. *** In July of 1794 the Countess Glenallan died. That event, when it became known, unsealed the lips of old Elspeth and others and the whole truth came out by fits and starts. The two unlikely unravelers of the mystery were 'The Antiquary,' Jonathan Oldbuck of Monkbarns, and Edie Ochiltree, a licensed beggar of the King. Oldbuck is middle-aged and soft. Edie is much older, partially lamed, but strong, tall and strides about the countryside with the help of a huge walking stick. He had been a soldier in his youth and served in North America during the French and Indian Wars: 'it's a rough trade -- war's sweet to them that never tried it' 'Vol. 2, Ch. 13'. *** Oldbuck, Monkbarns or the Antiquary -- he is indifferently styled all three by Sir Walter Scott -- is a non-practicing lawyer and a current misogynist who had once fancied Eveline Neville in competition with Lord Glenallan. He investigates the Roman past of Scotland and often gets things wrong. Edie Ochiltree is a man of low social status but a careful observer of the local scene and teller of local lore. Both men are widely regarded as wise and virtuous by the country people. Their investigations over a four week period in 1794 blunder into truth more after the fashion of a couple of lucky Doctor Watsons than a pair of relentless Sherlock Holmeses. What triggers their sometimes barely conscious search is the arrival in their small community of a handsome young man named Lovel, in pursuit of a girl he had recently met in England and fallen madly in love with, Isabella Wardour. *** Are you uneasy that I have told you too much, revealed all the plot and all the characters? I have not! I have merely given you a glimpse at the very Gothic 'Glenallan subplot.' If you find the subplot complicated, I leave the fun of the main plot entirely to you. As for the rest, be prepared to laugh and weep, to be baffled by clues and to reach frequently for the glossary of Lowland Scots language appended to the text. Walter Scott hated to m