The Borders is Walter Scott country and although on a previous visit I made it over to Abbotsford it’s many years since I attempted to read any of Scott’s books; my last try was ‘The Pirate’ which I spent time on getting because it’s set in Shetland and failed to finish because it’s unbelievably turgid stuff (deservedly all but out of print I’m sorry to say). Still it’s been on my mind to have another try for a while and New Year what with being in the heartland seemed like a good time, Oxford University Press were kind enough to let me have a copy of ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’ and that was me set (fortunately I didn’t forget to pack this one).
Things don’t go quite according to plan, instead of bloody revenge Edgar rescues Sir William and his inconveniently beautiful daughter from certain death in the form of a rampaging wild bull (which makes me wonder – did Trollope borrow the bull incident in ‘The Small House at Allington’ from Scott? He certainly alludes to Jeanie Deans from ‘The Heart of Midlothian’). Out of pure chivalry Edger carries Lucy to a woodland grotto reputed to be fatally unlucky to the Ravenswood’s and unsurprisingly she falls in love with the handsome stranger who saves her life. Sir William is grateful too and determines to do something for the young master especially when it seems the political tide is about to turn and Edgar’s chances of reclaiming the family property are beginning to look good.
With this in mind Sir William encourages an intimacy between the young couple to grow up which ends in a secret engagement and the return of Lady Ashton. Lady Ashton could give Lady Macbeth (and Mrs Proudie) a run for her money and isn’t precisely pleased with the way things are going. Edgar is banished and Lucy effectively imprisoned whilst her mother sets to work on breaking her spirit – to such good effect that when Edger finally returns it’s to witness her signing the settlements to marry another man. It’s not destined to be a happy marriage though – the bride loses her mind and stabs the bridegroom on their wedding night (this is actually based quite closely on a true story).
I know that’s all quite spoiler heavy but the contents of classics are generally reasonably well known, and the fascination (as well as the pleasure and humour) is in the detail. There are ghost stories and fairy tales, a trio of old hags who form a gruesome chorus, a comic turn in the form of a faithful family retainer determined to keep up appearances (he will go to any lengths to do this), and Lady Ashton whose villainy I’ve only hinted at. There’s also some really good stuff on the state of Scotland at the time of union, and on the nature of the relationships between master and man as the country emerges from the feudal clan system (who could want more?)
I found Lucy a fascinating heroine – at the outset she’s still a girl more than half immersed in the idea of romance. Loving, kind, and the darling of all but her mother she is described as having “the softness of a mind, amounting almost to a feebleness” there is part approbation and part warning in this statement. Lucy’s softness allows her to accommodate the needs of all, especially the men (in the form of father and brothers) around her; there are no rough edges to exacerbate them, or to make anyone fear her. She needs the masculine strength of a Ravenswood to cling to for support, and he in his turn is the more deeply ensnared because he feels she needs his protection so despite both parties feeling some trepidation regarding the personality of the other they become increasingly interdependent.
Lady Ashton knowing her daughters weakness no doubt feels that bending her will should be an easy matter. It isn’t, once Lucy’s passions are awakened she is set on a course of silent resistance the breaking down of which utterly destroys her – but all of this is discussed far more expertly in the introduction so I should probably stop now before my word count runs wildly out of control.