Sir Walter Scott

Scott was a great and versatile writer, the author of splendidly long poems, of lyrics and short stories, as well as works of history.

Scott was born in the Old Town of Edinburgh in 1771. His father was a successful lawyer, his mother the daughter of a Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University. Beyond Edinburgh however, lay his descent from some of the oldest families of the Scottish Borders, and in 1773, after polio disabled his right leg, he was sent to his grandfather's farm at Sandyknowe in Roxburghshire, below the historic Borders keep of Smailholm and looking over to Scott's beloved Eildon hills. Living here until 1775, the precocious youngster conceived his life-long love of Border history and folklore.

He returned to Edinburgh to grow up in the Old Town and the New Town. He attended the High School, Edinburgh University and in 1792, he became an Advocate. Not too successful as such, he had the good fortune to be appointed Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire in 1799 - this allowed him to travel not just to the Borders, but wider Scotland, in search of history and material to use in his poetry and fiction, eventually publishing his monumental Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders in 1802.

It was in the Borders that Scott was happiest and, after initially renting a cottage at Lasswade, he and his wife Charlotte moved into a more substantial country house at Ashestiel near Selkirk in 1804. It was there that he wrote the great epic poems The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808) and Lady of the Lake (1810). With growing fame however, the house eventually became too small and Scott turned to creating Abbotsford.

At the same time, the poetry of Lord Byron began to overshadow Scott's, who then concentrated on new literary ventures. Scott was a great storyteller in verse and prose, and had a superb command of dialogue. He did not just create the historical novel but was a restless experimenter in the form he invented. His first three novels, Waverley (1814), Guy Mannering (1815) and The Antiquary (1816), each set at a time of national crisis, are studies in the evolution of modern Scotland, but in Redgauntlet (1824) he considers how we can free ourselves of the past. The Tale of Old Mortality (1816) examines the creation of a political middle ground between opposing fanaticisms. The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) is a Romeo and Juliet tragedy with an emphasis on the political context that destroys the lovers. The Heart of Midlothian (1818), probably his greatest work, is an extended but unresolved debate on the nature of justice, while Ivanhoe (1820), the first novel to be set outside Scotland, is fake-history from which he fashions a moral tale on male power and the abouse of women and raciel minorities.

Scott's work is often funny yet intellectually challenging: how do we know the past and how can it be represented are questions which are always implicit in his fiction.

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