Victorian criticism of the Waverley Novels of Sir Walter Scott, 1832 to 1900

Gregson, Michael Anthony O'Malley (1992). Victorian criticism of the Waverley Novels of Sir Walter Scott, 1832 to 1900. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines the phenomenon of Sir Walter Scott's extraordinary Victorian popularity. Focussing on criticism of his Waverley Novels between 1832 - the year of his death - and the end of the century, the thesis plots the development and terms of Scott's eminence. An introductory chapter sets out principal areas of study, being followed by a section leading up to 1832. Then follow analyses of critical work on Scott by, respectively, Harriet Martineau, Thomas Carlyle, Walter Bagehot, John Ruskin, Leslie Stephen, Richard Hutton and Julia Wedgwood.

The thesis concludes with an epilogic section covering critics of the late nineteenth century, including Frederic Harrison and Andrew Lang. In each instance the context of each critic's wider work figures prominently. The thesis contends that large elements of Scott's achievement received relatively little attention in Victorian criticism. These are Scotti,s Enlightenment interests in speculative history and detailed, almost sociological, methods of composition, as well as the 'experimental' character of his work. By contrast, much was made in criticism of what may be summarised as his 'health' and 'beneficial effects'.

It is claimed that the construction of such consensual critical notions about the merits of Scott's very popular work had a great deal to do with the buttressing and underpinning of some Victorian attitudes. While these varied with critics' own preoccupations - and Scott's 'malleability' is remarkable - Scott's role was so significant in Victorian culture that his employment, within what was still a relatively eclectic and formally undisciplined critical practice, constituted significant ideological manoeuvring.

Specifically, Scott's remit in Victorian criticism was most usually to represent and validate some kind of opposition to the present. This both excluded much of his achievement, and also narrowed the terms of his appraisal so as to permit a revealing coalescence of literary with social, political and even racial arguments. This thesis traces the increasing definition of such a pattern within Victorian criticism of the Waverley Novels.

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