Walter Scott is considered the “father” of historical fiction in Europe, a genre in which the stories are set in a bygone era, blending real historical events and characters with fictional events and characters without altering historical truth. Scott, however, specified that his interest in the past was different from that of the authors of gothic novels, in fact in the introduction to Waverley he criticizes the absurdities of gothic novels by stating that his interest is to describe the events of the past in a faithful way.
His intent is to tell not only about great men and women of the past but about characters who belong to all social classes, even the poorest ones, exalting noble ideals such as loyalty, courage, heroism, and a sense of ‘honor. In 1814 he anonymously published the novel Waverley, considered the progenitor of the historical novel. Waverley tells the story of a Scottish family that supports the Stuart dynasty and is set during the reign of George II of England when Charles Edward Stuart was trying to regain the English throne. Waverley was the first novel in a trilogy that includes Guy Mannering and The Antiquary, also known as Waverley Novels.
The novel follows the story of Edward Waverly, a young English aristocrat who came to Scotland as an army officer. In essence, the novel is about the civil war between the English and the Scots, and it introduces the reader to the great divisions of Scotland, Whigs, and Tories, supporters of the Hanover and Jacobites. The Scots themselves are divided between the Lowlanders and the Highlanders, different in lifestyle, culture, and historical background. It is an example of a historical novel: Edward’s story unfolds against the backdrop of historical events that actually happened. The historical characters are confronted with fictional characters but are essentially representative of the time. Among the characters, we will find a jester, David, who sings an ancient Scottish nursery rhyme. The character is seen as the keeper of the collective memory, as a continuation of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Then when the mansion is destroyed by the English troops, David, keeps singing and, in the meanwhile, represents the strength and tenacity of popular tradition in the face of the destructive invasion of the British.
It is evident that, in Waverly’s novel, among Scott’s less declared intentions, there is the need to lead the reader through the knowledge of the real Scottish culture that Scott contrasts with the English one, making the English characters speak in terms of contempt and hatred for something ancient and incomprehensible.
Have you ever heard of this Scott novel? I suggest you read it because it’s very interesting, not only for the story of Edward but especially for the historical background.