Scott-land: The role of his native landscape in the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott

Cunningham, David Gordon McAlpine (1996) Scott-land: The role of his native landscape in the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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A broad survey is offered, addressing the manifold aspects of the role of his native landscape in Scott's historical novels. It seeks to provide fresh insights into established topics and to identify new ones, focusing attention as much upon the less celebrated titles as upon those more frequently discussed. A preliminary chronological account of secondary material demonstrates a development over the last two hundred years from simple tour guides, to scholarly works of which landscape is an incidental aspect, to a recent series of papers and journal articles in which it is established as the principal topic. From this account emerge certain common themes, most consistently the influence of aesthetic theory upon descriptive passages and the use of topographic metaphors to illuminate character and psychology. For the first time Scott's life is contemplated from the perspective of his experiences of landscape. His ill-health as an infant exposed him to the Borders, its legends forming his taste for historicised landscapes. His apprenticeship to his father necessitated several journeys to the Highlands. His failed attempts as an artist prompted his achievement in verbal pictorial description. His lameness galvanised his characters as they performed compensatory feats of agility. Moreover his early autobiographical writings often presaged the terms in which he would later describe landscape in his fiction. Scott's often ambivalent attitude to aesthetic theory has already been well documented, particularly with regard to Waverley. But the sense of utility which underpins and often amplifies picturesque values has not. Deeper analysis is similarly accorded such familiar topics as the timelessness of landscape as opposed to the mutability of human affairs, pastoral havens such as Mount Sharon, Roseneath and Liddiesdale, and the metaphorical function of natural phenomena, all of which have a historical significance. However new aspects - principally the way in which the contours of the Scottish landscape render historical events, such as the encounter at Drumclog and the Battle of Inverlochy, more explicable - are also identified. The varying types and degrees of attachment to the Scottish landscape manifested by characters of different social statuses belie a profound egalitarianism. Fresh insights are sought by placing them in particular categories: those who are alienated from the landscape, those who function as cicerones, intimately familiar with the landscape but mobile within it, those who are obsessively bound to the landscape to the point of symbolic absorption, those who romanticise the landscape. From all this emerges a vision of the Waverley hero as one who, though often relying upon cicerones, prevails within the landscape. Scott's personal interest in the supernatural is scrutinized to allow a deeper perception of various, disparate locales. What binds them together is the process, never previously elucidated, by which they acquire spectral associations, the terms in which Scott describes this process indicating the rationalism that tempered his interest in the supernatural. Also new is the narratological significance detected in landscape descriptions. The work of theorist Gerard Genette is invoked to examine the descriptive purity of these passages, the idea of landscape being disclosed concurrently with the temporal succession of events and the way in which description can hasten or retard narrative tempo. Two original concepts - landscape as an agent of narrative plausibility and landscape as a metaphor for narrative structure and tempo - are also introduced and analysed. Ultimately an attempt is made to estimate the consistency of Scott's achievement in the presentation of landscape. It is demonstrated that descriptive passages in his later novels often achieved a rarely acknowledged clarity and significance which those in his early novels did not infallibly boast. This attempt recapitulates subjects previously addressed, such as Biography, Aesthetic Theory, History, Characterisation and Narrative.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Hook, Professor Andrew
Date of Award: 1996
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1996-71651
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2019 09:31
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2022 15:42
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.71651

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