By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Walter Scott and Contemporary Theory
By Evan Gottlieb (Bloomsbury, $39.99, softcover, 187 pages)
One of the most popular and productive authors of his era, Sir Walter Scott was not only a writer of stirring tales of romance and adventure, but also a perceptive historical thinker with literary expertise.
Introducing key thoughts in present-day literary theory to explore the major novels of Sir Walter Scott, Gottlieb says that a posthumously published journal is a treasure “trove of information and opinion concerning the life and times of an author often said in his own day to have no rival in British literature save Shakespeare”.
There’s a “high degree of playfulness and conscious self-fashioning” with Scott not only recording the daily goings-on of his busy household and worldly affairs, but also reflecting on his abilities and shortcomings as an author.
It’s a surprise, however, to note that it wasn’t until the Scottish novelist, poet, historian and biographer was aged 54 years that he had even decided to keep a journal.
In November 1825, he wrote of his regret in not keeping a record which had resulted in him “having lost recollection of much that was interesting” and depriving people of “some curious information”.
Some of the most fascinating passages in the journal provide Scott’s apparently uncensored opinions regarding literary talents of himself and others. He had a “characteristic blend of insight, wit, self-deprecation and gentle condescension toward his female counterparts”.
Scott’s early and later novels are put side-by-side with major contemporary theoretical concepts together with the work of such thinkers as Judith Butler, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek and Jacques Derrida.
Gottlieb does a fine job utilising theory to elucidate the complicated nature of Scott's fictions, while concurrently using them to explicate and delve into the state of contemporary theory.
Edition 374, 13 August 2013
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