Old Mortality (Oxford World's Classics)

Old Mortality (Oxford World's Classics) - Sir Walter Scott [These notes were made in 1983:]. I really liked this novel. It is constructed on the simplest of "triangle" plans - one man too many; both admirable; the one the lady doesn't want dies a noble death in the arms of the one she does. Add to that the utterly splendid re-creation of the language of the Covenanters (in pulpit and out - it's much the same!) and enough battles to keep the bloodthirsty among us happy, and we have a novel whose scope and handling of characters (sentimental and caricatured) reminds one curiously of Dickens. But the insistent theme of the book - the wrongness of fanaticism - on any side, in any cause - is pure Scott. He does it very nicely - doesn't preach too much, unlike Messrs. Kettledrummle and Poundtext! - but it's there in the situation, and driven wickedly home by the (no doubt historically correct) conjunction of Covenanters and Jacobites in the closing chapters of the book. It's also there on the personal level - poor Cuddie Headrigg is caught between two women - his ranting mother, Mause, and the aristocrat Lady Margaret. On the more "moderate" level, poor Edith, too, is caught between a left-winger (Morton) and a right-winger (Evandale), and it is when either of these two move out toward the edges from their central position that things go awry (and incidentally the plot moves along). The whole thing is interestingly buried in layers of prefatory material. There's Jedediah Cleishbotham, publishing the work of his deceased protegé, Peter Pattieson, who got his history from Old Mortality (not himself an eye-witness) and various other sources, named and unnamed. Yet this very oral nature of the transmission (at least up to Pattieson) gives verisimilitude to the strikingly realistic detail of speech and manner which Scott actually pulled out of published sermons and the like. People have been telling me for years that this is Scott's best novel, and now I am inclined to believe them.