Walter Scott and Modernity

Walter Scott and Modernity

Walter Scott and Modernity

Walter Scott and Modernity

Synopsis

Walter Scott and Modernity argues that, far from turning away from modernity to indulge a nostalgic vision of the past, Scott uses the past as means of exploring key problems in the modern world. This study includes critical introductions to some of the most widely read poems published in nineteenth-century Britain (which are also the most scandalously neglected), and insights into the narrative strategies and ideological interests of some of Scott's greatest novels. It explores the impact of the French revolution on attitudes to tradition, national heritage, historical change and modernity in the romantic period, considers how the experience of empire influenced ideas about civilized identity, and how ideas of progress could be used both to rationalise the violence of empire and to counteract demands for political reform. It also shows how current issues of debate - from relations between Western and Islamic cultures, to the political significance of the private conscience in a liberal society - are anticipated in the romantic era. Key Features
• Explains the historical, political and aesthetic significance of Scott's 'Tory scepticism'• Considers the relationship between Scott's interests and twentieth-first-century debates about nation, empire, community, identity and state legitimacy
• Includes detailed analyses of three of Scott's most influential poems
• Offers detailed, and carefully historicised interpretations in an accessible style

Excerpt

He was a man of intensely conservative quality; he accepted, he accepted wil
fully, the established social values about him; he had hardly a doubt in him
of what was right and what was wrong, handsome or ungracious, just or
mean. He saw events therefore as a play of individualities in a rigid frame of
values never more to be questioned or permanently changed.

H. G. Wells

Wells's view of Scott finds a counterpart in some of the most authoritative readings of later twentieth-century critics. It is echoed, for example, in the landmark study by Alexander Welsh (1963), who argues that the experience of revolution and war 'inflated the moral currency' in Britain, so that 'the felt triumph of stability and status' obscured the rapid changes taking place in contemporary society. In this reading, Scott's fiction, like that of his contemporaries, 'figured forth a vision of permanence and perpetuity'. Such accounts make Scott appear irrelevant to a modern age interested in change, instability, uncertainty, and diversity. In view of this it is perhaps not surprising that since Welsh's study appeared, the impression of certainty and permanence has been modified by a succession of critics who have uncovered a more doubtful, duplicitous, and sceptical Scott. The move begins tentatively, as when Robert C. Gordon and D. D. Devlin find a vein of Tory 'pessimism' in Scott's work, or when Peter Garside emphasises the 'shifting perspectives and uncertain pictures' through which Scott's fictional vision of the past appears. It emerges decisively in the brilliant study by Judith Wilt, who draws attention to 'the envelope of mockery around the whole enterprise of the Waverley novels', and argues that Scott 'half-consciously' lays mines 'under history, rationality, knowability, textuality, the novel, and himself'. In the wake of Wilt's study many critics, including Ian Duncan, Bob Chase, Fiona Robertson, James Kerr, Paul Hamilton, and Yoon Sung Lee, have explored the presence and effects of scepticism in Scott's writing. What . . .

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