The main subject of this essay, with Spenser and Morris one of Northrop Frye's “three major centers” of the romance tradition in English (1976: 6), was uniquely important in the history of romance. A first-rate scholar, critic, and textual editor, steeped from boyhood in medieval and Renaissance tales and committed throughout his life to promulgating and interpreting them for a much wider audience, Walter Scott also had the creative and technical brilliance to reassert the place of romance at the heart of a literary culture, nationally and internationally. To read Scott is to be made aware of the strong shaping force of stories in a wider culture, and in literary history. It is fitting, then, that the period in which he was so prominent has been modeled along fictional lines of special interest to readers and historians of romance. The retrospective delineation of the “Romantic Period” is clear proof of the strong narrative drive of romance: bounded, in Frye's terms, by a rebirth-death (the French Revolution: 1789) and by a death-rebirth (Scott's death and the passing of the first Reform Act: 1832), a 40-year period has been marked out as a special world caught between eighteenth-century and Victorian rationalism and materialism. Conceptions, and misconceptions, of the period stem partly from our sublimated sense of it as a form of the enchanted, removed, or heightened worlds and
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. 1. In an essay about Rob Roy, William Hazlitt wrote, “Sir Walter [Scott] has found out (oh, rare discovery!) . . . that there is no romance like the romance of real life.” What elements of romance pervade the novel?
2. 2. Frank Osbaldistone, the son of a wealthy businessman who joins up with the outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor on the Scottish Highlands, is both a complexly drawn character and an allegorical figure. How does the novel succeed in combining realism and allegory? Does the characterization of Rob Roy share these traits?
3. 3. Many critics praise RobRoy for its narrative suspense. How does Scott use suspense and tension to propel his story along? Where do the climaxes occur? Do the final secrets offer a satisfying denouement to the modern reader?
4. 4. One of the novel’s great themes is the interaction between two cultures and peoples, the English and the Scots. How does Scott represent the friction and fascination that occur when two cultures meet? Although the novel takes place in Britain, can you find analogies to other parts of the world?
5. 5. What role does Diana Vernon play? How does Scott’s portrayal of her compare with his descriptions of Osbaldistone and Rob Roy?
6. 6. Nature plays an important part in the novel. How does Scott characterize nature? What do these characterizations evoke?
7. 7. Since its original publication in 1817, RobRoy has garnered widely different opinions from readers and literary critics. The novel was immediately popular in Britain and throughout Europe and America, and has remained so for nearly two hundred years. At the same time, many critics lambasted it upon publication, citing its loose plotting and artless structure as its greatest flaws. This debate continues even today. Is RobRoy a popular novel? What does that mean? Does that change how a book is read? What other books share this fate?
From the Trade Paperback edition.