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Scott, Chaucer, and Medieval Romance

Scott, Chaucer, and Medieval Romance: A Study in Sir Walter Scott's Indebtedness to the Literature of the Middle Ages

Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Scott, Chaucer, and Medieval Romance
    Book Description:

    While the influence of Shakespeare on Sir Walter Scott has long been recognized, the importance of medieval literature in shaping his creative imagination has never before been examined in depth. Jerome Mitchell's new book fills this significant gap through a wide-ranging study of Scott's indebtedness to Chaucer and to medieval romance, especially the Middle English romances, for story-patterns, motifs, character types, style and structure, and detail.

    Mitchell establishes more completely and accurately than any previous critic the extent of Scott's knowledge of medieval literature. His examination of Scott's poetry, especially the long narrative poems, demonstrates their debt to Chaucer and medieval romance. The heart of the book is a detailed analysis of the Waverley Novels.

    Scott's debt to medieval literature, Mitchell shows, was vast, profound, and elemental; it is the single most important source area for the Waverley Novels, their warp and woof. Moreover, it is probably the key to Scott's immense appeal -- the very dimension which enabled him to cast an everlasting spell on his contemporaries, even on such great men as Byron and Goethe, and which has charmed generations of readers to the present day.

    This pioneering book, based on extensive research in Scotland, including Sir Walter Scott's personal library, sheds new light on the narrative substance and texture of Scott's poems and novels. Both the general reader and the serious student will derive from it a more informed appreciation of Scott's impressive achievement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6384-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-39)

    HOW MUCH medieval literature was Scott familiar with, specifically, and how do we know? These basic questions must be answered at the outset, and no study of which I am aware considers them with any degree of completeness.¹ Fortunately, Scott himself has a lot to tell us. Scattered throughout the four volumes of hisMinstrelsy of the Srottish Border,² that is, in the introductions, essays, and explanatory notes, he has numerous allusions to Chaucer and to medieval romance. Much can be found too in the lengthy introduction and notes to his edition (the first ever) of the Middle English poem...

    (pp. 40-85)

    SCOTT’s indebtedness to Chaucer and medieval romance in his poetry is greatest in the long narrative poems, although some influence is apparent as well in other poems and the verse dramas.¹ Since Scott’s poems are not so well known in the late twentieth century as they once were—they have not withstood the test of time as successfully as have the novels—a canto-by-canto summary precedes each major discussion as a convenience for readers and a means of highlighting the material to be discussed.

    The aged Minstrel is described in theIntroduction. Canto First:He begins his story by recalling...

  6. 3 THE EARLY NOVELS, 1814-1816
    (pp. 86-107)

    Scott’s interest in medieval literature is manifest even in his earliest serious attempts at prose fiction: namely, the chapters he composed to complete Joseph Strutt’s unfinished “romance”Queenhoo-Hall(which is set in fifteenth-century England), and the “fragments” of his own unfinished “romance,” which he had planned to entitleThomas the Rhymer. But this and the next three chapters are concerned with his truly important works of prose fiction, the Waverley Novels. My approach differs from that of Alice Chandler, whose fine bookA Dream of Orderdeals more with Scott’s medievalism in general than his specific indebtedness to specific romances.¹...

  7. 4 NOVELS OF THE BROKEN YEARS, 1817-1819
    (pp. 108-137)

    THE BROKEN YEARS are the three years during which Scott was seriously ill with gallstones, sometimes suffering excruciating pain that demanded heavy sedation. Upon seeing for the first timeThe Bride of Lammemoorprinted and in finished form, Scott told James Ballantyne that “he did not recollect one single incident, character, or conversation it contained.”¹ When he recovered from his ordeal he was a noticeably older man. Sickness notwithstanding, some of his finest work belongs to this unhappy period. I would rateThe Bride of LammemoorandThe Heart of Mid-Lothianas his two finest achievements.Ivanhoeis easily his...

    (pp. 138-182)

    THESE ARE the novels which Scott wrote between his recovery from illness and his financial ruin. It was a period of restless activity, producing eleven novels. It was a period of experimentation—with the unabashed supernatural inThe Monastery, with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English settings inKenilworthandThe Fortunes of Nigel, with contemporary material inSt. Ronan’s Well, and with a bold leap from the British Isles to medieval France inQuentin Dumard. It was also a period in which Scott explored the confict ofOld Mortalitybetween Puritan and Cavalier on new English ground, inPeveril of the...

    (pp. 183-212)

    MUCH OF the work that Scott did after his financial collapse has genuine merit, despite the feverish haste with which he was writing in a gallant attempt to pay off his enormous debt. Moreover, in these last seven years he endured the personal sorrow of the death of his wife and then suffered a series of strokes, making one wonder all the more at his impressive achievement. InWoodstockhe returned to the conflict between Cavaliers and Roundheads, which he had already treated inOld MortalityandPeveril of the Peak, but set the story in a somewhat earlier period....

    (pp. 213-241)

    SCOTT’s debt to Chaucer and medieval romance extends beyond content to matters of style and structure in his novels, as well as in his poetry. An examination of hisstylereveals a number of words, phrases, and grammatical constructions that hark back to medieval literature¹—as do such larger stylistic features as his way of describing characters; his use ofoccupatio,proverbs, and set speeches; and his propensity to philosophize, either as narrator or through one of his characters. BystructureI mean organization, or the arrangement of parts, and such basic matters as how to begin or end a...

    (pp. 242-248)

    IN HIS pioneering study of Shakespeare’s influence on Scott, Wilmon Brewer first goes through Scott’s poems and novels one by one and tells what they owe to Shakespeare’s plays. Later he reverses his method and puts the plays in the forefront.¹ Taking a hint from Brewer, I shall now turn things around and glance very briefly at the medieval romances in roughly a descending order of the amount and importance of their influence on Scott.

    At the top of the list are the Tristan-story and Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. The influence of the Tristan-story is very pervasive in Scott, as might...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 249-261)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 262-268)