September 21: the wonderful world of Waverley

2016/09/21 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1832 Sir Walter Scott died.

Possibly the most widely read author of his day, Scott (b. 1771) is most famous for his historical novels set in Ye Olde England; primary among them is Ivanhoe (1820).  Not only are Scott’s books wonderful, but with them Scott sort of invented the idea of a historical novel, which is kind of important.   His novels popularized and enhanced the widespread frenzy for all things medieval and are still, today, rollicking good reads.  For Scott, the medieval world was not some distant murky past; he was deeply and tremendously interested in the time, its heritage and history, and continued force in modern life.  He collected medieval books, armor, weapons and furniture that he properly housed in a house called Abbotsford (in Melrose, Scotland), built up across years in a picturesquely ramshackle manner with lots of crockets and turrets.  The interiors are frosted with medievalish motifs in wood and plaster and feature pointed-arch fireplaces and richly panelled cases.  If you’re the kind of person who lives with more books than shelf space–and is bothered by it–his two-tier study with shelving full of rare books reaching up some twenty feet on all the walls may make you cry.  It also holds his desk, which was built of wood reclaimed from the house in which William Wallace met his end.  Scott was not fooling around.

If you go to Scotland, and if you like to read, you should probably go to Abbotsford, although good luck avoiding the tedious new visitors’ center, which would be more at home in a suburban arboretum than as the welcoming point to visit one of the great monuments of medievalism in the entire world as well as the central memorial for one of the great novelists of forever. But, such visual irritation is a small price to pay for the prize that waits up the path.

Image: Abbotsford, from the Walled Garden (from this source)

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