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NA289412 - SCOTT, W.: Ivanhoe (Abridged)

Sir Walter Scott


Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) is probably best remembered as a writer of fast-paced novels of chivalry and romance, the essence of which is distilled so successfully in Ivanhoe.

Scott was born in Edinburgh, the youngest of thirteen children and, following in his father’s footsteps, was called to the bar in 1792. He became Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire in 1799, and was Clerk of the Court of Session in Edinburgh from 1806 to within a couple of years of his death.

Scott’s mother instilled in him her own love of poetry and, although he was left lame after a childhood illness, Scott enjoyed exploring the Border countryside. So it is no wonder that the first work to appear under his own name was The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. The Lady of the Lake and Harold the Dauntless are among his most famous poems.

The first nine novels Scott published drew on recent Scottish history. He began the Waverley novels in 1805, but put them aside and produced more marketable work until 1814 when Waverley appeared. Among his most famous novels are Old Mortality (1816) and The Heart of Midlothian (1818).

But with the publication of Ivanhoe in 1819, Scott began to mine the rich seam of historical romance and chivalry that would make him famous far beyond Scotland.

Scott was a leading figure in the literary establishment of his day, writing and editing seminal historical works. In 1813 he refused the title of Poet Laureate, but he did accept a baronetcy in 1820.

From 1811 Scott lived the life of a landed squire at the large estate of Abbotsford, near Melrose, in the Scottish borders. But he spent vast sums of money on restoring the house which he referred to as ‘Conundrum Castle—this romance of a house’. He was left with huge debts—about £114,000—when a company in which he had heavily invested, as a sleeping partner, collapsed. Scott shouldered the burden of debt himself, and his amazingly prolific output was all aimed at paying off the creditors. They were, indeed, paid off from the proceeds of the sale of his copyrights after his death.

Scott had the capacity, time and time again, to capture the spirit of a time and to portray it with colour, drama and immediacy. This is never better illustrated than in Ivanhoe, in which his command of historical detail gives another dimension to what is one of the greatest adventure stories of all time.

Notes by Lesley Young

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