I’d always thought of Sir Walter Scott as boring, probably due to too-early contact with the first few pages of Ivanhoe (and knowledge of its length), and when I began reading The Bride of Lammermoor I felt I was enjoying such things as I usually do anyhow, but that it was an awful lot of pretty dry exposition. Then, after the first real evening of reading it, I started to tell the consumption partner about what had gone on so far, to make conversation.
The first thing to really happen in the novel is the funeral of Allan Lord Ravenswood, a once-important lord who had lost his lands and then his rank, winding up with just one tower on a barren bit of coast and driven to a bitter death. “The pomp of attendance, to which the deceased had, in his latter years, been a stranger, was revived as he was about to be consigned to the realms of forgetfulness.” The funeral is grand and romantic: the train of mourners was so long the tail end had not left the castle gate by the time the principals reached the chapel. And the drama of Scottish history intrudes even here. Ravenswood wanted to be buried by a Scottish Episcopal priest, but a warrant had been issued to prevent it. Enter Edgar, “popularly called the Master of Ravenswood” and son of the deceased:
He clapped his hand on his sword, and, bidding the official person to desist at his peril from farther interruption, commanded the clergyman to proceed. The man attempted to enforce his commission, but as an hundred swords at once glittered in the air, he contented himself with protesting against the violence which had been offered to him in the execution of his duty, and stood aloof, a sullen and moody spectator of the ceremonial, muttering as one who should say, ‘You’ll rue the day that clogs me with this answer.'”
Did I say boring exposition? The narrator himself calls the scene “worthy of an artist’s pencil,” and it certainly is. The funeral of course ends with the procession back to the castle, where the mourners eat every morsel and drink every drop the Master of Ravenswood has, and break his plate and cups besides. What more grand and romantic story—a funeral carried out at the point of 100 swords, followed by an orgy that lasts for days?
What next? The Master of Ravenswood’s blood enemy, usurper of his ancestral lands, walks around his estate with his charming young daughter and the two are nearly gored by a wild bull (more Scottish drama: they still have wild cattle roaming around their forests). A shot at the last possible moment saves them!
Later, a stag-hunting scene. You see, Scottish gentlemen only know how to do two things: fight, and hunt. Witness Scottish gentlemen hunting and yes, even field-dressing, a stag. And let there be no mistake about what that means—the stag at bay, one of the hunters must find the courage to jump out and slash its leg with a short hunting-sword. These guys are old school.
And of course, we know what the highest drama will be at the very beginning, because Scott tells us in his own introduction to the novel. I’ll have more on that later, but suffice it to say, I suddenly realized when recounting all this action that this business is super exciting.
Shame me for it if you must; I am Emma Bovary, as they say. I now love Scott, and specifically for all this romantic, rugged action, set in a place and time less civilized, with blood feuds and religious wars and real political tumult. Fortunately, unlike Emma watching Lucie de Lammermoor, inspired by this very novel, I did not get so emotionally invested in the love story bit. No, I don’t want to live this, but I want to read it.