The Literature of Roguery - Vol. 2

By Frank Wadleigh Chandler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
ROMANTIC ROGUERY FROM SCOTT TO
BULWER

1. Scott

IT was no part of the service of Walter Scott to rehabilitate the picaresque novel. He sought rather to temper the raw realism and crude melodrama of the eighteenth century with the spirit of true romance. Cervantes, two hundred years earlier, had modified romantic idealism with picaresque realism in "Don Quixote"; Scott reversed the process in the "Waverley Novels". He restored to fiction its lost balance, and what had been hysterical and false in the Otrantos and Udolphos was reduced to probability, while what had been low and mean in the Peregrine Pickles and John Junipers was raised to the plane of art. So skillfully were the two elements blended that a fiction truer to life than either resulted. The rogue of the realistic novel in ceasing to occupy the centre of the stage changed his nature, and usurped something of glamour from the hero of romance. The hero in turn caught more than a hint from the rogue.

Scott himself perceived the tendency. Writing of "Waverley" he confessed, "I am a bad hand at depicting a hero properly so called, and have an unfortunate propensity for the dubious characters of borderers, Highland robbers, and all others of a Robin Hood description." Yet he had frowned upon Defoe's secondary fictions, saying, "Though we could select from these

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