Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Picturing Property: 'Waverley' and the Common Law

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Picturing Property: 'Waverley' and the Common Law

Article excerpt

In Sir Walter Scott's Waverley (1814), landed property functions as a register of political and cultural change. A number of critics have emphasized property's importance for Waverley. Ian Duncan, for example, persuasively argues that the Bradwardine estate is the "true secret place" of Scott's novel, a point of crystallization for its meaning. His claim, however, that Waverley's transformation of the Bradwardine property culminates in the "recovery" of some earlier state is inaccurate. Like other critics who have emphasized property, Duncan fails to recognize that, under the guise of recovery and continuity, the transformed Bradwardine estate articulates a fundamental break with the past.(1)

The present essay seeks to identify the cultural and political meaning of this break. I will argue that the transformation of the Bradwardine estate in Scott's novel symbolizes Scotland's incorporation into Great Britain. My analysis will be guided by an examination of the different concepts of property in the English and Scottish legal traditions. Though crucial to understanding the political and cultural meaning of property's transformation, Scott's first novel has not been interpreted in light of these differences. They will help expose Waverley's concealed negotiation of English and Scottish national identities.(2)

I will further argue that the description of property in Waverley focuses the contradictions between two juridico-national ideologies associated with the construction of legitimacy in common and statute law. Waverley's descriptive strategies, as we will see, undercut the common law's model of legitimacy and its configuration of property. To those familiar with Scott's conservative political position, one of the more surprising results of this investigation will be Waverley's proximity--despite elaborate attempts at maintaining distance--to the legal philosophies of Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Paine.

My argument unfolds, then, on two levels. On one, I argue that the transformation of property in Scott's novel negotiates the nationalist conflict between England and Scotland. On the other, I argue that Waverley's description of property problematizes a change in the construction of legitimacy and nationality that affects Great Britain as a whole. While the conflict between England and Scotland is crucial to an adequate understanding of Scott's novel, the concentration on property also forces us to look beyond this conflict at meanings of a more general cultural and historical nature. Even though they occasionally overlap, these two levels of the property theme in Waverley have to be clearly distinguished.(3)

The main focus of Waverley's representation of property is Tully-Veolan, the landed estate of the Jacobite Scotsman Baron Bradwardine. It is described at three strategic points in Scott's text: before the Jacobite uprising of 1745, after its defeat, and after Baron Bradwardine is pardoned for his participation in the rebellion and regains possession of his forfeited estate. The first description of the Bradwardine property opens with the emblems of the Bradwardine family, a sign of ancestral right that recurs in the two subsequent depictions of Tully-Veolan:

In the centre of the exterior barrier was the upper gate of the avenue,

opening under an archway, battlemented on the top, and adorned with

two large weather-beaten mutilated masses of upright stone, which, if

the tradition of the hamlet could be trusted, had once represented, at least

had been once designed to represent, two rampant bears, the supporters

of the family of Bradwardine.(4)

Under the surface of this unassuming passage one can decipher, I believe, outlines of the juridico-national ideology that is overturned in the course of Waverley's events. The important point of the description is that to an outsider, merely "mutilated masses of upright stone" are visible. …

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