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Edward Waverley: The Child of Caprice

Argues that 'Waverley' by Sir Walter Scott is an ambivalent text, seeking to chart a way between extreme positions (cultural as much as political).

?I am the very child of caprice,? said Edward Waverley to himself . . .#

The ambivalence of Edward Waverley as a wide range of opposing and extreme positions present themselves to him in the course of Sir Walter Scott?s novel is the ambivalence that society is faced with as old encounters new and same encounters different. That this is the natural order of things in the general process of human progress remains unchallenged. That there is a solution, of sorts, is Scott?s claim. That a way can be charted that might still ?add dignity to man?. This ?middle way?#, as Lukacs refers to it, is a widely framed integration that is seen as both inevitable and necessary for the greater good of all, but it should not prevent us from looking back with some regret at what has been lost - the casualties of progress that lie cold in the earth. This is the romantic edge to the realist Scott. The fringe of Syrian lace that borders his English tweed smoking jacket.

Sir Walter Scott is, himself, a Waverley-esque figure in many ways, so it seems not strange at all that he chose this topic to frame his first novel. While Scott was born and spent a large portion of his professional life in Edinburgh, it was the Border country between Scotland and England that was to fire his imagination. His discovery of and love for the Border Ballads#, with their mix of both English and Scottish characters and events, was to make a mark on him that would last a lifetime.# While being brought up a
strict Calvinist, his contact with the likes of Stewart of Invernahyle, the old Jacobite chief, and a ?Waverley-like? journey at the age of fifteen up to Perthshire and ?the Trossachs of Loch Katrine?# would re-enforce his passion while allowing him to tread the middle ground between. For while Scott adored such wanderings, and the many burnish?d sheets of living gold#, it was in Edinburgh that he returned to in body and mind, if not spirit.

In a similar way, Edward Waverley is offered as the product of extremities, and, indeed, a child of caprice. While his sensibilities are initially too simply romantic to fall foul of ambivalence, he is certainly already surrounded by opposing forces. His Uncle, Sir Everard, and his Aunt Rachael, are Tory, Catholic and, at least in sympathy, Jacobite. His father, Richard, the younger brother of Sir Everard, is Whig, Protestant and aligned with the house of Hanover, even if it is not out of sentiment but rather an effort to improve his position in society.# While Edward is adopted by Sir Everard as heir, it is to Richard that he owes his paternal duty, and already he must adopt a middle ground and, as a result, is allowed to become lost in romance and intellectual frivolity. The extremities that he is born into do not act against him in opposite directions, as if to pull his soul apart, but instead seem to compress him inward. Edward drinks deeply from the cup of whimsy, and, as Edward can be read as an embodiment of Scott?s England Sixty Years after, a point is made regarding the place Scott feels England may be falling to. A place where he ?might justly be considered as ignorant since he knew little of what adds dignity to man, and qualifies him to support and adorn an elevated situation in society.?#

The political extremities of Edward?s early life come further into focus after he takes up his position as a Kings Dragoon, as a result of his fathers position and not any personal ideology, and is thusly associated with the Hanover dynasty. But it is here that Scott muddies the waters. In a romance, or a Tale of Other Days, we might expect all protagonists to be polarised according to a black and white code of good and evil, right and wrong, but this is not the case. The Baron of Bradwardine, a Stuart supporting lowlander and friend of Sir Everard, offers his friendship without concern to a dragoon officer of the enemy, and goes so far as to take up his case against the Laird of Balmawhapple, a fellow Jacobite, after he insults the Hanovarian King.# Such an instance, particularly considering Edward?s romantic tendencies, demand he take up arms, but he is struck by ambivalence when considering the potential results of a duel where there appears to be ?no pleasant alternative even to the bravest, when it is debated coolly and in private.?# While considering the extremities of violence/honour and cowardice/dishonour, Edward finds a middle path, gratefully accepting an apology organised by the Baron.

Such ambivalence and the resulting capricious nature that Edward increasingly becomes prey to leads him further on and further on and into the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, as if pulled by a gradual tidal shift. But even with such things as the letter of the Lieutenant Colonel in his memory, his love for Flora, the fanatical Jacobite, in his heart and the knowledge that Tully-Veolan is under guard - the Baron a hunted man, Edward is able to let ?calm reflection? tell him that ?four monarchs had reigned in peace and glory over Britain? since the last Stuart sat on the throne, ?sustaining and exalting the character of the nation abroad, and its liberties at home. Reason asked, was it worth while to disturb a government so long settled and established and plunge a kingdom into all the miseries of civil war . . .?#. Reason still speaks to Edward and allows him to set aside passion, for the time being, and remain in the middle road. Scott subverts the rights or wrongs of the legal and political questions of Stuart or Hanover by asking, which road is better for the greater good of Britain? But Edward is still ambivalent and is swayed later by the passion and nobility of Prince Charles.

The cultural extremities at work in Waverley are equally divisive and equally chaotic in their very human manifestations. The initial culture shock for Edward upon reaching the lowlands at Tully-Veolan, where such a thing as black-mail is tolerated, are magnified further in the Highlands at Glennaquoich. Edward is literally run down in a stampede for want of the Gaelic tongue# and is so caught up with the romance and ?otherness? of his position that he cannot detect the wind of rebellion. When Edward is ?captured? at Cairnvrekan as a Jacobite rebel, it is not the English that rise up against him, but lowland Scots who are both Protestant and sided with Hanover against the Highlanders.

Indeed, at a crucial moment during the Battle of Culloden, in ?one of histories sad little ironies?, the Royal Ecossals, A French regiment of Scots, exchanges fire with the British Royal Scots regiment.# Equally, while the Highland Scots are connected to English Tories by political ties, the cultural difference is never more apparent when Edward observes their reaction as the Jacobite army marches through England where ?the ignorant gazed with astonishment, mixed with horror and aversion, at the wild appearance, unknown language and singular garb of the Scottish clans.?# It is not surprising that it is on the very next page that we can trace the beginnings of the end for the entire venture, both for Edward himself as he falls out with Fergus, and the entire Jacobite cause. The bubble of unity amongst such different and juxtaposed people is simply not sustainable in the way that the Stuart army attempts to achieve it.

Civil war could never answer the question of unity in the kingdom is Scott?s declaration. The very tool he uses, an ?amiable nonentity?# like Edward Waverley, is a tool that may not seem so sharp as a Talbot or a Fergus, but proves to be the right tool for the task at hand. Unlike the traditional romantic hero, that must have a will of iron and unbending motives of purity and ?right?, Edward?s ambivalence, his willingness to at least attempt to weigh up and consider options in the face of passion ? even if he might be swept along until he learns a sense of responsibility for his actions ? is the ?middle-ness? that shows the way. That it is important, like it was for Edward, to be able to consider the romance and appreciate the painting of martial war that is put up in the Baron?s hall but also to be able to judge, with sober expedience, what is best for the good of all, is where Edward ends up, and is where Scott answers his self imposed question. Death or glory is the motto of the hero, such as Talbot or Fergus in their cultural and political poles, but Edward, when he reflects upon owing his life to Rose, decides, quite reasonably, ?that to live for her sake was more convenient and agreeable . . .?#

But is this ?middle way? that Edward represents a vision of what was, or what should have been? When Claire Lamont expresses disregard for the ?happy ending?# that is so swiftly constructed for Edward, Rose and her father, the Baron, it is maybe useful to consider that the very unlikelihood of its occurrence in reality ? a ?neon sign? against the rest of the narratives relative social realism ? is perhaps Scott?s intention to mark this ending as what should have been as opposed to what was, and if enough people consider it thusly, even Sixty Years Since, then some recompense can be made post-Culloden. Considering that it was Scott who was chosen as ?the inventive master of the tradition-forging ceremonies? that a ?tartinized? George IV took part in during his state visit to Edinburgh in 1822 ? the first of a Hanoverian monarch# ? it is maybe a testament to at least a modicum of success.

Commentators with more modern sensibilities, such as James Kerr, might side against Scott for his counter revolutionism, as an ?(unconscious) propagandist for the Empire?,#
but Scott?s message of a middle path between extremities of cultural and political boundaries, as a man who?s imagination was born in such a boundary, is equally critical of the horrors of revolution as it is of blind progress. That ?real history? began for both Edward, when the boy that had now become a man observes the field that led to the demise of Fergus, and the United Kingdom that Scott both lived in and loved, and that romance is at an end, points toward the resolution of reason over passion, for the good of the kingdom. But still, this is done ?perhaps with a sigh?# There is a moment to sigh and reflect, and consider the romance of the past and admire ermines passant, even when you sit upon ?a humble English post-chaise?# in the middle of the road of history.

# Sir W. Scott, Waverley or ?Tis Sixty Years Since, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986, p.254.
# G. Lukacs, The Historical Novel, trans., H. Mitchell & S. Mitchell, Merlin Press, London, 1962, p.25.
# Bishop Percy?s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 1765.
# C. Keith, The Author of Waverley: A Study in the personality of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Hale Ltd., London, 1964, p. 30.
# Ibid., p. 22.
# To paraphrase The Lady of the Lake, 1810.
# Sir W. Scott, op cit., 1986, p. 4.
# Ibid., p. 14.
# Ibid., p. 49.
# Ibid. p. 51.
# Ibid. pp. 140 ? 141.
# Ibid., p. 117.
# Line of Fire: Culloden, Cromwell Productions, Magna, 2000 (video documentary).
# Sir W. Scott, op cit., p. 264.
# Richard Humphrey, Walter Scott ? Waverley, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 49.
# Sir W. Scott, op cit., p. 309.
# Ibid., Introduction, p. xiv.
# Richard Humphrey, op cit., p. 24.
# James Kerr, Fiction Against History; Scott as Storyteller, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, p. 39.
# Sir W. Scott, op cit., p. 283.
# Ibid., p. 24.


Cardell Kerry, Antecedents, Study Materials, Deakin University, 1997.

Hayden, John O. (ed.), Scott: The Critical Heritage, Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited, Great Britain, 1970.

Humphrey, Richard, Walter Scott ? Waverley, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993.

Keith, C., The Author of Waverley: A Study in the personality of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Hale Ltd., London, 1964.

Kerr, James, Fiction Against History; Scott as Storyteller, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989.

Lukacs, G., The Historical Novel, trans., H. Mitchell & S. Mitchell, Merlin Press, London, 1962.

Scott, Sir Walter, Waverley or ?Tis Sixty Years Since, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986.

Line of Fire: Culloden, Cromwell Productions, Magna, 2000 (video documentary).

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