Adjusting the Borders of Self: Sir Walter Scott's the Two Drovers

By Hussein Ali, Zahra A. | Papers on Language & Literature, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Adjusting the Borders of Self: Sir Walter Scott's the Two Drovers


Hussein Ali, Zahra A., Papers on Language & Literature


Border theory, though mainly concerned with postcolonial and avant-garde literature, can invigorate the reading of older canonical texts written by the staunchest Tories of English Literature. As an emerging socio-political approach to art and literature, it investigates the ways borderlands incarnate history and thus emerge as the locus for the transformation of subjectivities and cultures. Russ Castronovo explains the nature and significance of such settings. By way of definition the border is the "most heavily traveled route, a path beaten by the incessant 'double movement of containment and resistance'" (216). It is a "site of internal discord" that, nevertheless, points to the "future and durability" of the nation. Hence, as "the site of difference, the border becomes strategic in prompting the desire for sameness" (197). Though it is the space of an oppositional, conflictual discourse of the marginalized, it is as well the space of hegemony that "regulates the discourses of legitimacy, institutions, and nation." In short, the border is "an ambiguous ground whose penetrable boundaries prove advantageous not only for the border-crosser, but for ideological formations that structure social realities" (199).

Among the canonical Tory figures of English literature who deserves fresh attention is Sir Walter Scott.[1] In The Great Tradition, F. R. Leavis expresses much reservation against the "heroics" of Scott's historical novels; he admires him, however, for being "primarily a kind of an inspired folk-lorist, qualified to have done in fiction something analogous to the ballet-opera."(5). Leavis singles out The Two Drovers as a work that deserves special critical esteem. As I see it, the merit of this work does not lie solely in its exuberant employment of folklore, but also in the way it delineates an exemplary paradigm of the dynamics and problematics of regional border-crossing.[2] To explicate this paradigm, the study, in addition to the tenets of border theory, draws on the insights of historicism and postcolonial theory to integrate the novella's poetics of space and the politics of nationalism. Hence, the study traces the material and symbolic resonances of the narrative movement from border market, a modern and emerging transcendental space, to an exiguous region called the "waste," to enclosed ground, to inn, to the final transcendental space of courtroom.

The novella recounts the fate of two drovers who are also business associates: Robin Oig M'Combich, a "strongly limbed," thrifty Celt who has a cautious, stern-but-steady disposition, and Harry Wakefield, a "gallantly formed," six-foot, Yorkshire yokel, who is mirthful but occasionally "irascible," and fond of the "pugilistic art" and betting at horse races.[3] Throughout the text the two characters are stereotyped and juxtaposed; while M'Combich is depicted as the model of the haughty and noble descendent of the Highland feudal clan, Wakefield is depicted as the "model of old English merry yeoman" (305).

The novella opens with the lively bustle of Doune Fair in Perthshire and M'Combich eager to embark on his business journey. His old Muhme (aunt), however, is agitated because she has just experienced an alarming Taishataragh (second-sight) in which she saw M'Combich's hands tainted with English blood. M'Combich dismisses her prophecy, but, in order to appease her mind, he gives his dirk to Hugh Morrison, an acquaintance drover from the Lowlands.

M'Combich joins Wakefield and together they drive their herds of cows southward, crossing into a place in Cumberland, England, known as The Waste. Here, available enclosures are scarce; M'Combich and Wakefield must separate to secure grass and accommodations for their weary and hungry cattle, only to find that they have each made a deal for the same enclosure: M'Combich with Squire Ireby, Wakefield with Master Fleecebumpkin, Ireby's bailiff. Ireby declines Wakefield's deal, and despite M'Combich's offer to share the enclosure, Wakefield is bitter and begins to view M'Combich as a treacherous rival. …

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