Eighteenth-Century Fiction and the Law of Property

By Wolfram Schmidgen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Scottish law and Waverley's museum of property

Sir Walter Scott once likened the experience of reading Tom Jones — the “first English novel” in his estimation — to a boat ride. The reader, he reflected, “glides down the narrative like a boat on the surface of some broad navigable stream, which only winds enough to gratify the voyager with the varied beauty of its banks. ” 1 Scott's first novel, Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since (1814), pursues a similarly windingcourse through historical territory already important in Tom Jones. Its eponymous hero wanders through the confusing political landscape of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, waveringbetween England and Scotland, Hanoverians and Jacobites, Lowlands and Highlands, duty and inclination, history and romance. Only at the end of the novel, with a somewhat abrupt shift of political and personal allegiances, does Edward Waverley arrest his ambulatory course. He distances himself from the rebellion and the Highlands and marries Rose Bradwardine, daughter of the Lowland Jacobite Baron Bradwardine. EchoingFielding's ending, Scott's denouement restores all the property that was lost in the scuffle of the rebellion and unites Jacobite and Whigestates.

But while Scott's endingcelebrates the return of lost property to its original owners, Waverley is not a comedy of things, and this is — at least in part — because it is not an English but a Scottish novel. The comic overtones of Waverley's final scene, when Baron Bradwardine reclaims his temporarily forfeited estate, mask a serious engagement with the irremediable changes wrought by the last Jacobite rebellion. For Scott these changes signal the beginning of a fundamental transformation of Scotland as a whole. To capture this transformation he invokes the figure of the boat ride again in Waverley's famous last chapter, but he now uses it differently:

There is no European nation which, within the course of half a century, or little more, has undergone so complete a change as this kingdom of Scotland. The effects of the insurrection of 1745, — the destruction of the patriarchal

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