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Waverley by Sir Walter Scott

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Summary: Edward Waverley, the son of a wealthy English family, whose head is filled with lofty dreams and Romantic notions, becomes a soldier for the English army and is deployed into Scotland in 1745. There he meets the charismatic Highland chieftain Fergus Mac-Ivor and his sister, Flora. Waverley forges a deep friendship with Fergus, falls in love with Flora, and is enchanted by the traditions and manners of the Highlanders. Inspired by the siblings' passion for the Jacobite cause, he leaves the English army to join the attempt to restore the Stuart monarchy.

Review: Waverley (also called Sixty Years Since) was massively successful in its own day. While it was not the first work of historical fiction, it was one of the first popular manifestations. At just a moment's glance, the novel seems simple: a romance and a glorification of the Jacobites and all that is Scottish. The true genius of Waverley is the way that Scott qualifies and complicates the situation, however. We are seduced along with Edward into loving Fergus and Flora - yet at the same time, we see how fickle he is and how little respect Flora has for him. We notice his at times ridiculous thought processes, and come to realize how malleable and silly Edward really is. He goes from place to place being easily manipulated by those around him, yet he is a good man.

This isn't a story of good versus evil. We are made to sympathize with the Jacobites and the Hanoverians; with those who wish for civil war and those who do not. Scott really captures that sense of sweeping social change, for better or worse.

As with all great works of literature, there are some sections which drag along. I found Baron Bradwardine and everything he did to be sleep-inducing. It is worth the time to weather out these sections, however, just to see the Mac-Ivors and their flawed, passionate, beautiful selves. Fergus in particular is breathtaking; without spoiling the end of the novel - which ought to be impossible if you know anything about the Jacobite rebellion - I must say that the ending broke my heart. I have a very durable heart. That is why Waverley is a fantastic novel.

Quotation: Nothing perhaps increases by indulgence more than a desultory habit of reading....
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