Scott as a Historical Novelist
Sir Walter Scott is one of the greatest novelists of the world literature. He is popularly known as historical novelist. Most of his novels are historical in the sense that they deal with historical events and characters. It is he who showed his interest in the past and developed an almost a new genre, the historical novel. For this reason he is called as the father of historical novel. In this field his contribution is memorable and notable.
Before Scott few novelists tried to write historical fiction. None of these writers possessed any feeling for historical realism. It is Scott who combined the elements of real life with elements of wonder from old romance. His first novel Waverley deals with the ancient Scottish manners. Guy Mannering and the Antiquary also deal with the past. Old Morality presents the picture of the trouble times of Charles II. It is a historical monument of the finest pictures of the past, its men, its ideas and manners. In Ivanhoe the real picture of the Middle Ages appears. In all these novels we find the essence of realism.
Scott wrote near about thirty novels. In these novels he presented the past history of Scotland, France and England. But all these novels have history only as a background. His treatment of history is not entirely accurate. He often takes liberties with facts and alters them. He blends facts and fiction and history and romance in a wonderful unity. Not only this but we find Gothic elements in his novels. As we know that historical novel had its origin in the Gothic Romance. But in giving it a new orientation Scott did not remove its original traits. That is why in his novels we get ghost, legend, omen, disaster, wonder and dream.
Sir Walter Scott's novels cover a wide range of action. They are concerned with public interests. Due to this in his novels the element of love is generally pale and feeble. The history of one thousand years finds expression in Scott's novels. In Count Robert of Paris the 11th century has been presented. Twelfth century finds its expression in The Talisman and Ivanhoe. In Castle Dangerous we get the 14th century and in Fair Maid of Perth the 15th century. The Monastery and Kenilworth deal with the 16th century and Old Morality with the 17th century. The 18th and the 19th centuries also find their expression in his novels. All the characters of the past start into life again. No other novelist in England approaches Scott in the scope of his narrative.
Scott was the first novelist to recreate the past. He did not make history a record of dry facts. He made it a suitable stage on which men and women played their roles. He could draw his characters directly from the history of particular phases. They are living characters. They are both types and individuals. They are fine pieces of imaginative recreation. We find a large number of characters in his novels. But it is astonishing that Scott never suffers from repetition.
It has been pointed out above that Scott created historical realism. To do it he employed proper language. To create an illusion of the past he used a rhythmic and archaic language. In his use of the Scottish vernacular Scott is exceedingly natural and vivacious. Those who showed their interest in the historical novel became Scott's followers.
Thus Sir Walter Scott is a great writer of historical novels. He is rightly called the father of historical novels. As a historical novelist he is higher than any other novelist.