Write a note on Waverley by Sir Walter Scott.
A perfect example of Scott’s complex approach to history can be found in Waverley, a novel centered on the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
The “Forty-Five” was a turning point in the history of both England and Scotland. At issue was the claim of the exiled Stuart family to the throne of England. The Stuarts had ruled Scotland from the 1370s and England from the ascension of James I in 1603. Their rule ended in 1649, but they were restored to the throne in 1660. They remained highly controversial, and by 1688, they had been pushed out again. The deposed monarch, James II, eventually fled to France, and it was the claims of his line that the Jacobites were agitating for in 1745. Although the Jacobites enjoyed early success under the leadership of Charles Edward Stuart, grandson and heir to James II, they were defeated at Culloden, crushing the hopes of a Stuart restoration. The defeat of the Jacobites in the “Forty-Five” signaled the beginning of the more complete integration of Scotland and England into the new political entity of Great Britain.
In thinking about the consequences of the “Forty-Five,” readers are guided by the experiences of Scott’s impressionable hero, Edward Waverley. Though an officer in the English army, Waverley is attracted to both the land and people of Scotland. We share his fascination with them, not least because of the Highlanders’ devotion to traditional ways of life and their close connection to nature. We understand why Waverley is drawn into battle on the Jacobite side, especially when we consider his encounter with Charles Edward Stuart, who appears as a character in the novel.
Yet even at this early stage, we can sense that something is not quite right. As the story goes on, the Highlanders begin to seem more and more like zealots. And those who aren’t zealous seem to be mere opportunists—which may be even worse. Waverley eventually realizes his mistakes and regrets his hasty alliance with the Jacobites, whom he comes to see as dangerous and dishonest. Things end happily for Waverley: After being pardoned for his flirtation with treason, he inherits a fortune, marries a Scottish woman, and settles down with her in the Lowland village of Tully-Veolan. Thus, Scott provides us with a classic comedic ending. Virtue is rewarded and vice punished. Sympathetic characters achieve personal fulfillment. And more importantly, an entire society is reintegrated and restabilized—restored to something more like sanity.
Waverley’s later realizations about the Highlanders do not cancel out their initial appeal, and our most powerful memories of the book may be of the chapters in which Waverley enters into the romantic world of the Highlanders. In short, we can describe Scott’s view of historical change as many-sided. In the defeat of the Stuarts and the Highlanders at Culloden, Scott explains, much was gained—including the spread of peace, tolerance, and a commitment to the use of reason. Although the gains outweigh the losses, Scott refuses to pretend that the losses are insignificant. He acknowledges that the life of a modern man such as Waverley will never be as exciting or as intense as that of a Highland chieftain.
Thus, Scott’s fiction satisfies our need for a pragmatic acceptance of the present and future without denying our keen interest in the glories of the past. It is for this reason, as much as any other, that he exerted such a powerful influence on the readers of his day.