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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Monastery by Sir Walter Scott


Book Review
The Monastery
by Sir Walter Scott
p. 1820
Kindle Edition

  After the "Rise" of the Novel during the 18th century, the popularity of the novel and size of the audience grew precipitously between 1811, the publication date for Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, and continued apace for two decades, culminating in the reign of Charles Dickens.  Austen and Scott wrote prior to Dickens.  At the time, Scott was big deal, and Austen not so much.  Austen wouldn't reach her "Modern" popularity until the end of the 19th century.

  Discounting Austen, Sir Walter Scott was THE man- probably reaching his professional peak in Rob Roy, published in 1818, and then experiencing a slight decline in critical esteem (while maintaining and increasing the size of his Audience) through the 1820s.  In 1820 he published both The Monastery AND Ivanhoe BOTH of which made the cut in the 2006 edition of 1001 Things To Read Before You Die.

  I think it's been so long since Sir Walter Scott has been read by anyone outside of the specialist academic field of 19th century Literature that incumbent for a reviewer to argue that someone, anyone should read one or more of Scott's book.

 In that regard, his status as an originator of historical fiction, and the resemblance between aspects of Scott's inestimable style and the history fun house of an Umberto Eco is probably the best bet.  Um... he brought back Robin Hood(in Ivanhoe.)

  But maybe the argument for Sir Walter Scott as his status as the originator of the first nostalgic artistic "scene" not based on Greece/Rome/The Classics.  He evoked mid 18th century Scotland in the early 19th century and he was the first Novelist to make a specific place "cool."  There are direct links between the worlds of Sir Walter Scott and the earliest available popular songs in America.

  Is The Monastery the one book to read if you are only going to read one book by Sir Walter Scott?  Probably not.  I would stick with Ivanhoe- they were both published in the same  year and Ivanhoe is clearly the bigger "hit."  The Monastery also has a sequel, The Abbot, and I kind of feel compelled to read that book as well, even though I have no desire to do so.

  Unlike Ivanhoe, The Monastery lays on the 1820's "GOTH WAVE" lather pretty thick.  Starting with Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, published in 1818.  Then there is Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin published in 1820., The Albigenses by the same author, in 1824, and then the Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg- also published in 1824.  All of these books have what you would call "GOTH REVIVAL" themes.

 Despite Scott maintaining the historic fiction subject matter, in The Monastery he moves even further away from his wheel-house, the Scottish scene of the 18th century, and into areas where he had less of a feel for the material.  The characters in The Monastery- set in the 16th century- are, to put it charitably, leaden. Still writing Anonymously, though acknowledging his status as "the author of Waverley"(his first hit.)

 It is inexplicable how The Monastery could make the list while Waverley, his first novel, and the novel that "invented" historical fiction, could be left off the list.  I hope they  made a change in the 2010 edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.

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