Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Bride of Lammermoor – Sir Walter Scott

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).

I’m glad I’ve given Scott another go because I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’ (there will be more Scott in my near future) it’s a rattling good read. I was expecting something a little drier than the heady mix of adventure, romance, and mysticism dished up here, Scott is a lot more fun than I thought he’d be. ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’ is set around 1707 – Queen Anne is on the throne and I think the act of union between Scotland and England is just taking place Jacobite Tories are getting the thin end of the wedge and Edgar, Master of Ravenswood, is burying his father with all due ceremony and what remains of his fortune. Robbed of his patrimony by the machinations of Lord Ashton he swears vengeance for himself and his father and sets off back to his ancestral home to challenge Ashton before a planned flight to the continent and the cause of the king over the water.

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.


  1. If I admit to being an English lecturer who has never read anything more of Scott than 'Ivanhoe" will the shame be so great that I will never be able to hold my head up again? Most probably. Would this be a good place to start to broaden my experience, or is there something else you would recommend?

  2. I think I read Ivanhoe as a child (it was probably a childs version as well) since then nothing (apart from the abortive attempt over the pirate) until this which I loved so I would certainly recommend it as a great place to start.

    I've had this idea of Scott being a bit dry and impenatrable for a long time now and really didn't expect to find as much humour as I did. It's not an overly long book either so I hope it makes it to you tbr pile because I'd love to know what you think of it.

  3. The Bride of Lammermoor certainly has the benefit of being fairly short. The Heart of Midlothian, Old Mortality, and Waverley are also excellent. And all, like, Lammermoor, are much better than Ivanhoe!

    Ah, another short one, just a story - the Scott skeptic should try "The Two Drovers." A lot of Scott's main themes are efficiently packaged there. Scott is, usually, not exactly efficient.

  4. Amateur Reader, I have just today managed to associate you with wuthering expectations which I mention because I've just spent an hour put aside for reading 'Framley Parsonage' to sifting through all your Trollope commentary.

    'The Heart of Midlothian' and 'Old Mortality' are two I've got on my wishlist, your endorsement is encouraging.

  5. I found Abbotsford positively enchanting! I adore the borders area. I bet I could turn out some petty good writing if I had his library to work in while listening to the peacocks screeching over the walls.

  6. Yep, Wuthering Expectations, that's lil' ol' me.

    I've written a bit about Scott over there, but not full-on attacks on his books. The Antiquary is the only one I have treated at length - I definitely do not recommend that one, even though Virginia Woolf claimed it was her favorite.

  7. Damn and blast - The Antiquary is sitting next to me as my planned next but one read - though by that time an emergancy amazon delivery will have arrived so I'll have a choice. I'll be trawling through your Scott posts later to see what I'm letting myself in for.

    With the exception of 'Orlando' I don't much enjoy reading Woolf so her recommendation is hardly encouraging.

    Debbie - Abbotsford is lovely, I think it alomst ruined Scott paying for it, but what a wonderful fantasy of a house.

  8. If it helps, Woolf's other favorite was The Bride of Lammermoor. Woolf-the-Critic is a whole 'nother writer than Woolf-the-Novelist.

    If it helps more, The Antiquary is Important and Influential. In the 19th century, everyone read it, read it and loved it.

  9. I do find Woolfe hard to warm too but can't fault enthusiasm for the bride. Forwarned is forarmed, if I start The Antiquary' expecting the worst than I'll probably like it.

  10. I read the bride last year & loved it. I read lots of Scott when I was a teenager but hadn't read any for a very long time until the bride. I also have The Antiquary on the tbr shelves, maybe we'll read it together & see what Virginia saw in it?

  11. That sounds like a plan Lyn. I'm hoping to read it fairly soon - maybe in a month or so? Would that suit you as well?