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The Best 12 Books by Walter Scott [PDF]

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Sir Walter Scott was born on August 15, 1771 in a small apartment on the third floor of College Wynd, in the old town of Edinburgh. Scott was the ninth child of Anne Rutherford and Walter Scott, a lawyer and member of the private Scottish society known as Writers of the Signet.

Six of Anne and Walter’s children died in infancy, and young Walter contracted polio as an infant. Despite early treatment, his right leg remained lame for the rest of his life.

In 1773, Walter was sent to live with his grandparents on their farm at Sandyknowe, in the border area of Roxburghshire, 30 miles from Edinburgh. It was hoped that spending time in the country would improve Scott’s ailing health, and it did.

Time spent with his grandparents and his attentive Aunt Janet (Jenny) enabled him to be strong enough to return to Edinburgh and start school in January 1775, following the death of his grandfather Robert Scott. While at Sandyknowe, Janet encouraged Scott’s literary pursuits, reciting poetry to him when he was too ill to get out of bed and teaching him to read.

His grandmother Barbara also entertained the young boy with stories of his ancestors and of the border battles between the Scots and the English. It was then that Walter developed his enduring appreciation for ballads and his keen interest in Scottish heritage.

After receiving a private education upon his return, Scott attended the Royal High School in Edinburgh in October 1779. As the high school did not focus on arithmetic or writing, Walter received additional lessons from staunch patriot James Mitchell, which also included some teachings from the Scottish Church and the Scottish Presbyterian movement.

In his senior year of high school, Scott was again sent to stay with his Aunt Jenny in 1783, this time in the small frontier town of Kelso, where she now lived. During his six months in Kelso, Walter also attended Kelso Grammar School and it was here that he made one of the most lasting friendships of his life, with future business partner and publisher James Ballantyne, who shared Scott’s love of literature.

Walter, already an avid reader of epic romances, poetry, history and travel books, returned to Edinburgh to study classics at the University from November 1783. In March 1786, Walter began an apprenticeship in his father’s office with the intention of becoming a writer for Signet. However, it was decided that he would aspire to the law, so he returned to the university to study it.

After obtaining a law degree in 1792, Walter received a modest income while devoting the next few years to dabbling in literature by translating outstanding German works into English for publication by his friend Ballantyne.

In September 1797, during a visit to the Lake District, Scott met Charlotte Carpentier. After a whirlwind courtship, Scott proposed to Charlotte just three weeks after their initial meeting. The couple were married on Christmas Eve 1797 at St. Mary’s Church in Carlisle and returned to live in Edinburgh the same evening. It was a happy union, broken only by Charlotte’s death thirty years later on May 15, 1826.

In 1809, Scott joined James Ballantyne and his brother as an anonymous silent partner in their publishing house, John Ballantyne & Co. Many of Scott’s later poems were published by the firm, including the well-known The Lady of the Lake, whose German translation was set to music by the composer Franz Schubert.

Scott’s popularity as a poet was cemented in 1813, when he was offered the opportunity to become poet laureate. However, he declined and Robert Southey accepted the position instead.

In 1814, when the publishing house suffered the first of two major financial blows, Scott began writing novels as a way of improving his fiscal situation. That same year his first novel, Waverley, was published anonymously, and its worldwide success led to more volumes in the Waverley series, each with a Scottish historical setting.

In 1825, the publishing house faced further financial difficulties that led to its closure.

Scott decided not to declare bankruptcy, but instead entrusted his estate and assets to his creditors and produced a prolific amount of literature over the next seven years as a means of paying off his debt. After suffering a stroke in 1831, which resulted in apoplectic paralysis, his health continued to deteriorate and Scott died on September 21, 1832 in Abbotsford.

1) Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe author Walter Scott

Ivanhoe is a historical novel that deals with one of the first and most acclaimed works of the genre. Written in 1820 and set in medieval England, more specifically in the twelfth century, the protagonist of the action is Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a young and brave knight.

Ivanhoe is the story of one of the noble Saxon families at a time when the nobility in England was overwhelmingly Norman. The novel follows the Saxon protagonist, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, who has fallen out of favor with his father for his loyalty to the Norman king Richard the Lionheart.

The story is set in 1194, after the failed Third Crusade, when many of the Crusaders were still returning to their homes in Europe. King Richard, who had been captured by Leopold of Austria on his return journey to England, is believed to be still in captivity.

2) Redgauntlet

Redgauntlet author Walter Scott

Redgauntlet is a historical novel first published in 1824 and set mainly in Dumfriesshire (Scotland) in the year 1765. The fictional plot describes a conspiracy to start a third Jacobite rebellion.

Young Darsie Latimer is kidnapped by Hugh Redgauntlet and taken to Dumfriesshire. After several events Darsie discovers that Redgauntlet is his uncle and goes with him to Cumberland, meeting there several prominent Jacobites in addition to Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The crux of the matter is that Redgauntlet has summoned them all to start a new Jacobite rebellion, and wants Darsie to join them.

However, Redgauntlet's companions are not as committed as he is, and they also suspect that the Prince's mistress is a spy, which leads to arguments. In addition, General Campbell arrives to announce that the government knows they are hatching a conspiracy.

3) Robin Hood

Robin Hood author Walter Scott

Robin Hood is an archetypal hero and outlaw of medieval English folklore. Inspired by Ghino di Tacco (Italian historical thief whose fame led him to be mentioned in the Divine Comedy and the Decameron), his character is a man named Robin Longstride or Robin of Locksley (or Loxley), who would have a big heart and live outside the law, hiding in the woods of Sherwood and Barnsdale, near the city of Nottingham.

Best archer, defender of the poor and oppressed, according to legend he fought against the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John Lackland, who used public force to illegitimately hoard the wealth of the nobles who opposed them. In medieval England, any individual who opposed the royal edicts was considered an outlaw.

4) Lady of the Lake

Lady of the Lake author Walter Scott

It is a narrative poem composed of six cantos. It has three main plots: the feud between three men for the love of Ellen Douglas; the feud and reconciliation of King James V of Scotland and James Douglas; and the war between the Lowland Scots and the Highland clans.

In Canto I, James Fitz-James meets Ellen Douglas, who rescues him and takes him to a cottage that he suspects is the hideout of a Highland chieftain. In Canto II Roderick Dhu asks James Douglas (who turns out to be Fitz-James' exiled enemy) for Ellen's hand in marriage, to conclude an alliance between Douglas and the Clan Alpine.

In Canto III Roderick decides to start the rebellion against King James so the clan members respond to the summons of their chief.... If you want to know how this poem culminates, don't think twice and immerse yourself in the story of the Lady of the Lake.

5) The Abbot

The Abbot author Walter Scott

The Abbot is a historical novel first published in 1820, sequel to The Monastery (ten years have passed since the final events of the latter). It is set between 1567 and 1568. Its plot revolves around the imprisonment of Queen Mary I of Scotland, her escape from Lochleven Castle in 1567, which in turn leads to her defeat at the Battle of Langside and her final departure from the country.

In parallel, the romance between Roland Graeme, Queen Mary's page, and Catherine Seyton, one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, develops. It is later discovered that Roland is the heir to Avenel.

After several events and a desperate battle, Mary sets sail for England, with no hope of further help. Roland, meanwhile, succeeds in obtaining proof of his right as heir to Avenel and marries Catherine.

6) The Bride of Lammermoor

The Bride of Lammermoor author Walter Scott

The plot of The Bride of Lammermoor relates the misadventures of an ill-fated love between Lucy Ashton and the enemy of his family, the Master of Ravenswood. Master of Ravenswood and Lucy Ashton fall in love but she is the daughter of the Lord Keeper, Ravenswood's enemy and indirect murderer of his father whose death he swears to avenge.

The Lord Keeper knows the murderous intentions of the Master, and trying to get rid of his rancor propitiates a relationship between him and his daughter, who are promised in marriage despite the opposition of Lady Ashton, Lucy’s mother. But when Lady Ashton returns, she does so with a purpose: to expel the Master from his castle and marry her daughter to an enemy of the Baron, Bucklaw.

7) The Chase

The Chase author Walter Scott

The Chase is a ballad that tells the story of Earl Walter, who is an avid addict to the pleasures of the hunt. The nobleman finds himself hunting on "God's own hallow'd day", an act he is repeatedly warned against.

One day, two supernatural figures, one almost angelic and the other demonic, come to test him: one tries to persuade him to give up hunting and the other to continue despite the protests he receives. The plot also addresses the issue of elite society's mistreatment of the poor, as Walter often cruelly uses and mistreats those who are beneath him socially.

Although the angelic figure continually pleads with him to stop, Walter ignores the warning, for which he is punished. He is condemned to an eternity of persecution by the hounds of hell and the dark rider who encouraged him to his fate.

8) The Fair Maid of Perth

The Fair Maid of Perth author Walter Scott

The Fair Maid of Perth is a novel published in 1828 inspired by the story of the Battle of North Inch. It is set in Perth and elsewhere in Scotland around the year 1400. The maid of the title is Catharine Glover, who kisses in his sleep the gunsmith Henry Gow, who was spending the night with the young woman and her father.

Gow interrupts an attempted kidnapping when he discovers that a group of courtiers were placing a ladder against the maiden's window, which subsequently leads him to become involved in the Highland feud.

On the other hand, a meeting determines that the hostile Chattan and Quhele clans must settle their dispute by combat between an equal number of their men in the royal presence.

9) The Highland Widow

The Highland Widow author Walter Scott

The story of The Highland Widow takes place during the Seven Years' War (1756-63). The widow referred to in the title is Elspat MacTavish, who was the wife of MacTavish Mhor, one of the last caterans (marauders) of the Highlands.

Elspat hopes that her son, Hamish Bean MacTavish, will regain his father's way of life. However, Hamish enlists in a government regiment bound for America. While on leave, the young man visits his mother, who drugs him by putting him to sleep, with the intention that he will escape with her and lead his late father's life.

Subsequently, an officer is sent to arrest Elspat, whereupon she incites her son to kill him. The result is that Hamish is tried and executed, causing the widow to spend the rest of her life in mourning and remorse.

10) The Quentin Durward

The Quentin Durward author Walter Scott

The Quentin Durward is a historical novel of 1823. The story is set in the year 1468 and revolves around the rivalry between Louis XI of France and Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. In addition, Quentin Durward, an archer in Louis' service, plays a prominent role in the narrative.

Louis incites the citizens of Liège to revolt against Charles and they assassinate Louis de Bourbon, bishop of Liège, under the command of William de la Marck, an ally of Louis. In a secondary plot, Louis sends to Flanders the Burgundian heiress Isabelle de Croye with the pretext of putting her under the protection of the bishop of Liège, when in fact he has decided to give her in marriage to William de la Marck.

Isabelle is guarded on her journey by the Scottish archer Quentin Durward, who avoids betrayal and winning the love of the Burgundian heiress.

11) The Talisman

The Talisman author Walter Scott

The Talisman is a novel published in 1825 as the second of his Tales of the Crusaders, the first being The Betrothed.

The Talisman takes place at the end of the Third Crusade, mainly in the crusaders' camp in Palestine. Intrigues and partisan politics, as well as the illness of King Richard the Lionheart, endanger the Crusade.

The main characters are the Scottish knight Kenneth, a fictionalized version of David of Scotland, Earl of Huntingdon, who returned from the Third Crusade in 1190; Richard the Lionheart; Saladin; and Edith Plantagenet, Richard's relative.

Other notable characters include the real-life historical figure of Sir Robert de Sablé, The One To Ever Serve As The Eleventh One To Be Known As The Grandmaster of the Order of the Knights Templar/The Grandmaster of the Templar Order, as well as Conrad Aleramici da Montferrat/Conrad Aleramici di Montferrat/Conrad Aleramici de Montferrat.

12) The Two Drovers

The Two Drovers author Walter Scott

The Two Drovers is a short story published in 1827 in Chronicles of the Canongate. The story is set in the late 18th century and features Chrystal Croftangry as the narrator. The plot revolves around a dispute between two cattle drovers, Robin Oig M'Combich and Harry Wakefield, due to a misunderstanding over the herding of their cattle.

This leads Harry (a Yorkshireman) to challenge Robin (a Highlander) to a fight in the English manner, to which the latter refuses, insisting that he will fight with a sword as is done in the Highlands. Harry throws him to the ground and subsequently Robin leaves the place where they were to go in search of his Highlander dagger.

When he returns, he kills Harry with one blow, surrenders himself to justice and goes to his execution, happy to give his life to take his friend's. Which brings to light the concept of honor in the Highlands.