Sir Walter Scott's legacy 'should be recognised'

Bust of Sir Walter Scott at his former home, Abbotsford House The finishing touches are taking place at Abbotsford House

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An academic has called for greater recognition of Walter Scott's legacy as his novel Waverley marks its 200th anniversary.

Prof Alison Lumsden, of the University of Aberdeen, said criticism of Scott over the 'shortbread tin lid' view of Scotland should be put aside.

Academics from around the world will gather in the city this week at a conference to discuss his legacy.

Prof Lumsden said the complexity of Scott's work should be recognised.

She said: "At the time of the publication of Waverley in 1814 Scott was already a best-selling poet and the anonymous Waverley was soon to become a phenomenal success, with sales of the novel outstripping those of all others combined that year.

"But Scott has often been given a bad press for producing a redundant image of Scotland that is based on tartan, stags and romantic Highland scenery.

"This is far from the full picture and the more we read his work and talk about it to those outside Scotland the more we recognise its complexity.

Sir Walter Scott factfile

Sir Walter Scott
  • Born in Edinburgh, 15 August 1771
  • Works included The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian and Ivanhoe
  • Described as "a born storyteller who could place a large cast of vivid and varied characters in an exciting and turbulent historical setting"
  • Died at Abbotsford, 21 September 1832
  • Considered a founder of a "virtually new literary form" -the historical novel
  • A literary prize is presented in his name annually

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

"While some of the many adaptations of Scott offer such cliched stereotypes of Scotland, Scott writes fiction that confronts many of the issues that are relevant for Scotland today and offers surprisingly modern conclusions."

Prof Lumsden has been part of a team, led by Professor David Hewitt, also from the University of Aberdeen, which has spent almost three decades restoring Scott's work to produce the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels.

She says this edition has identified and eliminated many of the errors made by printers - but frequently attributed to Scott himself.

She suggested those errors may have arisen as printers rushed to meet demand for his work and to decipher his famously "spidery" writing.

"As a result of the speed at which Scott's novels were produced, the printers often misread words and got the punctuation very wrong," she said.

"People used to say he was a sloppy writer but almost every example of poor writing we have come across in the novels involves errors in the production process."

She added: "It is time to put an end to the common belief that Scott was sloppy and slapdash as many of these errors are now recognised as resulting from the printing process."

To mark the bicentenary of Waverley, Prof Lumsden will welcome delegates from around the world to the university's Sir Duncan Rice Library, which houses one of the best collections of print materials related to Scott anywhere in the world.

They will use the collection, which contains not only all of Scott's works but also comic books, dramas and other items derived from Scott, to re-examine his output and the legacies he has left to modern Scotland.

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