EESE 11/2001

"Woefully deficient in knowledge
of Costume & manners":
Scott's English Predecessors


Frauke Reitemeier (Göttingen)


Anyone walking into a bookstore will notice the immense popularity of historical novels, no matter whether they describe life at a pharao's court in ancient Egypt or tell the story of some medieval murderer tracked down by a sharp-eyed monk. When reading historical novels first came into fashion in the early 19th century with the publication of the then anonymous Waverley, they were equally popular with the readers, thus helping the novel to gain a new, and better, reputation than it had enjoyed before. After all, novelists, with the exception of a few notable examples such as Samuel Richardson or Henry Fielding, were generally considered to produce ill-written and worse-plotted pieces fit only for the rather uneducated reader. Sir Walter Scott's first novel with its intricate combination of history and fiction proved to be a turning point.

That authors had subtitled their novels 'historical' for more than fifty years before Waverley was written has widely been disregarded. Considering the increasing importance of history for the public in the 18th century it would have been a surprise if novelists had not made use of the matter, though: The threat the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 posed to a united Great Britain, although it proved short-lived, the revolution of 1789 in France, the wars with France about the American settlements, and the subsequent Wars of Independence are only a few of the major events in the late 18th century the average Englishman could not but notice: This was 'history in action'making the past different from the present and undermining any sense of continuity. As such, it must have been perfect for authors interested in feeding their readers' imagination. Strangely enough, only very few novels deal with those big events; most authors preferred to set their stories in more distant times. But the background necessary for a favourable reception was there: a readership increasingly aware of history.1


Yet, historical novelists before Scott have only rarely been the object of research. Even those who have dealt with the history of the genre tend to dismiss them as being largely unworthy of notice. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are only few studies dealing with Scott's relation to his predecessors.

To name but a few, J. M. S. Tompkins devotes one chapter to 'The Stirring of Romance, and the Historical Novel',2 focusing on the central motifs and judging the novels primarily on their morality. Avrom Fleishman sums up the period before the publication of Waverley in only a few sentences.3 Two older studies, those of Dora Binkert and Gerhard Buck4 which expressly deal with the genre before Waverley's publication, rely mainly on the novels' contents without attempting to outline the underlying structures. In more recent years, Heinz-Joachim Müllenbrock, who has dealt with the history of the genre before Scott in several of his publications, characterises Scott's relation to his precursors in terms of 'proximity' and 'distance'.5 He centres on the usage of history, however, so that the basic structures of the novels are only roughly shown. The most detailed of recent studies by Rainer Schöwerling6 also classes novels according to their central motifs, without taking other structural elements into account. But Schöwerling very modestly points out that his is only a "preliminary survey",7 intended as a basis for future research.

Considering that Scott's predecessors' works have never been properly analysed, especially in order to establish why they are called 'historical', the insistence on Scott being the first author to write a historical novel does strike one as somewhat premature, however. Statements as to the structure of pre-Waverley novels are for the most part missing. There must have been at least a superficial reason for authors to refer to their novels as 'historical'. It may very well be that literary critics nowadays use the term differently from authors in the late eighteenth century. There is a chance, then, however slight, that Waverley was not the first but only a different kind of historical novel. That can only be determined by comparing Scott's structural model for the Waverley Novels with that - or those - of authors before him. This is precisely the aim of the present study.

There are several possibilities to set about such a task. The method chosen here is to introduce the reader to some selected novels, each of which will be exemplary in some way, so as to present a broad spectrum of different kinds of writing; which will then be reduced to the main identifiable structural models. Thus, it is to be hoped that the results will not only appear a merely theoretical device but relate to actual texts. In order to avoid having to juggle with potentially confusing terms,8 'historical' will be used throughout the article to denote 'containing elements of history, such as persons that are identifiable, events that can be proved to have taken place, or the recreation of a historical surrounding'. Thus, a novel will be called 'historical' if any one of these elements is extant. It is admittedly a rather vague definition. But, at the same time, that very vagueness constitutes its main advantage: Using such a definition means working with a broad basis of novels, so that the chances of ignoring anything vital are minimised.

As for the starting point of a detailed study, several possibilities present themselves as suitable criteria. Schöwerling, for example, groups the novels he examines according to their predominant motifs, arguing that a comparison with those Scott uses in his novels could furnish us with a clue to what he took from earlier fiction.9 Schöwerling's types include among others the "political roman à clef" and the novel of "sensational adventures" as well as "the romance of chi[val]ry".10 This seems a somewhat problematic way of determining Scott's indebtedness to other authors, however. In the 18th century, literary motifs were used across the genres, as has been shown conclusively in a detailed study of popular fiction.11 Even if Scott uses motifs that Schöwerling identifies as dominant in one of his types, it does not necessarily follow that Scott knew that particular type of novel. He could have taken them from elsewhere.

A more promising way lies in examining the structures of the novels, especially those elements that form the very basis, in order to get a model, a blue-print, of historical fiction before Scott. The key elements of prose fiction are (1) the narrator, being the character that stands between the narrative and the reader, occupying the central role of mediating between them, determining which facts or opinions to tell and which to suppress; (2) the hero as the main focal point of the narrative; (3) the action itself; (4) other characters, especially those that shape the hero's immediate surroundings; and (5) the framework,12 containing elements such as the rooms people move in, the clothes they wear, the landscape in which they live, the language they speak, the habits they have. Other elements could of course be added, such as the use of time, or other underlying structural principles, but the five mentioned above mainly constitute fiction. Because of that, it should be easy to compare the uses they are put to in historical fiction before Scott with how Scott himself handles them. This, then, should throw at least some light on Scott's indebtedness to his predecessors.

The easiest starting point of a structural analysis is the central character, as it is usually the mainstay of the narrative. In historical fiction there are, broadly speaking, three different kinds of hero: One that is modelled on a historical person such as William Wallace or James III, a second that is pseudo-historical, meaning that he is authenticated by being added, as it were, to the genealogical tree of a really existing family without having ever lived himself, and a third that is purely fictitious. The following analyses will show how the five basic elements of fiction work together with each type of hero.


A typical example of a novel with a historical protagonist is Foster's Jaquelina of Hainault.13 She is the daughter and only child of William of Bavaria, therefore the only heir, which brings her in conflict with the powerful Duke of Brabant, who is bent on marrying her for political reasons. She refuses him, marries the Duke of Touraine instead, but is forced to accept a second proposal from the Brabantian after her husband's death. Although she has fallen in love with the Duke of Gloucester - as he has with her - she remains true to her husband, who nevertheless imprisons her in a solitary tower for supposed adultery; but she manages to escape to England. After some manoeuvring, trying to find assistance and getting a dispensation, she marries the Duke of Gloucester, though her second husband is still alive; the dispensation, however, is declared invalid, Hainault threatened with war. To save the Duke of Gloucester from having to fight the Duke of Brabant personally, she agrees to accept Pope Martin's judgement, who tells her to return to the Duke of Brabant; she refuses that, but leaves Gloucester and finally dies shortly after in England.

This is a very rough outline of the main action. Anybody versed in English or European history of the 15th century immediately recognises the main events: the scheming of the Duke of Brabant against the French king, Henry V's Hundred Years' War against France, the protectorship of the Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester. Equally evident, however, is the focal point. The novel does not so much deal with historical events, political factions and their respective positions, but rather with the private life and affairs of Jaquelina of Hainault: She does not like the Duke of Brabant and therefore refuses to marry him.14 She seems to have committed adultery and is for that reason imprisoned.15 The same is true for the other historical characters; politics casts a shadow over them, but it does not force them into action. Henry V tries to get an exemption from Pope Benedict not because a marriage between Jaquelina and the Duke of Gloucester would be politically convenient, but because he likes her personally very much, as does his wife, and he would fulfil her every wish.16 Political reasons are sometimes discernible in the background, but it is always the private side of life, emotions and personal opinions, that shape the heroine's - and, for that matter, the other characters' - reactions and resolves. The fact that a person called Jaquelina of Hainault once actually existed is hardly relevant at all.

The narrator's stance mirrors this quite clearly. Jaquelina's story is told by an omniscient third-person narrator, who does not develop into a character himself; he is merely a voice. Throughout the novel he is very sympathetic with his heroine. He rarely criticises her, and when he does so, he always mitigates his judgement by giving some explanations. Great pains are taken to prove that though she may be hasty she herself is in no way responsible for the dreadful things happening to her.17 The narrator presents her as being far too virtuous for that. He takes his subject very seriously; irony or sarcasm is very rarely to be found in the text. His aim is to make the reader feel with her, not to show her objectively as a distanced biographer would do. To achieve that, the narrator keeps close contact with Jaquelina's feelings, which he describes to the reader, whereas he hardly ever gives any background information on historical events or situations. The Great Schism, for example, which plays a certain role in the final separation of Jaquelina from Gloucester, is not explained, but merely stated. It is a convenient device in the narrative, but it is quite unnecessary for the reader to understand why and how it happened. Only the Popes' different attitudes towards the marriage are of importance.

The framework also supports this. Unless the action requires it, very few details are given of how people dress, what their palaces look like, what they do in their spare time, what they eat or drink. Although Jaquelina is kept imprisoned for quite a while, neither the tower's interior nor her own daily routine are delineated. The main stress is on the action, not on the surroundings; it is enough to say that the tower is situated somewhere on a bleak coast to conjure up images of loneliness and a feeling of sympathy with the wrongly accused heroine.18 The setting simply does not have an importance of its own.19

The novel as a whole, therefore, cannot be called highly historical. Neither the characters nor the action or the framework contribute much in this respect, although many of the characters are at least historical. The subtitle, therefore, is not entirely misleading. Similar novels are, for example, Jane Porter's Scottish Chiefs, Henry Siddons' William Wallace, and Clara Reeve's Roger de Clarendon.20 Other novels do not even go to such lengths, as could be shown by analysing Jane Porter's Thaddeus of Warsaw or John Agg's MacDermot.21

Sophia Lee's The Recess and Anna Maria Mackenzie's Danish Massacre22 both contain examples of the second, the pseudo-historical type of hero, but they work along different lines: Mackenzie's novel shows much the same structure as Foster's Jaquelina of Hainault whereas Lee's novel seeks to outline history with slightly more care.

The Danish Massacre is set in the first decades of the 11th century. The heroine, Elfrida, the only daughter of Ethelred the Unready, tries to mediate between Britons and Danes for mainly personal reasons: she has found a friend in the Danish princess Gunilda,23 and she likes - possibly loves - General Guiderius, who shows himself rather sympathetic to the Danish cause.24 She, too, like Jaquelina, is asked to marry someone she does not like. Her enemy and suitor is Edrie Streou, Duke of Mercia, and the most powerful man in the whole of England. His marriage to Elfrida could secure his accession to the throne, for which reason he insists on it, and Ethelred is too weak to resist: Elfrida has to leave England for Ireland to avoid being used as a pawn.25 Relief is finally brought by Sweyn's victory over the English army; Streou is banished, and ends - after a fruitless attempt at regaining power - his life somewhere in Wales.26

The summary shows two things: first, that for the most part Elfrida's life is the centre of action, and secondly, that the narrator completely loses interest in her at the end. He does not even tell the reader whether she finally marries Guiderius or not. The reason for this shift lies in the source the narrator pretends to follow: It is a manuscript, allegedly found in a Welsh cave, written by a rather penitent Streou. Why Elfrida's life is the story's mainstay if Streou's narrative is its basis remains unclear; it certainly does not make much sense. Streou does not share Elfrida's life, after all. But she is much more interesting to the reader. Much like Jaquelina she is a virtuous and benevolent young woman, beautiful, artless and easily impressed by the misfortunes of others,27 and she is relentlessly pursued by a scheming villain. Exciting sympathetic feelings for her is much easier than for Streou. Again, as in Foster's Jaquelina of Hainault, it is the heroine's private life that is stressed, not so much the political events. The introduction of danegeld, for example, is partly explained with Streou's cowardice, partly - though this is not made explicit - because Streou wants to discredit the pro-Danish politics of his rival Guiderius.28 Similarly, Elfrida's reason for escaping to Ireland are grounded purely in her dislike of Streou, not in considerations about the possible bad consequences her marriage could have for England.

But the parallels between Mackenzie's Danish Massacre and Foster's Jaquelina of Hainault lie not only in the treatment of the protagonist and the shaping of the action. Here, too, the framework is largely disregarded, as are historical connections between events. Not even religious differences between the Christian Britons and the predominantly heathen Danes are instrumentalised; if it were not for the narratological necessity of Elfrida gaining a Danish woman friend, the Danish princess Gunilda would most likely not have been introduced as the converted Athela. The main difference between the two novels, then, is the pseudo-historicity of the protagonist. The Danish Massacre can be seen as typical of most historical novels with such heroes, though not of all: Lee's The Recess shows that another use of this device is possible.

It tells the stories of the twin daughters of Mary, Queen of Scots, who are brought up secretly. Matilda, the main narrator, falls in love with and ultimately marries Lord Leicester, who takes the two with him to Kenilworth Castle but does not dare to publicise his marriage, because he is afraid of offending Queen Elizabeth.29 Matilda's sister Ellinor, on the other hand, falls in love with Lord Essex, another of Elizabeth's favourites.30 The lives of the two sisters drift apart: After a series of adventures in which Leicester is killed, Matilda spends several years in a Jamaican prison before returning to England.31 Ellinor is forced to marry Lord Arlington against her will in order to separate her from Lord Essex, and finally goes mad.32 Even after Ellinor's and Elizabeth's deaths the trials are not over for Matilda; the young Prince Henry falls in love with her daughter,33 who in turn has only eyes for the Earl of Somerset. Henry dies and is believed to have been poisoned,34 and immediately Matilda is suspected as the murderer. She can clear that doubt, but ultimately her daughter is poisoned too, and Matilda decides to settle in France, from where she tells her life and that of her sister to a friend.

Even the rough outline shows that the role history plays is larger than in Mackenzie's novel: there are more historical characters, some of the contemporary key events are used in the narrative - Essex' trial and death, for example, or Prince Henry's death. If all this were connected with just one female character it would appear improbable. By dividing the action roughly equally between Ellinor and Matilda, this pitfall is avoided, and the reader will be more inclined to accept the narration as probable.

The reader is not only told about people and events, he also learns something about contemporary clothing. Matilda is very explicit in detailing peoples' appearances, including her own, and she always stresses both the material and the colour of their clothes.

[...] of a noble height and perfect symmetry, he [Leicester] would have had an air too majestic, but that the sweetness of his eyes and voice tempered the dignity of his mien. His complexion was of a clear and polished brown; his eyes large, dark, and brilliant; his hair gracefully marked the turn of all his features, and his dress was of a dove-coloured velvet, mingled with white sattin [sic] and silver [...].35

The function of the passage lies not only in the implicit characterisation of Leicester as a man inclined to peace - 'dove-coloured' is a revealing adjective - but also in forming a visual picture in the reader's mind of how people looked and what they used to wear. There are, in fact, certain elements of Alltagsgeschichte here.

In other respects, Matilda does not behave any differently from other narrators. Although several recognisably historical events are woven into the action, she rarely cares for a detailed analysis of the reasons and political constellations that occasioned them. The pattern is the same as in Mackenzie's and Foster's novels: Political events are triggered by private life, by a person's feelings, reactions or beliefs. Political manoeuvring, even when it does occur, is always occasioned by someone's private ambitions.

Moreover, in spite of Matilda's interest in peoples' clothes and looks, she tells very little, if anything at all, about the various countries she lives in - it should be pointed out that the geographical scope of The Recess is far larger than that of most of its contemporary novels36 - or even towns, buildings, or rooms. As to this, she hardly differs from the third-person narrators of other stories. Despite her attempts at painting at least certain shades of her time, Lee's novel is not deeply steeped in history. Again, though, as verifiable characters and events are used, the novel has some claim to be called 'historical'.

On the whole, it does not seem that 18th-century authors were overly fond of pseudo-historical heroes; of a sample of 35 novels, only 4 use this device.37 Of these novels, Lee's Recess is - for all its limited scope - the one that makes the most of history. Of course, it takes much more care and knowledge on the author's side to invest a hero with a life-story that fits in with provable events or people. That seems to be the reason why most authors choose a purely fictitious protagonist.

The greater number of narrators in these novels do not greatly interest themselves in history. A typical novel of this kind is Mrs. Barnby's The Rock, or Alfred and Anna.38 Its only claim to historicity lies in one sentence each at the beginning and end of the narrative:

In the year 1280, when cruel war desolated the kingdom of Scotland, and party feuds created civil broils among the chieftains, Lord Dunscombe, the head of a great clan, retired from the tumult to a Castle he possessed in the northern part, near the sea [...].
No legal claimant belonging to the estates of Duncombe [sic] and Malcolmb [sic] remaining, they were seized by Baliol, the ninety-ninth King of Scotland, in the year 1332; party feuds having reigned for more than a century after, they were permitted to fall to decay, and all that remains of their former grandeur is a heap of ruins.39

The primary aim of this is to evoke a vague understanding of the general setting of the story; what follows, however, is neither embedded in this nor makes any reference whatsoever to historical realities. If the reader does not precisely know what war and what feuds are referred to, he will still perfectly understand the story itself.

The case is somewhat different in the anonymous Minstrel.40 It is set in the 15th century, the time of the Wars of the Roses, and the heroine's fate leads her directly into the midst of the conflict. Eleanor, the daughter of the Earl de Longueville, is loved by Philip, the son of the scheming nobleman St. Julian, but she herself loves the much more deserving St. Maur. St. Julian stages an attack on Eleanor's father and imprecates St. Maur, who is absent at the time;41 the Earl vanishes, his wife dies shortly after. When St. Julian wants to enforce the marriage between Eleanor and his son, she escapes and wanders about England, disguised as a minstrel.42 She meets the Royal family, who have also taken flight, and stays with them for a while, only to leave in disgust at the Queen's cruelty towards a prisoner of war.43 Some time later she finds St. Maur and Philip, her prospective bridegroom, both severely wounded; St. Maur even seems dead, but she manages to save Philip - who does not recognise her - and, through him, comes in touch with the Yorkist Earl of Warwick. He employs her, still disguised as a minstrel, to teach her daughters the harp.44 When Eleanor learns of an affair between Edward, by now crowned King of England, and Elizabeth Grey, she has to leave again.45 After a series of adventures including further escapes, betrayals and meetings with rather doubtful people matters come to a close when Edward of England insists on bringing the captive St. Maur to trial; St. Julian's hand in the attack on her father is discovered, the Earl miraculously reappears, and St. Maur finally marries Eleanor.46

Eleanor, then, accomplishes something none of the other heroes does: She meets people from both sides of the contest, she comes to know them - and shares her knowledge with the reader - which results in a relatively balanced picture of the contestants. Moreover, they are not simply shown in black and white; both sides have faults as well as redeeming character traits. The Royal family, especially the Queen, are charming and kind to the completely unknown 'minstrel', but also unnecessary cruel and brutal. The Earl of Warwick, on the other hand, is equally attentive to Eleanor, generous and open-hearted, but at the same time quite insensible to the sufferings of people around him that somehow have to survive the prolonged war. In addition to the high-ranking families, Eleanor also meets a number of other people - craftsmen, servants, members of the clergy, farmers - and comes to understand their respective situations in a country ravaged by war.47 Thus, the novel attempts to paint a vivid picture of the time chosen as a setting.

This is only possible, however, by disguising the heroine as a male character. Females traditionally do not have as much room for moving and for coming into contact with important historical characters as men have.48 Women usually have no part in politics or war; their place is at home, supervising kitchen and household cores, where they come in touch with the victims of politics only through charity. Eleanor, in her disguise, keeps the sympathetic female approach to others and gains at the same time a man's freedom of moving relatively unmolested.

The third-person narrator focuses mainly on Eleanor's life, only occasionally inserting remarks on the lineage of characters, or the ground for some historical quarrel. All other information - and there is more than appears at first sight - is given through the characters, in dialogues, discussions or inserted letters and memoirs.

Yet, in other respects the novel does not widely differ from others. Little information, for example, is given on geographical surroundings or on elements of Alltagsgeschichte such as clothes or food. Besides, here, too, the action is centred on the private life of Eleanor, not on historical events. What happens is more often than not triggered by the fictitious characters' emotions, resentment, or ambition. Towards the end, history disappears more and more, hardly resurfacing even in the - also privately motivated49 - reasons of Edward to enforce St. Maur's trial. The Minstrel's chief merit, then, lies in the narrator's attempts at showing important historical persons through their reactions to the fictitious heroine as human, and at illustrating the consequences political decisions have on ordinary people.


That the question of whether the hero is a historical person is not the decisive factor for the level of the novel's historicity should be apparent by now. Rather, it seems to be the narrator's interest in - and knowledge of - history: The Minstrel's narrator is clearly concerned to make whatever facts and opinions he has gathered available to the reader. Matilda's case is similar, though less marked. The narrator in Foster's Jaquelina of Hainault, on the other hand, as well as that of Mrs. Barnby's The Rock, is not interested in history, and consequently history is by and large ignored.

Two models, then, can be outlined for historical novels written around 1800: The first, type I, is that of the majority of contemporary 18th-century novels, showing little interest in history, and the second (type II) that of only a handful of novels, characterised by the narrator's greater seriousness concerning facts and events. The two types only differ in some elements, however, as a closer look at them will show.

Both types share the same sort of protagonist. The hero may be male or female. He or she is, as a rule, virtuous and young, belongs to the nobility - in some cases even to Royalty - and is often subject to envy if male, or to unwanted attentions of some suitor or other if female. The need to escape or to go into hiding is the usual consequence. But where type I novels simply state the fact, e. g. only mention the escape, type II novels are happy to illustrate the changed situation the hero finds him- or herself in. The different social ranks encountered, different opinions or lifestyles are pointed out, occasionally even in some detail. In both types, however, the hero's virtue and steadfastness are always preserved and finally rewarded.

The protagonist's lineage is comparatively irrelevant. Type I novels indiscriminately use all three kinds - historical, pseudo-historical, and purely fictitious - without distinctive differences. In type II novels, the purely fictitious hero seems to be the narrator's first choice.50 The main reason for this presumably lies in the greater liberty a narrator has with such a protagonist; inventing a fictitious life for a historical person means running the risk of being called a liar by a reader interested enough to check up on him. This, of course, also applies to type I narrators; but as they rarely claim to follow historical verity, few readers will be led to confuse fiction with truth.

As to the action, novels of the two types are quite similar. Both stress the protagonist's private life before any historical event woven into the action. Both models largely depend on private events to trigger, or at least help to explain, historical incidents. Type I novels show a certain tendency to take historical happenings as a backdrop only, whereas type II novels occasionally treat them as important in their own right. But, as the analysis of Foster's Jaquelina of Hainault has proven, even novels that use many historically important events do not necessarily belong to the second type, quite in contrast to Lee's Recess, for example. With respect to action, then, the differences between the two models are not very marked.

To a certain extent, the same also applies to the narrator figure. The standard is an omniscient third-person narrator that appears merely as a voice, without acquiring a life of his own. First-person narrators are comparatively rare. Narrators of both types focus largely on the protagonist's private life. One of the main distinctive features is, however, the narrator's attitude towards the historical part of his narrative. Here type II narrators go to some lengths to explain a certain situation, a character's genealogy, or differences between past and present, type I narrators are usually quiet about all that, at best behaving as if the reader knows all about it anyway.

The same difference applies to the setting in general. Type II novels usually detail at least some part of the action's framework: clothes, habits, the lifestyle of other people, architecture, or - rarely - geography. Admittedly, none of the novels manages to paint a round and convincing picture of the protagonists physical and social surroundings. Yet the details that are given point out the narrator's awareness that a historical novel should also care for the way life was led in the past. The historicity of those 'historical' novels must be seen as predominantly superficial, referring mainly to events or minor characters that are woven into the story; these novels are not 'about history', but usually only 'set in historical surroundings'.


Scott admits to having read multitudes of romances in his youth,51 without specifying what kind of text he has in mind. To Scott, 'romance' chiefly refers to texts that contain an action which does not, or which at least does not seem to have a natural explanation. Thus, Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto is not classified as a novel, but as a romance.52 Scott is however not very consistent in his use of technical terms; although his remarks on the reading material of his youth are rather vague, his lifelong interest in history does not make it seem all that unlikely that he would not include historical novels in the term 'romance' as well.

In 1805, then, the year that Scott writes the first chapters of Waverley, it is the models outlined above that present themselves as possible guidelines for his novel. To assess his indebtedness to them, Scott's own way of using history in fiction should be analysed.

So much has already been written on the different elements that make up the Waverley Novels that a short summary will be enough to serve as a basis for the intended comparison. Scott's heroes are young, good-looking and intelligent but thoughtless or inexperienced, and usually male.53 All of them are fictitious. So is the action, but historical events are woven into it. In all novels, they have some effect on the protagonists; often they induce a change in the hero's character, sometimes only in the course of his life. The story is told, as a rule, by an omniscient third-person narrator who clearly enjoys his role as a mediator, showing compassion for the characters and a sense of fun towards the reader. The action is garnished with a multitude of secondary characters, historical facts and sometimes lavish descriptions of clothes, habits, peoples' appearances. Much of this is supplemented by extensive annotations, at least in the later editions.54

This is the basis of all Waverley Novels. Depending on their respective centres of interest - Scotland and Scottish history, the Middle Ages up to Elizabethan times, or the Scottish society of around 1800 - the model is slightly varied, forming three sub-groups. Only the first two will be analysed in this respect, however, the third - that containing novels set around 1800 - is, on the whole, far less interesting and historical.55

The central figure of the protagonist, on the whole, shows few variations: His character in most of the Waverley Novels is fundamentally the same. But differences are apparent with respect to his actions: Although none of Scott's heroes tends to be highly active from the first, the protagonists of the Scottish novels are sooner or later spurred into action, more often than not from a sense of having neglected their duties. In the novels set in the Middle Ages this does not hold equally true. Both Ivanhoe and Kenneth, the hero of The Talisman, are incapacitated - one way or the other - for most of the time. This has consequences in several respects. For one thing, the Scottish protagonists change somewhat in the course of the story, which does not hold true in the same degree in the other novels. Other consequences lie in the different structuring of the plot and the uses made of historical characters.

The Scottish novels are focussed on the hero and his adventures. They chiefly show what he does, and accordingly there is usually only one story-line. The historical characters have a certain influence on the hero's way of life, on his thoughts and also on the course of his life, but they appear mainly in the background. In the novels set in the Middle Ages, we often find a double story-line, one centring on the hero, the other on a historical character. Thus, the narrator in Ivanhoe alternately tells what Richard I alias 'Le Noir Fainéant' does and what happens to Ivanhoe. Whenever Ivanhoe is wounded or imprisoned, the story switches to Richard. By contrast, The Heart of Midlothian is exclusively centred on Jeanie Deans, the Duke of Argyle appearing only as a very minor character, and in Waverley Bonnie Prince Charlie is solely shown together with Edward Waverley.

Regarding the structure of the narrative, then, the historical characters are rather more important in the novels set in the Middle Ages; at the same time, however, they become less convincing than those in the Scottish novels. By presenting them alongside other fictitious characters without paying overmuch attention to biographical details - which, for the most part, are scarce anyway - the narrator obscures what differences the reader would note between purely fictitious characters and persons that have actually played a part in history. The novels set in the Middle Ages somehow seem less historical than the Scottish novels.

This is only partly occasioned by the historical characters; another reason lies in the framework. The Scottish novels are full of all sorts of minor figures that are characterised not only by their rank and the function they fulfil within the story, but also through their clothes, habits, way of life, and speech. The dialect shows them firmly rooted in a non-English culture, emphasising the difference already apparent in the detailed descriptions of land- and cityscapes, buildings, settings in general. Scotland is - at least to the English reader - terra incognita, and those descriptions help him visualise it. At the same time, it strengthens the reader's goodwill towards the protagonist who is usually also a stranger in the country he journeys to: Waverley is an Englishman who unexpectedly finds him in the very heart of Scotland, and so is Francis Osbaldistone in Rob Roy; the Scotswoman Jeanie Deans, conversely, travels to England. The narrator always follows the hero's impressions, tells his thoughts, and what he sees, smells, and the differences he notes, and for the most part they are the impressions the reader has, too.

This only applies to the Scottish novels, however. In the other group, the protagonist moves in a world he knows, which contains few mysteries of this kind. The narrator therefore cannot use the protagonist as a guide or mediator. Instead he tends to give the relevant information himself, without using other characters. As a consequence, the style is markedly dryer and more fact-oriented than in the Scottish novels. There is also less humour; the narrator does not time and again poke fun at some of the characters or at the way he himself deals with the narrative.

The more intimately Scott knows the region as well as the society he is writing about, then, the more vivid are his descriptions, the more detailed is the picture he paints. 18th-century Scotland presents far more possibilities in this respect than medieval England, where his lack of equivalent knowledge is concealed by relying on well-known historical characters.


Setting Scott's model with its variations next to the two of his predecessors, there seem to be no obvious similarities at first sight. Yet there are; in some respects, Scott even does the same as authors before him, only occasionally adding or modifying the focus.

The average pre-Scott protagonist is male, fictitious, comes from a noble family and acts according to his social rank. He is normally on his own; only occasionally do we find a group of protagonists to whom basically the same attributes apply. Scott's single heroes are just the same. The only difference lies in Scott's use of groups of heroes: The social equality in his precursors' novels is changed. Some of the helpers - notably the father figures - are on the same social level with the protagonist; others are not, but are nevertheless described in detail and prove to be of great importance to the action. They are minor characters, but so close to both the hero and the action that they form a distinct centre of interest.

As far as the protagonist's function is concerned, there are also clear similarities, though only with some of the predecessors. Scott's heroes serve as windows into history, as it were; they demonstrate the importance historical events or people can have for individuals. This is precisely what type II novelists aim at, though they are not equally successful. Partly this is occasioned by the use they make of historical characters.

At first sight, though, both Scott and type II authors seem to do the same. The protagonist is brought into contact with historical characters, but ultimately goes his own way. But in many of Scott's Scottish novels, the hero's life is changed, as is his character. It is this latter change that marks the difference between Scott and his precursors: Even in type II novels, the hero essentially stays what he was, as far as his character is concerned. He does not materially alter. At the same time, this is where clear parallels between pre-Scott and Scott's medieval novels appear: here, the changes in the hero's character are reduced to an absolute minimum - indeed, one could debate whether the heroes develop at all.

To some extent, narrators in Scott's novels also seem to be based on the older models. This certainly applies to their tendency to avoid getting directly into contact with the reader, by trying to read his thoughts or feelings, or by anticipating his doubts. Scott's narrators, as a rule, only rarely address the reader directly, as do those in his precursors' novels.

Looking at the style of the narration, however, the situation is rather different. In Scott's novels we usually meet with a lively, good-humoured, occasionally funny narrator who does not take his narrative overly serious. In this he is almost exactly the reverse of the average pre-Scott narrator in historical novels, to whom narrating is a serious business that leaves no room for fun. The narrative style, then, is clearly not modelled on either of the historical types, but rather seems to take up the style of Sterne and Smollett.

This may also be the reason for the occasional remarks on literary theory that can be found in Scott's novels. They, too, mark a fundamental difference from his predecessors' novels where theorising is extremely scarce. Very few authors - all of them type II novelists - offer any remarks at all on their novels;56 none discuss, for example, the relation between history and fiction, what reasons there could be for embellishing historical facts with fictitious persons and incidents, or what consequences this could have for the reader.57 Scott is on the whole very reticent on that, too. But some of his narrators, as well as a number of his editor figures, demonstrate their awareness of narrative conventions and their superfluity for an intelligent reader, thus proving the author's insight into the mechanisms of narration.58

As far as the framework is concerned, the situation is quite similar. Here, too, we find both the continuation of older traditions and improvements on them. The most striking example for this is the geographical setting. Like his predecessors, Scott almost unvaryingly59 uses Britain for the geographical settings of his novels, thus centring on the region best known to him and his readers - but unlike most of his predecessors, he sets many of his novels in distinctly Scottish regions.60 They are described vividly and in great detail, usually from a point of view that equals the reader's, namely that of a stranger to Scotland and Scottish life. Even though Scott follows the same overall tendency as historical novelists before him of choosing a Britain-centred setting, then, he takes it much more seriously, regarding geographical descriptions not as a nuisance better to be left out altogether but as an element necessary for adding colour and for the reader's understanding of action and actors.

This also holds true for Scott's introduction of vividly described minor characters: They, too, add life to the story. It is not only their function as helpers or enemies to the protagonist that distinguishes them from similar character in older novels, but the fact that the reader can accept them as being true to life. As far as the framework is concerned, then, there are clear similarities between Scott and type II novelists - the framework is largely non-existent in type I novels - but they only relate to general traits. Earlier historical novels, then, use their descriptive subtitles like signposts: The reader may expect that at least part of the story or some of the characters are drawn from history. This does not necessarily imply that their description follows historiographical conventions. High-quality novels even try to go to some lengths in combining fiction and truth. Sir Walter Scott's kind of historical novel, on the other hand, rather aims at illustrating history's influence on the individual. The improvements and changes wrought by Scott on his predecessors' models all relate to the chief shortcomings of their novels, which he identifies quite clearly in a letter to his friend Robert Pearse Gillies, which accompanies an unnamed historical novel:

I return you with kind thanks [...] the novel which has a good deal of power in it though written by an author woefully deficient in knowledge of Costume & manners. When you meet a good novel you will oblige me by recommending it as though very fond of these fiction I seldom see them but on a friend's recommendations.61

It may be this very lack of knowledge that induced Scott not to refer to other historical novels in the introductory chapter of Waverley, where he discusses and rejects potentially suitable titles and, at the same time, genres. After all, he insists that his aim is to paint the Scottish "habits, manners, and feelings"62 that have changed beyond recognition in the last decades. Waverley is presented by its author not as a historical novel in the wake of his predecessors, but rather as a novel of historical manners - a definition that implicitly points both at the existence of a tradition and at the new facets Scott adds to it, creating a new tradition in turn.



1 It is somewhat doubtful which importance has to be assigned to explorers and the rise of early ethnography. Of course, reports about, say, James Cook's voyages of discovery were highly exciting to the public, and learning about foreign cultures - if only sporadically and predominantly judged through English eyes - may have sparked off a growing interest in one's own history and culture. Many, if not most, contemporary novelists are markedly disinterested in new cultures, though, so that the importance of the age of discovery for the development of the (historical) novel should not be overrated.

2 See J. M. S. Tompkins, The Popular Novel in England (London: Methuen 1969; first ed. 1932), chapter vi, 206-242. Historical novels feature mainly in the second part of the chapter (223-242).

3 See A. Fleishman, The Historical Novel. Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press 1971), 21 f.

4 See D. Binkert, Historische Romane vor Walter Scott (Berlin: Mayer/Müller 1915); G. Buck, Die Vorgeschichte des historischen Romans in der modernen englischen Literatur (Hamburg: Friedrichsen/de Gruyter 1931).

5 See for example H.-J. Müllenbrock, Der historische Roman des 19. Jahrhunderts (Heidelberg: Winter 1980); also his 'Die Entstehung des Scottschen historischen Romans als Problem der Literaturgeschichtsschreibung', Anglia 99 (1981), 355-378; also his 'The Precursors of Scott: The Simultaneity of Distance and Proximity', R. Schöwerling/H. Steinecke (eds.), Die Fürstliche Bibliothek Corvey: Ihre Bedeutung für eine neue Sicht der Literatur des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts. Beiträge des 1. Internationalen Corvey-Symposiums 25.-27. Oktober 1990 in Paderborn (München: Fink 1992), 218-222.

6 See R. Schöwerling, 'Sir Walter Scott and the Tradition of the Historical Novel - with a Checklist', U. Böker/M. Markus/R. Schöwerling (eds.), The Living Middle Ages. Studies in Medieval English Literature and its Tradition. A Festschrift for Karl-Heinz Goeller (Stuttgart: Belser 1989), 227-262.

7 Schöwerling, 'Tradition', 252.

8 Müllenbrock, for example, terms those novels 'historicising' ("historisierend", Historischer Roman, 20).

9 See Schöwerling, 'Tradition', 230.

10 For these and the other classifications see Sch÷werling, 'Tradition', 244-250.

11 See P. Gregory, The Popular Fiction of the Eighteenth-Century Commercial Circulating Libraries (Diss. Edinburgh 1984): In her analysis of the main motifs of 18th-century best sellers Gregory comes to the conclusion that motifs are used across the genres.

12 To avoid confusion, the term is not meant to refer to a frame-story, or narrative framing of whatever kind. It merely refers to the elements enumerated.

13 [E. M. Foster,] Jaquelina of Hainault. An Historical Novel (3 vols., London: Lane 1800). As Scott's novels are widely known and easily obtainable, unlike his predecessors', information as to the editions used will only be given about the latter. The date of the first editions is only mentioned if it is different from the publication year of the edition used.

14 See the characterisation of the young Duke in I, 17 f.; he is presented as an ugly, scheming and bigoted person. Jaquelina rejects the offer of marriage from the first; see her spirited, if somewhat hysterical, reply: "An exclamation of horror burst from the affrighted princess. [...] 'What, Brabant! that most hideous, frightful man!' exclaimed Jaquelina [...]. 'Receive him? - The duke of Brabant, as my husband? - Never! never!'" (Jaquelina, I, 21 f.)

15 See Jaquelina, II, 80-82 for the duke's reasons - revenge and hate - behind her imprisonment.

16 "Equally impelled by motives of compassion as from a desire to oblige his lovely consort, Henry now became the avowed protector of the beauteous and unfortunate duchess [...]." (Jaquelina, II, 127.)

17 See, for example, the narrator's attempts at exculpating her from a conscious neglect of her duties as a wife in Jaquelina, II, 65 f.

18 "At the extremity of his dominions, cold, comfortless, and exposed to the rude blast of every wind, was situated on the point of a huge rock, which reared its craggy sides from amid the watery expanse, a tower that, in former times, had been erected by the Brabantines as a place of confinement whose crimes rendered them obnoxious to society. Loud angry waves continually roared against the battlements, and shook, with terrific violence, its lofty sides." (Jaquelina, II, 80 f.)

19 A good example of a long and detailed, but completely superfluous passage is in Jaquelina, II, 56 f.: It contains the description of a garden, decorated for a feast, in which Jaquelina and Gloucester will meet later on. The description is not referred to later on, nor are the different elements - statues, grottoes and such - taken up and used in the narrative. It is, moreover, the only such passage in the novel.

20 J. Porter, The Scottish Chiefs. A Romance (2 vols., London: Bentley 1835; first ed. 1810); H. Siddons, William Wallace: or, The Highland Hero. A Tale, Founded on Facts (2 vols., London: Wilkie 1791); C. Reeve, Memoirs of Sir Roger de Clarendon, the Natural Son of Edward Prince of Wales, Commonly Called the Black Prince; with Anecdotes of many other Eminent Persons of the Fourteenth Century (3 vols., London: Hookham/Carpenter 1793). The novel tells two stories in one, that of the apocryphal Sir Roger and that of Edward the Black Prince; this latter story is told by Sir Roger to his father-in-law to account for his mysterious earlier behaviour, but it is in fact much longer and more important than Sir Roger's own story. Edward therefore must be seen as the real protagonist.

21 J. Porter, Thaddeus of Warsaw (2 vols., Boston: Blake 1809; first ed. 1803) ; J. Agg, MacDermot; or, The Irish Chieftain. A Romance, Intended as a Companion to the Scottish Chiefs (3 vols., London: Chapple 1810). Agg's novel is the only one in a sample of 35 novels that contains a protagonist characterised in unequivocally negative terms. For more detailed information on the selection and scope of the novels, see F. Reitemeier, Deutsch-englische Literaturbeziehungen: Sir Walter Scott und seine deutschen Vorläufer (Paderborn: Schöningh 2001), 21 f.

22 [S. Lee,] The Recess; or A Tale of other Times (3 vols., London: Cadell 1785); [A. M. Mackenzie,] The Danish Massacre: an Historic Fact (2 vols., London: Lane 1792; first ed. 1791).

23 The greater part of vol. I is dedicated to Elfrida's attempts at shielding Gunilda/Athela from Streou's malice. Her interest in and friendship for Gunilda are first due to Gunilda's situation as a hostage (see Danish Massacre, I, 52-59), but later become more general as Elfrida senses a kindred soul in her.

24 See, for example, his generous attempt at saving Gunilda, whom he knows to be a Danish princess (Danish Massacre, I, 125 f.).

25 See II, 95; escape from court seems the only way she can refuse to marry Streou - which she has promised - without openly breaking her promise.

26 See the Introduction (Danish Massacre, I, 1-27), especially the passage on 15 where the dying man reveals himself to be Streou, and 24-27 for an explanation of the manuscript the novel allegedly follows.

27 See the description in Danish Massacre, I, 30 f.

28 See Danish Massacre, II, 145-147.

29 See Recess, I, 165; 167: "I had the happiness to find Lord Leicester was received by the Queen with kindness [...]; he had therefore but one caution to observe, which was, to conceal this new union with more care than the last [...]."

30 See her confession to Matilda in Recess, II, 176.

31 It is not quite clear how long she stays in Jamaica; judging from the daughter's age it is something less than eight years (see Recess, II, 142).

32 She can only save Essex from his impending sentence if she consents to marrying; see Recess, II, 221 f.; her madness becomes apparent soon afterwards, but gets worse over the years (see III, 173).

33 "[...] he saw, or fancied he saw in my daughter, a wife alloted [sic] him by heaven [...]." (Recess, III, 249.)

34 His health is in rapid decline (Recess, III, 252); the rumours that he was poisoned come up shortly after his death (see III, 269).

35 Recess, I, 92.

36 Matilda successively lives in England, France, the Netherlands and Jamaica; most novels restrict themselves to setting the story in England (see Gregory, Popular Fiction, 158: "Most of the stories are set in this small corner of Britain [south-east and central southern England] and imply that everything of value is encapsulated in this little patch of the country.") It may well be that Lee's novel reflects the public interest in exploration and the South Sea discoveries.

37 See note 20.

38 [Mrs. Barnby,] The Rock, or Alfred and Anna. A Scottish Tale (2 vols., London: [printed for the author] 1798).

39 The first passage serves as the introduction (Rock, I, 13 f.), the second as the conclusion (II, 157).

40 Anon., The Minstrel, or Anecdotes of Distinguished Personages in the Fifteenth Century (3 vols., London: Hookham/Carpenter 1793).

41 The Earl narrowly escapes the first attempt at his life (Minstrel, I, 57 f.), but after his disappearance some time later a forged letter appears that points towards St. Maur (I, 75). St. Julian's part is only made public at the very end of the novel (III, 179-183).

42 See Minstrel, I, 80 f. for her resolution; it is her father's bard Fronsac that suggests the clothes of a bard as a suitable disguise (I, 88 f.).

43 See the lengthy description of the torture of the captive Duke of York in Minstrel, I, 195-197.

44 He considers her as too sensitive to be employed among soldiers, although he does not know her real sex, and therefore sends her away (Minstrel, II, 68).

45 "[...] the countess had no farther need of her services, and commanded her to depart the castle immediately." (Minstrel, II, 107.)

46 See Minstrel, III, 190.

47 This begins immediately after her escape: the first house she comes to is inhabited by two women whose husbands have joined the army on opposite sides, although they are brothers (see Minstrel, I, 97 f.).

48 Two other novels illustrate this quite clearly. A. Fuller's Alan Fitz-Osborne. An Historical Tale (2 vols., Dublin/London: Byrne 1787, first ed. 1786) and J. West's The Loyalists: An Historical Novel (2 vols., London: Longman/Hurst/Rees/Orme/Brown 1812): The respective protagonists are soldiers, fighting on their kings' side against his enemies. In both novels, the protagonists necessarily meet high-ranking nobles on both sides of the conflict precisely because they are soldiers. The women, on the other hand, notably those in West's novel, stay at home, fearing for the lives of their husbands, brothers or lovers, without the power to achieve anything of importance.

49 Edward believes St. Maur to be his rival in affection; he mistakes the concern Elizabeth Grey shows for Eleanor's fate for love towards St. Maur (Minstrel, III, 167-179).

50 There is a certain tendency in novels of the type II model to use two or more characters in the place of the single protagonist, as is shown by, for example, Lee's Recess. The advantage of this lies in the greater scope that can be presented convincingly.

51 See his 'Autobiography': "[...] not forgetting the usual, or rather ten times the usual, quantity of fairy tales, eastern story, romances, &c. [sic]." (J. G. Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. [7 vols., Edinburgh/London 1837], I, 1-60, quotation on 35.)

52 See his remarks on Walpole in The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (28 vols., Edinburgh/London: Cadell 1848), III: Biographical Memoirs, vol. I: 'Horace Walpole', 299-324, especially 313.

53 Only in The Heart of Midlothian does Scott use a single female protagonist; in two other novels, The Bride of Lammermoor and The Betrothed, we find two heroes, one of whom is female. Anne of Geierstein, despite its title, focuses on two males.

54 Waverley, which contains some 67 footnotes and 27 endnotes in the 1829 'Magnum Opus'-edition, originally shows only two footnotes (see Waverley, or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since [3 vols., Edinburgh: Constable 1814], I, 57 and I, 350). This is also true for the first editions of most of the other Waverley Novels.

55 This third group consists of novels such as St Ronan's Well and The Antiquary, which do contain historical references, but whose level of historicity is rather low.

56 See, for example, the antiquary J. Strutt: "But the chief purpose of the work, is to make it the medium of conveying much useful instruction, imperceptibly, to the minds of such readers as are disgusted at the dryness usually concomitant with the labours of the antiquary, and present them a lively and pleasing representation of the manners and amusements of our forefathers, under the form most likely to attract their notice." (Queenhoo-Hall, a Romance and Ancient Times, a Drama [ed. W. Scott, 4 vols., Edinburgh: Murray 1808], I, i. The italics are the original's.)

57 Occasionally prefaces hint that the reader should not take the word 'historical' too literally because the story is, in fact, fictitious; see for example the Advertisement to Lee's Recess (I, [i]). These remarks are scarce and do not serve as vehicles for literary theory, but only as a caution to the reader.

58 See for example the final chapter of Old Mortality: Peter Pattieson, who serves as a narrator, has passed his manuscript on to Miss Martha Buskbody for some sort of quality inspection, and is told that he must not, as he had intended, keep quiet about the future lives of his protagonists. Miss Buskbody represents both in her literary tastes and in her occupation the stereotype reader of a circulating library. Scott thus shows that he is quite aware of what an average reader expects, and that he himself considers that as rather superfluous.

59 Only four of Scott's novels are not set at all in Great Britain: Quentin Durward, The Talisman, Anne of Geierstein, and Count Robert of Paris.

60 Scotland only rarely figures as a setting in pre-Scott historical novels. Of a sample of 35 novels, only three are set exclusively in Scotland, and a further four place part of the story in Scotland. In none of them, however, is Scotland presented as a country distinctly different from England, which is the standard setting of novels in the eighteenth century.

61 H. J. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Sir Walter Scott (12 vols., London: Constable 1932-1937), III: 1811-1814 (1932), 427. The letter is undated; Grierson only adds '1814'.

62 Sir W. Scott, Waverley, or 'Tis Sixty Years Since (ed. A. Hook, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1972), 493.