Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Resisting 'The Spirit of Innovation': The Other Historical Novel and Jane Porter

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Resisting 'The Spirit of Innovation': The Other Historical Novel and Jane Porter

Article excerpt

Reviewing Joanna Baillie's Metrical Legends (1821), Thomas Carlyle remarks that 'The Fate of Wallace has been singularly bad, both in life and after it', his fame left 'to a vulgar rhymer':

We wish all this were remedied. Why does not the author of Waverley bestir himself? [...] THE WIZARD, if he liked, could image back to us the very form and pressure of those far off times, the very life and substance of the strong and busy spirits that adorned it. (1)

Since George Lukacs's reading of Walter Scott in The Historical Novel (1937), the representation of history as progress has been accepted as the defining characteristic of the historical novel. Jane Porter's novels The Scottish Chiefs (1810) and The Field of Forty Footsteps (1828) present an alternative model, emphasizing history as continuity. In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) Edmund Burke rests the stability of the nation on correct succession of sovereignty. In contrast, for Porter, the rituals and tales that rehearse past conflict ensure national continuity. Her work necessitates a rethinking of the historical novel.


In this account, while avoiding the excessive sentiment with which Wallace has generally been treated, Baillie concentrates on facts to the exclusion of psychology. What Carlyle wants is a sense of character arising out of the violent circumstances of history, shaped by the density of material relations. Here, this demand leads him to dismiss without remark a number of literary treatments of Wallace, including Jane Porter's The Scottish Chiefs: A Romance (1810). (2) When we examine Georg Lukacs's 1937 seminal work on the historical novel, we find a similar occlusion. For Lukacs, the historical novel comes into existence with Scott, while the authors he connects with earlier forms of the genre are easy to dismiss in this context--he cites Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1764) (actually subtitled 'A Story') as the 'most famous "historical novel" of the eighteenth century'. (3) Jane Porter goes unmentioned, despite her claim, made in the 1831 preface to Thaddeus of Warsaw, that Sir Walter Scott 'did me the honour to accept the style or class of novel of which "Thaddeus of Warsaw" was the first:--a class which, uniting the personages and facts of real history or biography, with a combining and illustrative machinery of the imagination, formed a new species of writing in that day'. (4)

These omissions are significant because they are indicative of a certain construction of the historical novel, to which Porter does not conform. Underlying the remarks of both Carlyle and Lukacs is the notion that, in historical fiction, what should be stressed is the importance of history as a force for change. For Lukacs, Scott 'fathom[s] historically the whole of English development to find a "middle way" for himself between warring extremes' (p. 32). In tracing this path, Scott 'exonerate[s] nothing in the development of capitalism' and, despite his acute sense of sympathy, 'display[s] no violent opposition to the features of the new development' (p. 33). In this reading of Scott, despite the misery capitalism brings, adaptation to the new order seems inevitable. And similar notions of 'history as progress; vulgarly Whig history' have been extremely influential in terms of Scott criticism. (5) As Murray Pittock notes, this Whiggish approach to history, although only the 'fictional mode Scott is practising', is something to which critics 'surrender'. (6) In other words, this element of Scott's work is taken as historical truth, and correspondingly the representation of 'history as progress' is accepted as the defining characteristic of the historical novel. (7) Drawing on Lukacs, for example, A. D. Hook gives an even more emphatic reading of Scott's emphasis on progress: 'Scott was possessed by a sharp historical sense, a powerful sense of history as movement, as the matrix of change bringing the past into meaningful relationship with the present'. (8) This standard is used to criticize Porter: 'It is of precisely such a sense of history that Jane Porter is entirely innocent', Hook decides (p. 190). However, by examining Porter's work, I would like to posit an alternative mode of historical novel, which emphasizes history as continuity. (9)

The potential for such an alternative is present in Georg Lukacs's account of the 'Social and Historical Conditions for the Rise of the Historical Novel'. For Lukacs, the historical novel is made possible by a new post-French Revolution sense of history as a force affecting all individuals; this sense is linked 'in its national element [...] with problems of social transformation' (p. 25). To recapitulate his argument, this altered view of history arises out of the new conditions of struggle: warfare now involves the whole countryside rather than a few isolated fortresses, now necessitates mass armies rather than mercenaries. This change, in turn, requires the people to identify with the need for struggle (p. 24). In particular, the 'ideological struggle against the Revolution' gives rise to 'polemical', often 'reactionary', writings, which are not, one presumes, as clear-sighted about capitalism as Lukacs's Scott (p. 26). However, Lukacs, whose work 'does not claim to give a detailed and complete history' of the form, does not explore these writings or suggest the possibility of a related type of historical novel (p. 17).

It is precisely this possibility that Jane Porter's work offers. The Scottish Chiefs places great emphasis on the whole of the Scottish landscape as a site of struggle and emphasizes the mass activity of the Scottish people. The novel engages, albeit sometimes obliquely, with questions of economics and class which Lukacs suggests the new sense of history brings sharply to the fore. And arguably Porter plays with more political fire than Scott in suggesting the power of unified mass action to overthrow the state. In other words, Porter's novel, published before Scott's, contains the preoccupations of the Napoleonic period, linked with a vivid awareness of the impact of history. What it does not do, however, is lay the emphasis primarily upon change. Instead, Porter constructs the 'propagand[ist]' use of history in a particular way (Lukacs, p. 23). For her, creating an appropriate narrative that 'brings the past into relation with the present' involves stressing continuity. She uses history to promote a narrative of ongoing, disinterested patriotism, a tale in which the inevitable rise of capital has little part to play. (10)

In this approach, Jane Porter's project differed considerably from Walter Scott's. Despite the ambiguities in his position, Scott's eighteenth-century Scottish novels have been interpreted as portraying a transition from a romantic Jacobite past to a more capitalist present. On the other hand, as I shall explore, Porter, influenced by the rhetoric surrounding history painting, and by Christian notions of heroism, attempts to construct a tradition of continuous heroism and self-sacrifice. Further, while Scott's attitude to Jacobitism accounts for some of the sense of alterity between past and present in his work, Porter, with an investment in continuity, is influenced by the Jacobite conception of history as cyclical. This means that the sense of historical change in Porter's work is figured as a melancholic awareness of the fading echoes of previous endeavour. In this narrative, the repetition of both loss and heroism produces a more disinterested and patriotic populace. As a result, and in distinction to Scott, Porter has an unequivocally positive attitude to popular reconstructions of the past. Oral tales and fictional representations of history create the patriotic 'air of wholesome knowledge' that Porter desires. (11) Particularly in her later work, The Field of Forty Footsteps (1828), Porter stresses the importance of tradition itself: past events and the changes they cause are less important than the act of narrative repetition. (12) In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) Edmund Burke rests the stability of the nation on the continuance of the constitution and correct 'succession' of sovereignty. In contrast, for Porter, the rituals and tales that reflect previous conflict are the site of national continuity--and in a far more straightforward way than they are for Scott.

One aspect of Walter Scott's complex attitude to what came to be called the historical novel can be traced in the General Preface to the 1829 edition of Waverley. There, as elsewhere, Scott values probability and the empirical: the 'histories, memoirs, voyages and travels' he read in his youth contain 'events nearly as wonderful as those which were the work of imagination, with the additional advantage that they were in a great measure true' (p. 7). However, this preface primarily associates his Waverley novels with the genre of romance. In its opening pages Scott records the effects romance had on him, connecting it with idleness; with a 'strict secrecy' that generates an almost masturbatory 'concealed pleasure'; with the languor of illness; and with a 'vague and wild' use of reading matter (pp. 5-7). By a process of metonymy, Scott's highlanders arguably gain some of the same qualities during the course of the piece. Describing his early thoughts of writing in prose, he recounts: 'It naturally occurred to me, that the ancient traditions and high spirit of a people, who, living in a civilised age and country, retained so strong a tincture of manners belonging to an early period of society, must afford a subject favourable for romance' (p. 8). Given the difference between past and present, retaining the manners of the past in the present is a quixotic gesture on the part of the highlanders that associates them with the values of romance. Their outdated behaviour, attractive but by implication 'vague and wild', is unnecessary in the 'civilised' rational present. Hence the Jacobites are treated with nostalgia and accepted as part of the past, but the overall emphasis is on alteration. (13)

While Scott finds the values of the past unavoidably displaced, Porter's position is almost the reverse. Responding to developments in the discourse of civic humanism, particularly as they affected history painting, Porter thought past heroism had direct political importance in the present. Wary of the implications of the French Revolution, she drew on this knowledge to construct an alternative vision of the polis. Porter had had exposure to the rhetoric of history painting, not least through her brother Robert Kerr Porter, who studied at the Royal Academy in 1790. His studio at 16 Great Newport Street, Leicester Square, became the meeting-place of the 'Brothers', a group of artists who were interested in historic landscape painting. Porter's acquaintance, including John Sell Cotman, John Flaxman, and James Northcote, would have been familiar with the discourse of civic humanism, according to which the arts, and particularly history painting, had a vital part to play in encouraging patriotism.

Particularly after the founding of the Royal Academy in 1768, artists wished to assert the importance of painting in stimulating public virtue, but they were also faced by the need to redefine participation in public life, as John Barrell notes. (14) The project of the first President, Sir Joshua Reynolds, to establish the relevance of painting to the publicly minded citizen, was made more problematic by the increasing specialization of late eighteenth-century society. Barrell argues:

Reynolds's early discourses should be read as an attempt, not just to reassert the civic function of history painting as it had traditionally been defined by humanist criticism, but also to redescribe that function for a society which seemed to afford, and a public which enjoyed, less scope for the exercise of the public virtues which history-painting was expected to encourage. (p. 163)

Reynolds tried to cope with this by moving 'towards a notion that the arts might best be directed to the creation of a national community, rather than a civic republic of taste' (Barrell, ibid.). Rather than appealing to an elite group of active citizens, history painting was meant to have broader patriotic, and moral, appeal. One device, as we can see from the work of Benjamin West, was to stress continuity between the heroism of the past and the virtues of the present. West, who became President of the Royal Academy in 1792, introduced the startling innovation of retaining classical poses while dressing his characters in contemporary uniforms in one of his most famous paintings, The Death of General Wolfe (1771). (15)

For Porter, this readjustment of the national role of history formed the basis of a reply to post-French Revolutionary radicalism. (16) As has been well documented, in some respects the post-French Revolution debate in Britain questioned the role of historical precedent. While Burke emphasized 'inheritance', Wollstonecraft accused him of 'reverenc[ing] the rust of antiquity' and possessing 'gothic notions of beauty'. (17) Porter, however, was suspicious of this rejection of historical precedent. In her Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney (1807), she warns against the precepts of radical philosophers such as Godwin, who

descant upon the innate worthiness and inherent rights of all men, till the privilege of eccentricity is extended to all minds, ignoble as well as noble [...]The general sameness of manners gives them the spleen [...] This talisman of custom, this sameness, which they complain of, maintains the harmony of the civilized world; holds the dunces and the knaves, (to borrow a term of painting,) in some degree of keeping, and the real genius, which starts out of the canvass by its own strength, stands off with greater effect and brilliancy, from the deep shadow that involves the mass. Thus, as Providence has ordered it, the world presents a beautiful picture; in which every object wears its proportioned consequence. While the plan of our orators, if adopted, would shew only a toyman's warehouse; where every figure, good or bad, tumble over each other in endless confusion. (18)

Using a painterly analogy that recalls the field of art criticism, Porter suggests that the individualism associated with radical thought produces social disorder, figured here as a lack of perspective. Further, as her metaphor of the 'toyman's warehouse' suggests, this anxiety stems from a fear of consumerism following the French Revolution. In other words, the rhetoric of individualism produces in Porter what Lukacs would recognize as an early critique of capital. In response, Porter places 'custom' (continuity between past and present) as a stabilizing force. In particular, she suggests that change should be initiated by the talented few, while for the many, the emphasis remains on stability. Yet, tellingly, she remarks that to be as noble and happy as possible we should be 'sovereigns of ourselves': her notion of this includes moral and financial independence, but also, I would argue, a precise form of identification with the nation.

As with the theory of history painting, in Porter's work this particular identification is generated by exposure to historical narratives, which reinforce the link between past heroism and the present. Her novels repeatedly emphasize the need to value and be inspired by the legends of history. In The Scottish Chiefs, for example, she has Wallace sing to Queen Margaret of 'the triumphs of Reuther': 'The queen, as he sang, fixed her eyes upon him; and when he ended she turned and said to Gaveston, "If the voice of this man had been Wallace's trumpet, I should not now wonder at the discomfiture of England"'. (19) Here, the harper and the national hero are closely identified--the act of reinforcing custom is itself patriotic, for novelists and painters, as well as for minstrels. The implication is that a nation which has a healthy popular affection for its heroes and the wonderful tales associated with them is likely to be stronger as a result. Like Wallace, the people of such a nation will sing of 'kings and heroes so long, that [they] cannot help assuming their step and demeanor' (iv, 176). In other words, through such identification they gain a sense that they are 'sovereigns of [themselves]', having the appropriate dignity, moral strength, and feeling of allegiance without the need for actual ownership. And this is the case for women as well as men. Helen, the novel's heroine, has been educated in the 'romantic' oral tradition that is described by selfish Joanna Mar as nothing more than a 'minstrel's song', and is consequently able to save her country from the act of traitors (, 174). Yet Porter is quite specific about the kind of 'history' likely to have this effect. Queen Margaret, in her youthful innocence, wants to believe in 'fairies, magicians, and all the enchanting world' and her corrupt lady-in-waiting is 'well learned in the idle tales of our troubadours', stories of aristocratic love (, 182, 212). (20) Such fantastic tales are damaging, while patriotic Scottish legends promote virtue.

As this selectivity suggests, the form of patriotism Porter wished to encourage through narrative was quite specific. In particular, it was shaped by her sense of her own historical moment. Hence, drawing upon British rhetoric against Napoleonic imperialism, she constructs patriotism as defensive, rather than expansionist--national identity relies on retaining what we have, rather than gaining more at the expense of others. And suspicious of the 'toyman's warehouse' that might be produced by revolutionary philosophy, she emphasizes that the true patriot must be disinterested, even anti-consumerist. Above all, she desires a form of patriotism that allows the individual to act for his country, but restrains the 'spirit of innovation', the revolutionary impulse Burke had thought so dangerous. (21) In order to fulfil these conditions, Porter sets up a series of Christian parallels that act as guides to both her historical characters and her readers. Cautious analogies are drawn between Wallace and Christ, and Wallace himself parallels his military successes with a number of Old Testament victories:

The banner of St. Andrew was once held out from the heavens over a little army of Scots while they discomfited thousands.--The same holy arm leads me:--and if need be, I despair not to see it again, like the pillar of .re before the Israelites, consuming the enemies of liberty even in the fulness of their might. (The Scottish Chiefs, i, 334-35) (22)

This metonymic identification of the banner of St Andrew with the pillar of .re that led the Israelites out of slavery suggests that Wallace's present struggle, the Scottish past, and the Exodus are all types of a divinely inspired struggle for liberty. The Christian model is employed to establish the repeated need for a defensive heroism, legitimate self-determination against an imperial threat. However, elsewhere Wallace argues with those who want him to become king by suggesting: 'I am to you, what Gideon was to the Israelites, your fellow-soldier. I cannot assume the sceptre you would bestow; for he who rules us all has yet preserved to you a lawful monarch:--Bruce lives' (iii, 93-94). (23) In other words, biblical parallels have several functions in Porter's fiction. Christian tradition makes the historical model of Wallace's heroic struggle more acceptable, more archetypal, and suggests the continuity of history, but it also directs the mass identification with the cause of liberty in a particular non-revolutionary and disinterested way.

Here too there are parallels with the theory of history painting. According to Barrell, James Barry, who joined the Academy in 1773 and was professor there from 1782 until his expulsion in 1799, thought:

if the 'mechanical' and the 'servile' wish to realise that potential [as citizens of the republic of taste], they need no lengthy re-education in the principles of abstraction; they have only to consult the doctrines of the Christian religion, and their consciences, instead of their interest, and they will find themselves enfranchised. (Barrell, p. 165)

Barry has moved from the civic humanism that suggested members of the polis had to be general thinkers, not labourers in a particular field. Political fitness is now a matter of religious identification. Porter's use of Christianity in The Scottish Chiefs operates similarly. Here the Scottish struggle is representative of the variety of British nationalism Porter thinks is desirable, a Christian patriotism in which the mass of the population can participate. Furthermore, for Porter as well as Barry, this cannot be a patriotism founded on self-'interest', in terms of either imperialist or individual gain. As in her Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney, Porter displays considerable anti-consumerism. Like previous Romantic writers, she suggests, to use Lukacs's expression, 'the inhumanity of Capitalism, the chaos of competition, the destruction of the small by the big, the debasement of culture by the transformation of all things into commodities' (p. 26). Edward I, the great warrior expert at assimilating nations, is in this sense a capitalist, and his more vicious followers, English and Scottish, demonstrate the chaos of competition. Moreover, Wallace, who repeatedly refuses any reward, warns Bruce about the need to preserve the hardiness of the Scottish people. The Christian ethos supports this anti-capitalist emphasis. Porter certainly does not envisage historical progress in terms of an increase of wealth. Rather, the Christian parallels promote economic and moral stasis. In short, the use of Christianity in The Scottish Chiefs is both anti-capitalist and anti-revolutionary.

In this respect, Porter treads a delicate political path. On the one hand, her use of Christianity and awareness of the theory of history painting suggest her conviction of the usefulness of the past to the present as a source of heroic models. On the other hand, Porter wishes to avoid or limit the revolutionary implications of this identification, and desires a form of anti-capitalist patriotism. Given these latter factors, she is not likely to develop the sense of 'history as [...] the matrix of change' that A. D. Hook hails as the sign of Scott's superiority. Instead, in order to mediate the form of identification her audience feels, she insists on history not just as a continuity of heroism but as a repeated cycle of loss. The reader's sense of pride in being a 'countryman of Nelson' is tempered by a sober awareness of the consequences of national struggle (1810 Preface). This is evident when we examine Porter's portrayal of Jacobitism. For Hook, the 'powerful sense of history as movement' which he perceived in Scott's work is particularly strong when Scott considers the Jacobite cause. Scott rejects (what he has constructed as) the attractive romance of Jacobitism in order to consolidate the position of Scotland within Britain. While similarly desiring British unity, Porter's approach is different. In her writing, the Jacobites do not even represent a notional threat to the unity of Scotland and England. Instead, they are another device by which she can emphasize the continuity of heroism between past and present. More significantly still, the political implications of the upheaval caused by the Jacobite challenge are transformed by Porter, used to create an elegiac mood. While this is in some ways similar to Scott, Porter's approach is more extensive. She makes the broader suggestion that what is significant about history is the repetition of loss. In her fiction, this functions to discourage the revolutionary impulse and to position the desire for profit as irrelevant.

In particular, the Jacobites frequently emphasized the cyclical nature of history in their propaganda. Porter's approach to history bears some resemblance to this. The battle for independence in The Scottish Chiefs would have been likely to stir associations with Jacobitism in the novel's original readers. Emphasizing this connection, in the 1831 'Retrospective Introduction' to the novel Porter recalls seeing as a child the widows of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion in Edinburgh. She also alleges that she met Jeannie Cameron, mistress of Charles Edward Stuart, who supposedly played a significant part in the rebellion by leading her kinsmen into battle at Prestonpans, Falkirk, and Culloden (The Scottish Chiefs (1831), i, pp. xiii-xix). In Porter's narrative, Cameron appears in man's costume, an act of cross-dressing that implicitly recalls events in the main body of the novel (specifically the two main female characters, Helen and Joanna Mar, disguise themselves as page-boy and Knight of the Green Plume respectively). On one level, this similarity attracts attention to the complexities of female involvement in the national sphere and to a common potential for heroism--or its reverse. On another level, however, Porter is drawing a more general parallel between the national romance of the thirteenth century and the Jacobite rebellions. (24)

For Porter, history is in one sense loosely cyclical--while she does not argue that the same family must return to power, she insists on a pattern of national suffering. The plight, first of the Scottish under Edward, then of the Jacobites, and finally of the Polish and French refugees, suggests the painful repetition involved in history. Narratives of the past, according to Porter, should not only make us aware of our potential for heroism. They should also suggest that the people of past and present are bound by shared suffering. Porter's construction of history here allows her, then, to have it both ways. She is able to emphasize similarity between past and present that supports her tale of common heroism. However, her insistence on such common pain sometimes gives her work an elegiac quality that aids her case both against more aggressive varieties of nationalism and against popular revolution. From her emphasis on loss, and the figure of Wallace, she constructs an image of the ideal patriot, who, touched by the melancholic nature of history, will avoid excessive hostility or acquisitiveness.

Porter indicates that this so-called 'wholesome' patriotism relies on a national community with a rich oral and literary historical tradition. Here she is far less equivocal than Scott. While Scott has a more than antiquarian appreciation for folk culture, he is also ambivalent about it. (25) In the first chapter of The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), for example, he shows amused cynicism about the ways in which popular legends may manifest themselves: Dick Tinto, son of a tailor, wishes to go to Edinburgh as a painter of portraits and histories, but, in order first to pay his debts, he paints the sign of a public house with 'the majestic head of Sir William Wallace, grim as when severed from the trunk by the orders of the felon Edward'. (26) In this early section of the novel at least, popular culture is linked to those fonder of their pleasure than their reason, while artists and novelists must sacrifice truth to the desire to earn a living.

Porter has a more straightforward investment in the importance of the input of ordinary people into the patriotic myth. Her patriots are domestic storytellers or bards, yet Porter still suggests their narratives have as much value as forms traditionally accorded higher status. Of her nurse, for example, she writes that, although the woman had a Bible, 'I do not recollect ever seeing any other book in her house; though she knew the history of Scotland, and the biography of its great families' as accurately as if she had read historical chronicles (The Scottish Chiefs, i, p. ix). The nurse's knowledge arises almost spontaneously, undirected by any officiating power. In her 1840 'Recollective Preface' Porter adds to this by giving an account of 'Luckie Forbes', her 'chief instructress in these legends':

She never omitted mingling a pious allusion with her narratives, whether of facts or fictions, of human varieties or fairy fables; and from this custom I always listened to her with reverence as well as delight; yet she was a person of low degree, dressed in a coarse woollen gown and a pale linen cap, without frill or ribbon, called a mutch, clasped under the chin with a silver broach, worn by her father at the battle of Culloden. (1840, p. 15)

In short, Luckie unites the tropes that for Porter are identified with folk culture. While the 'broach' connects the old woman personally with the heroism and loss of history, the emphasis on Christianity and 'fairy fables' indicates Luckie's awareness of the moral cycles that underpin historical events. Linked by blood to the events of the '45, Luckie and her folk tradition are none the less associated with stability rather than political discord. Additionally, Luckie is 'of low degree' and poor economic position: patriotism is not associated with wealth or status (and, unlike Dick Tinto's, Luckie's financial difficulties do not affect her treatment of history). Porter is suggesting that the lower ranks can be seen as part of the polis if they are educated in the correct, disinterested way. The patriotism that is generated by folk culture at once allows heroic identification and, by acknowledging loss, lessens the possibility of jingoism or revolution. (27)

The 'traditions' repeated in folklore, then, are at the centre of this vision of patriotism, and hence in her later work it is tradition itself, rather than the figure of the storyteller, on which Porter concentrates. This is perhaps most evident in her 1828 novel The Field of Forty Footsteps, set at the time of the Commonwealth. As in The Scottish Chiefs, Porter is still interested in constructing a particular variety of anti-consumerist patriotism. To do so, she places the Commonwealth as the negative counterpart to Wallace's protectorship: it proceeds without divine sanction and is marked by luxury and self-interest. To both the reader and the heroine, Betha, it functions as a warning, the opposite of disinterested patriotism. In other words, the violent break with the past which the regicide represents promotes the 'toyman's warehouse' of self-interest Porter fears. (28)

Yet the Commonwealth is also a period in British history said to equate with the French Revolution, and which Jacobites often paralleled with the Glorious Revolution (Monod, p. 49). In dealing with the most significant trauma in English history, a trauma which, despite its singularity, was also seen as generally symbolic of constitutional crisis, Porter calls heavily on popular tradition as a stabilizing force. In this narrative the Commonwealth itself is part of a tradition of rupture, and by replaying this tradition, any threat is neutralized. In this novel, as in The Scottish Chiefs, folk histories, in the form of narrative and of ritual, are portrayed as mechanisms for repeating past (Christian) heroism and loss. However, greater emphasis is given to the act of repetition itself. In The Field of Forty Footsteps Porter uses the notion of folk tradition to construct a British identity that repeatedly acknowledges and hence is not threatened by past political conflict.

Developing the presentation of folk culture given in The Scottish Chiefs and later works, including Tales Round a Winter Hearth (1826), in The Field of Forty Footsteps Porter creates an image of a pastoral Britain with a many-layered past. (29) She begins in the Preface by emphasizing the role of tradition: '[the] Author makes no fictitious pretension in ascribing the origin of [the novel's] name to a tradition which forms the nucleus of her tale' (iii, p. i). What matters is not so much whether the tale is true or false, but that it is an actual tradition. The opening of the novel has a similar emphasis. At the centre of the story lies a field upon which can still be seen mysterious footsteps from a terrible event (unexplained until almost the final page) which happened in the time of the Commonwealth. These footsteps are scars on the pastoral landscape, reminders of political conflict and the family strife and betrayal it caused. Yet Porter's opening avoids evoking such drama: 'Twenty-seven years ago, an old tradition gave the above name to one of the pasture-fields, then in the immediate vicinity of Bloomsbury Square [...]. Those fields, then quite open to a view of the distant hills, were accounted remarkably pleasant' (iii, 1). The passage of time and its alterations are evoked, as they might be in a Scott novel, but the emphasis is on memory and the repetition of tradition--a 'tradition [...] old [...] twenty-seven years ago', now echoed in the novel.

In the next two chapters Porter increases this awareness of historical accretion. First, rather bewilderingly shifting subjects, she establishes that while the field of forty footsteps is linked with political conflict, another meadow, lying nearby, is the site of folk festival and tradition (iii, 2). The field's connection with tradition endures though details change, thus suggesting a cyclical view of history, with which only the urban encroachment of the narrator's present breaks. Thus the 'old tradition' of the forty footsteps is remembered by the boys who played in the field three decades ago. These boys themselves 'appeared on the days of assembling, as in the times of Robin Hood, in full array of belted green, bow, and quiver, and feathered hat; while the especial ground of their exercise (which lay directly behind the Museum garden) displayed targets, flag-staffs, pavilions, and every other pageantry indispensable to that memorial of the ancient gallantry of England' (iii, 2-3). The economic and political conflicts often associated with Robin Hood have vanished: even the outlaws are suitably sanitized by a veneer of romance. Civil conflict, always threatening in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819), is dramatized in an unthreatening ritual. Indeed, as James Chandler notes, 'there is reason to read Scott as creating strong analogies between his own novels and the non-literary popular amusements of the past, such as the tournament depicted in Ivanhoe'. (30) In Ivanhoe, however, the joust, though meant to be a site of consolidation, is a source of social tension. In Porter's work the similarity between the novel and folk tradition works to promote a sense that the public rituals of fiction and popular entertainment give continuity and stability.

Porter's shift of location in the first chapter of The Field of Forty Footsteps might lead the reader to imagine that the field is a counterexample, a physical recording of a trauma too deep to be neutralized by such tales. However, Porter goes on to associate it, albeit in the time of the Civil War, with similar folk traditions: 'sometime about the years forty and fifty of the seventeenth century', when 'that field formed a lawn-like glade', it was 'a kind of gala-green for the servants and near tenantry, on certain merry-makings, allowed, by long custom, by the munificent owners of the mansion' (iii, 16). These servants and tenants, Porter explains, also had their celebrations of the past in the form of chivalric contests. Thus, though the form of the festival changes, there seems to be a kind of meta-convention which suggests that each tradition revisits the power struggles of the past. For example, Porter describes the 'annual holidays we speak of as celebrated on this spot [...] May-day, Lammas-tide, and similar summer-feasts' (iii, 17)--May Day rituals had been associated with Charles Edward Stuart because they suggested the return of spring, renewal, and fertility in a cyclical vision of history (Monod, pp. 45-69). Porter is deliberately playing up the notion of continuity rather than change. Indeed, even though she mentions the spread of urbanization (associated with specialization and the advance of capital) in the novel's opening, she simultaneously suggests the superior power of memory, which recalls a more rural England. This differs markedly from Scott's replacement of romance by economic and urban reality. For Porter, tradition incorporates and to an extent neutralizes political and national strife--past conflict is made an occasion of holiday, and the nation is protected. The exact tradition may vary, but the meta-convention of its neutralizing effect remains. The use of this meta-convention can be better understood when compared to Edmund Burke's construction of the 'artificial infinite'. His description of the sublime in A Philosophical Enquiry is often associated with a rupture or break with tradition, particularly in the light of his later representation of the French Revolution. However, as Adam Phillips remarks, Burke finds both beauty and sublimity 'quite unmanageable': the sublime cannot always be maintained as a revolutionary category. (31) This is evident in Burke's description of the artificial infinite, which consists of 'succession and uniformity' (p. 68). In terms of the Reflections, this more orderly sublime corresponds to the British constitution which relies on 'hereditary succession' and, Burke insists, on the appearance of continuity. Hence the artificial infinite of the British constitution forms an alternative to the sublime terror of revolution and offers a way of preserving the nation. However, in locating British national identity in the artificial infinite of the constitution, Burke creates a problem. The uniformity that underpins the artificial infinite 'impress[es] the imagination with an idea of their progress beyond their actual limits' (Enquiry, p. 68). And in the case of the British constitution, this impression has been disrupted, not only by Richard Price but, ironically, by Burke himself. Considering the crucial case of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Burke notes that Lord Somers, who drew up the Declaration of Right, used considerable 'address' to keep 'this temporary solution of continuity [...] from the eye' (p. 102). By describing the act that disturbed the strict order of inheritance, Burke exposes the illusion.

Consequently, in Porter's work, the 'artificial infinite' on which British national identity is to rest is no longer associated with the constitution. Popular tradition, incorporating political rupture, is now the source of the sublime connected to 'succession'. And 'uniformity' is given, not, obviously, by the details of history, but by the motif of endless repetition that Porter links with tradition. This sense of uniformity is further strengthened by siting such traditions within an imagined British landscape. In the novel there is an insistence on the pastoral as a place of political and moral education. The heroine, Betha, for example, is first seen within the confines of a garden where she is schooled personally and politically, consoled for her mother's death, and given a scroll containing details of Charles I's execution warrant. The old gardener who gives her the scroll is of low social status, but has patriotic feelings--he is able to remember the past regime even though he sees nothing to celebrate in its passing. Thus, Porter creates the sense of a pastoral heritage where political turmoil is gradually transformed into tradition. The footsteps themselves form some kind of exception to this--connected with events of the Commonwealth and a resultant fratricide, they are an unhealed scar on the natural landscape and a reminder that political discord occurs in Britain. However, their traditionary status, their further reworking in novelistic form, and their link to the pastoral make them a less than alarming reminder of the family discord that results from political strife. In addition, the footsteps are about to be buried for ever beneath Russell Square. Only memory, a powerful but ameliorative force, will remain. Thus, although Porter sets her story in the time of the Commonwealth and evokes emotions of pain and loss, both revolution and the trauma of regicide are ultimately unthreatening, neutralized by an insistence on memory and repetition.

In some respects, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars offered a challenge to the validity and sustainability of inheritance. As Burke discovered, it became difficult to construct history, even in its loosest symbolic sense, as a tale of orderly succession. Porter, like Scott, is aware of the problematized nature of history, and she reacts by emphasizing the importance of inheritance. In particular, she emphasizes the importance of moral continuity. In her account, the novelist (inspired by the history painter) generates national stability by constructing a heroic past that inspires the reader with a sense of public virtue. But for Porter, reacting to her own historical moment, this public virtue is of a specific kind. The patriot should not be a Napoleonic expansionist, pursuing imperial profit. Nor should he show the radical individualism Porter associated with selfish and frivolous consumerism. Instead, he should be disinterested. Aware of the rhetoric of history painting, and drawing on Christian models, Porter constructs the past as an argument for the continuity of this form of patriotism, insisting on the repetition of both heroism and loss.

For Porter, frequently repeated historical narratives have the potential to generate identification with the nation, among both the lower and upper ranks. And in her later work she positions popular tradition itself as the guarantee of national stability, combining the notions of repetition, continuity, and loss under one figure. Tradition functions as a form of the 'artificial infinite', giving the illusion of a sublime continuous heritage in which even unrest and rebellion can be included. Burke had seen the notion of constitutional succession as the guarantee of national stability; in Porter's work, however, tradition deceives the 'eye' more effectively. Insisting upon continuity and tradition as the sources of patriotism, she does not treat history in the same way as Lukacs's Scott. Yet she has often been inappropriately judged in terms of this model. It is time for an alternative approach to the historical novel. Despite the persistence of Whig historiography, (32) and the persuasiveness of Scott's writing, 'history as progress' is only one way of constructing the past.



(1) Thomas Carlyle, 'Miss Baillie's Metrical Legends', New Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1821), 393-413 (pp. 402-03) (the vulgar rhymer is not Joanna Baillie, but Blind Harry). For Carlyle's changing opinions of Scott, see Two Notebooks, ed. by Charles Eliot Norton (New York: Grolier Club, 1898), p. 71, and Carlyle's appraisal of Scott in The Westminster Review: 'Sir Walter Scott', in The Collected Works of Thomas Carlyle, 30 vols (New York: Scribner, 1898-1901), (1901), 54. See also Lowell T. Frye, 'Romancing the Past: Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle', Carlyle Studies Annual, 16 (1996), 37-49; Thomas C. Richardson, 'Thomas Carlyle on Sir Walter Scott', Carlyle Society Papers, 6 (1992-93), 27-38.

(2) In an earlier letter, of October 1814, Carlyle writes to J. E. Hill: 'Miss Porter's Scottish Chiefs and Waverley have been the principal of my novels--With regard to Waverley I cannot help remarking that in my opinion it is the best that has been published these thirty years' (The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, ed. by C. R. Sanders, 4 vols (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1971), 1, 42).

(3) Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, trans. by Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (London: Merlin, 1962), p. 19. Lukacs's remark recalls Scott's reference to Walpole's work as an inspiration in his 1829 General Preface (Walter Scott, Waverley (London: Dent; New York: Dutton), p. 8).

(4) Jane Porter, Thaddeus of Warsaw, intro. by Jane Porter, Standard Novels, 4 (London: Colburn and Bentley; Edinburgh: Bell and Bradfute; Dublin: Cumming, 1831), p. vi.

(5) For the influence of social theorists of the Scottish Enlightenment on Scott see Graham McMaster, Scott and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Duncan Forbes, 'The Rationalism of Sir Walter Scott', Cambridge Journal, 7 (1953), 20-35; Peter Garside, 'Scott and the Philosophical Historians', Journal of the History of Ideas, 36 (1975), 497-512; and Cyrus Vakil, 'Sir Walter Scott and the Historicism of Scottish Enlightenment Philosophical History', in Scott in Carnival, ed. by J. H. Alexander and David Hewitt (Aberdeen: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1993), pp. 404-18.

(6) Murray G. H. Pittock, 'Scott as Historiographer: The Case of Waverley', in Scott in Carnival (see Vakil, above), pp. 145-53 (p. 146).

(7) As David Brown notes, the 'accepted idea of a "romantic" Scott' was displaced by the work of Lukacs, David Daiches, and Duncan Forbes, prompting a new interest in Scott as 'an artist of the historical process'; see Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination (London: Routledge, 1979), p. 3. For alternative approaches, see Ina Ferris, The Achievement of Literary Authority: Gender, History and the Waverley Novels (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Fiona Robertson, Legitimate Histories: Scott, Gothic and the Authorities of Fiction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994); and Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

(8) A.D. Hook, 'Jane Porter, Sir Walter Scott, and the Historical Novel', Clio: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History, 5 (1976), 181-92 (pp. 189-90).

(9) This aspect of Porter's work has been overlooked. See, for example, Gary Kelly, Varieties of Female Gothic, 6 vols (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2002), iv-v: Historical Gothic, iv, pp. xiii-lxiv. Despite extensive and informative discussion of Porter's sources, Kelly's introduction fails to appreciate the extent of Porter's commitment to tradition, custom, and even birthright. Rather, Kelly argues that Porter presents a disciplined version of Gothic in order to facilitate the struggle towards 'the modern liberal state' (p. liii). The differences between Scott and Porter are dealt with only briefly (p. lix).

(10) See Hugh Cunningham, 'The Language of Patriotism', in Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, ed. by Raphael Samuel, 3 vols (London: Routledge, 1989), 1: History and Politics, pp. 57-89 (pp. 57-58), for a discussion of the changing meanings of the term 'patriotism.'

(11) Jane Porter, The Scottish Chiefs: A Romance (1810), intro. by Jane Porter, 2 vols [numbered vii-viii] (London: Colburn and Bentley; Edinburgh: Bell and Bradfute; Dublin: Cumming, 1831), vii, p. viii.

(12) Anna Maria Porter and Jane Porter, Coming Out and The Field of Forty Footsteps, 3 vols (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1828).

(13) See Kenneth McNeil, 'Inside and Outside the Nation: Highland Violence in Walter Scott's Tales of a Grandfather', Literature and History, 8 (1999), 1-17 (p. 2), for a similar perspective on the equivocal role of the Highlanders.

(14) The Political Theory of Painting from Reynolds to Hazlitt: 'The Body of the Public' (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986).

(15) Benjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe (1771), National Gallery, Ottawa. See also Thomas McLean, 'Notes and Documents: Jane Porter's Portrait of Benjamin West', Huntington Library Quarterly: Studies in English and American History and Literature, 66 (2003), 169-75.

(16) Porter's links with the Royal Academy and with the thought of its history painters is evident in an unpublished letter she sent in February 1809 to Mrs Flaxman (British Library, Add. MS 39,781, fol. 423r).

(17) Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event (1790), ed. by Conor Cruise O'Brien (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), p. 98; Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Men, in Political Writings, ed. by Janet Todd (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 8. See also Gary Kelly, 'Feminine Romanticism, Masculine History, and the Founding of the Modern Liberal State', in Romanticism and Gender, ed. by Anne Janowitz, Essays and Studies Collected on Behalf of the English Association, 51 (Cambridge: Brewer-Boydell, 1998), pp. 1-18.

(18) Jane Porter, Aphorisms of Sir Philip Sidney: With Remarks, 2 vols (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1807), i, 220-22.

(19) Jane Porter, The Scottish Chiefs: A Romance, 5 vols (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810), iv, 141. References are to this edition unless otherwise stated.

(20) For accounts of Jane Porter in relation to gender see Nicola J. Watson, Revolution and the Form of the British Novel, 1790-1825: Intercepted Letters, Interrupted Seductions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), and Rhonda Batchelor, 'The Rise and Fall of the Eighteenth Century's Authentic Feminine Voice', Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 6 (1994), 347-68.

(21) Burke, Reflections, p. 119.

(22) See Exodus 13. 18-22. For an alternative discussion of Porter's parallels between Wallace and Christ, and her use of the Old Testament, see Kelly, Historical Gothic, iv, pp. xxxiv-xxxvii.

(23) See Judges 8.

(24) For a discussion of the Jacobite attitude to history see Paul Kleber Monod, Jacobitism and the English People 1688-1788 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 49-54.

(25) For a brief view of the complexity of Scott's approach, see Jack Truten, 'Folklore and Fakelore: Narrative Construction and Deconstruction in the Scottish Novels of Sir Walter Scott', in Scott in Carnival (see Vakil, above), pp. 122-32; see also K. D. M. Snell, The Regional Novel in Britain and Ireland, 1800-1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(26) Walter Scott, The Bride of Lammermoor, in The Waverley Novels, intro. by Andrew Lang, 48 vols (London:Nimmo, 1893-1895), (1893), 10.

(27) For Porter's use of folklore see also Lynne Hamer, 'Folklore and History Studies in Early Nineteenth-Century England: Jane Porter and Anna Eliza Bray', Folklore Historian: Journal of the Folklore and History Section of the American Folklore Society, 10 (1993), 5-28.

(28) Porter's representation of the Commonwealth compares interestingly with Walter Scott's historical novels set around this period. Both Woodstock (1826) and Peveril of the Peak (1822) can be read in terms of the model of history as progress. In Peveril the Puritan Major Bridgenorth is financially shrewd during the interregnum but after the Restoration (when the cause becomes as 'romantic' as that of the Jacobites) he becomes increasingly fanatical. On the other hand, while Peveril and his father, the former Cavalier, operate in the genre of romance for much of the novel, and though Charles II notes that the plot has 'all the elements of romance, without the conclusion of them', he also states: 'The world [...] has changed since we were young. Men fought in the Civil War with good swords and muskets; but now we fight with indictments and oaths, and such like legal weapons' (The Waverley Novels, xv, 820, 700). Woodstock, set while Cromwell is temporarily successful and the Stuarts for the moment defeated, divides the qualities of romance and pragmatism more evenly among the protagonists (The Waverley Novels, xx).

(29) Jane and Anna Maria Porter, Tales round a Winter Hearth, 2 vols (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1826). The definition of 'culture' is contentious--for a brief discussion see Monod, p. 8; here, however, it is used in the sense of folk tale, myth, ballad, and popular custom.

(30) James Chandler, England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 44.

(31) Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757, 2nd edn 1759), ed. by Adam Phillips (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. xv. For Burke's aesthetic and political thought see in particular Luke Gibbons, Edmund Burke and Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), and Tom Furniss, Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender, and Political Economy in Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

(32) For an assessment of the mode, see Adrian Wilson and T. G. Ashplant, 'Whig History and Present-Centred History', Historical Journal, 31 (1988), 1-16. Its influence on British historiography is traced by Benedict Stuchtey, 'Literature, Liberty and Life of the Nation: British Historiography from Macaulay to Trevelyan', in Writing National Histories: Western Europe since 1800, ed. by Stefan Berger and others (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 30-46.

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