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Home » » Assess the importance of Scott in the history of the English novels

In the romantic literature of the first half of the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott is a significant name. He started as a poet, won fame for his poetry, but gave up his poetical career, as Byron emerged as a poet, took up novel-writing and achieved immortality. It is actually as a novelist, that Scott’s name is today celebrated in English literature, and his poetry is read now rarely, and as such the poet, in him has today a little reputation or even recognition. 

In fact, Scott’s fictional works have actually given him a triumphant position in the history of English literature. He is the author of a good many historical novels (about twenty nine) that shocked Europe, with their very publications. His novels, like Guy Mannering, Rob Roy, Ivanhoe and Kenilworth, are some of the most well read works in the world of English fiction. 

Scott’s maturity, as a novelist, was evident from the very beginning. Waverley, his first novel, came out in 1814, and Scott’s full genius was exhibited as much in that as in any of its successors. 

His career, as the fictional author, continued persistently and regularly in Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary, Old Mortality (both in 1816), Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor and The Legend of Montrose (both in 1819), All these novels are based on the history of his country which is Scotland. After his novels on Scottish history, Scott turned to English and then continental themes and produced a series of new historical novels. Ivanhoe appeared in 1819. It was followed by The Monastery and The Abbot in 1820, Kenilworth in 1821, The Pirate in 1822, The Fortunes of Nigel in 1822, Quentin Durward in 1823 and St. Roman’s Well in 1824. In his last novel Redgauntlet, published in 1824, too, Scott once again went to Scottish history for his material. As a novelist, Scott is acknowledged as a pioneer. In him is found the first potential author of historical novels in England. He has done in the world of English fiction with his historical novels, what Shakespeare has achieved in the realm of drama with his history plays. History, as a matter of fact, is well-preserved and presented in a fictional manner by him, and here Scott remains a great romanticist. The romantic spirit, brought in the domain of poetry by Wordsworth, is claimed to have been captured and preserved by Walter Scott in his historical novels. Among the historical novelists  in English, he is definitely the greatest, and his contribution to the development of historical and romantic novels is truly unique. 

Scott’s historical novels has the magnificence and range of Homeric epics. The note of greatness and majesty in his historical novel is beyond any question. He is, as noted already, like Shakespeare, a master who superbly renews the past with all its vastness and charms and interests. 

The historical novelist in Scott is essentially a romanticist, an author of romances. Of course, he is not concerned only with the  romance of love but with the general romance of life —of war and adventure and the mysterious past. The telling effect of his romance is undeniable and his influence on the subsequent authors of romantic novels is immense. Highly coloured and picturesque incidents and situations, belonging to the indistinct past add to the romantic character of his fiction. 

The influence of Scott, however, is found extended to Europe to affect immensely the course of romantic story-writing by different European authors. His treatment of the past, with all its liveliness and thrill and his representation of romance are found to have deeply affected a good many French novelists of repute, in particular, such as Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo. Here Scott’s significance in European literature is distinctly evident. In fact, he seems to have the significance of the great Italian master, Boccaccio, in the realm of romances. 


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