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Scott and empire: the case of Rob Roy.

Recent studies of romanticism have begun to set both canonical writings and newly rediscovered texts in the context of the global phenomenon of empire. Katie Trumpener's wide-ranging account of the Romantic novel, for example, and Saree Makdisi's ambitious survey of Romantic imperialism, have demonstrated that, as Makdisi puts it, "Romanticism cannot be understood properly without reference to modern imperialism and modern capitalism" (xi). In these studies, which depict romanticism as a response to, critique of, and constitutive element of the process of modernisation, Scott is restored to a prominent position in the discourse of romanticism, and a new sense emerges of the relevance of his work--both in his own age and in the larger history of nineteenth-century culture. But the traditional view of Scott, as combining nostalgia for lost traditions with a satisfied acceptance of progress, remains largely intact. Trumpener, taking Waverley as the paradigmatic form of the historical novel, argues that "Scott underlines the ideological capaciousness of empire" while he constructs analogies between nation formation and empire building (xiii). Makdisi finds a regretful complicity with the colonizing process in Waverley, which in his account takes over the Scottish highlanders' history and space, so that it can be "used for and by the Lowlander present" (75). The dominant status of Waverley has perhaps made Scott's endorsement of empire seem too self-evident to question. In this essay I want to complicate this assumption by focusing on a novel ignored by Trumpener and Makdisi, namely Rob Roy.

While the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 is the ostensible mainspring of the plot of Rob Roy, in practice the novel seems at least as concerned with the uneven economic and social development within the new Union, with the prospects for commercial expansion, and with the effects of British power on its periphery. In 1715 most of Britain's trade was with continental Europe--the market with which Osbaldistone senior is associated (he mentions trade with France and Portugal) (Scott, Rob Roy 14). But trade was also rapidly expanding in what has since been termed the "imperial sector"--the North American colonies, the plantations in the West Indies, the trading settlements in India--a development from which the Scottish economy would draw considerable benefits (see Colley 68). The novel's movement northwards from London, the commercial center of the Union, towards a violent climax in the Scottish highlands, which brings a company of British soldiers into armed conflict with dispossessed highlanders, has a symbolic resonance that goes far beyond its historical setting in the era of the 1715 rebellion. While in some respects it resembles a journey into the past, toward an encounter with a culture not yet transformed by modern refinements, in other ways it resembles a journey towards the future, in which British power will increasingly impinge upon such cultures. The treatment of a threatened highland community in Rob Roy has behind it not only a more recent history of highland dispossession, but also the contemporary history of popular resistance to imperial power overseas. As Ian Duncan has argued, in Rob Roy Scott made "historical romance a medium for viewing, not the past, but the unrecognizable forms of the present" (Scott, Rob Roy xi).

The novel engages with the ideology of empire by establishing links between the violence in the highlands, the operations of commerce, and the self-representation of the polite English narrator. It shows that the identity produced by its gentlemanly narrator is shaped by the values of a system of power. As Stephen Greenblatt has observed, "the power to impose a shape upon oneself is an aspect of the more general power to control identity--that of others at least as often as one's own" (1). Scott's novel allows us to see that the narrator's attempt to impose a shape on others in the writing of his narrative is part of the same system of power that imposes itself on them in the events he describes. Resistance to both kinds of imposition in the novel brings into view the contemporary anxieties of empire.

The process of imposition and resistance at the level of narration can be defined as a conflict of discourses. The narrator's judgments belong to an enlightenment discourse of civilization, which links commerce with politeness and virtue, and which legitimizes its subjection of pre-commercial cultures by representing them as at best in need of transformation and at worst as frighteningly barbaric. But his narrative also includes a romantic discourse of primitive liberty, which represents a pre-commercial existence as "unfettered by system and affectation" (Rob Roy 410), and shows commercial civilization as a condition of oppression and self-deceit. The conflict between these discourses works to destabilise the authority of the narrator, whose inability to confront the implications of his story becomes part of its meaning.

The novel looks back to an era in which mercantilist aims were being promoted and justified with little effective opposition. As the international conflicts of the eighteenth century amply demonstrated, the aims of mercantile policy--to assure national prosperity by securing the greatest proportion of global resources, and by monopolizing international commerce and colonial markets--could only be secured with the aid of force. (1) But in contemporary English poetry, plays, journalism, sermons and parliamentary oratory, the mercantilist vision of an expanding commercial empire was often represented within a discourse of civilization as essentially peaceful. In The Spectator Addison lauded merchants as mainstays of the Commonwealth, who "knit Mankind together in a mutual Intercourse of good Offices, distribute the Gifts of Nature, find Work for the Poor, add Wealth to the Rich, and Magnificence to the Great" (1:296). In his Review Defoe portrayed "A True-Bred merchant" in even grander terms, as a "Universal Scholar," who "sits in his Counting-House, and Converses with all Nations, and keeps up the most exquisite and extensive part of human Society in a Universal Correspondence" (3:2-3). Such writings played an important part in the development of a mercantile ideology, in which commerce was represented as a non-violent activity by which Britain could gain an economic advantage over neighboring states and expand its wealth through settlements overseas. Many writers saw a close affinity between British and Roman practice in the handling of colonies, and any deviation from the Roman model was, according to Peter Miller, "believed to threaten the survival of Britain's empire" (194). But if, like Rome, Britain would have a civilizing influence, unlike Rome it would exert its power through trade rather than military conquest. (2) Such rhetoric was used at more than one level in the work of incorporating Scotland into the Union. It was used, for example, as political persuasion. When Defoe was enlisted in 1706 to promote the forthcoming Union, he explained in a series of essays how new trading opportunities would allow peaceful modernization of Scotland and an extension of Scottish liberties (3:650). (3) At the time of the 1715 uprising, Addison performed a comparable service in The Freeholder, envisaging "a Race of Free-holders spreading into the remotest Corners of the Island," and arguing that, as a result of government policy, Highlanders could be secure in their tenancies without having to follow their chiefs into rebellion (39-42). The rhetoric linking commerce, peace, virtue, and politeness was also used as part of a more general program to transform Scottish culture. In Nicholas Phillipson's account, Scottish intellectuals responded to the challenge of the Union--to the offer of free trade instead of a free parliament--by promoting a revolution in Scottish manners, developing through the Addisonian essay and other writings an understanding of civic morality appropriate to a commercial society: an understanding that virtue was to be found within such a society, "but away from the world of business, politics and fashion," in sociability, polite conversation, the pursuit of literature (Phillipson 26-27). In Scotland, as in the rest of Britain, periodical journalism worked to forge a unified public, a process which has been described as a "colonizing" project, one which paralleled the British trader's establishment of new markets overseas (Klancher 25). It helped to establish for men and women the parameters of polite Anglo-British identity, an identity that required the suppression of Scottishness (since, like the female, the Scot as Scot existed in a subordinate relation to the British gentleman). Scots had particularly good reason to see this identity as part of a system of power, and to associate it with loss as well as gain.

It seems clear that protests against the abuses associated with British commercial policy gathered momentum in the last decades of the eighteenth century. (4) In the Wealth of Nations the Scottish economist Adam Smith had produced a devastating criticism of mercantilism, claiming that the system had encouraged economic activity to the benefit of the rich and powerful, while oppressing the poor; at home and in the colonies, those who benefited from trade seemed to display indifference to the welfare of those who fell under their influence or rule (2:411). Such criticisms found support in the campaign to abolish the slave trade, the scandalous reports concerning the effects of British presence in India, the gathering pace of industrialization, the emergence of a newly articulate urban proletariat, and the disastrous effects of economic "improvement" on the Scottish highlanders. But the discourse of civilization worked to legitimize as well as to disclaim violence. In Britain, every significant military campaign or expedition by British forces was represented in print, as were many campaigns of other nations. During the latter part of the eighteenth century, explorations in the Pacific, military operations in India, clashes with American Indians, and comparable activities elsewhere ensured a growth in the representation of conflicts between professional soldiers and those who resisted their intrusions. The "enemies" encountered in such operations were sometimes untrained and poorly armed, ambushing from hills or woodlands, relying on their own mobility and local knowledge to counteract material disadvantages. The assymetries of such "irregular" conflict, and the horrific atrocities that often accompanied them, inevitably gave rise to expressions of regret by European observers. But the defeated were identified as ultimately the beneficiaries of conquest, through contact with a "superior" culture, through liberation from despotism, or through the restoration of lost freedoms (see Keen 206-35). The act of representation was itself part of the process by which conquest was legitimized, hegemony reaffirmed, and the indentity of the defeated controlled. Accounts of military expeditions and campaigns, which, like Scott's novels, were geared to the diverse interests of a polite readership, would sometimes include reflections on landscape, descriptions of commerce and manners, historical surveys, biographical studies of defeated leaders, and perhaps even a glossary--all manifestations of the civilizing authority that might justify the military enterprise. (5)

By the time Scott came to write Rob Roy, the wars that followed the outbreak of the Revolution in France had provided unprecedented reportage of irregular conflict of this kind, not only in distant overseas colonies, but also in Switzerland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and other European countries. Invasions and popular uprisings repeatedly brought uniformed soldiers into conflict with armed civilians, including sometimes women and children. Resistance to British power--in Ireland, in the West Indies, in Buenos Aires and elsewhere--was generally regretted, even when government policy was being questioned. But such resistance to French power in Switzerland, Austria and further afield was usually represented to British readers as heroic. Above all, when Napoleon's maneuvers in Spain and Portugal, designed to reinforce his blockade of British trade, led to popular risings against the French in 1808, the Spanish and Portuguese patriots became for a while the focus of intense enthusiasm and sympathy in Britain. In The Convention of Cintra (1809) Wordsworth explained the heroism of the Spanish patriots in terms of their pre-modern condition: their lack of manufactures, commerce and big cities, their freedom from "the paradoxical reveries of Rousseau, and the flippancies of Voltaire" (1:332). They were represented, that is, within a discourse of primitive liberty, in which modern commercial civilization was associated with the loss of freedom and virtue, and with linguistic corruption. From the beginning of 1811, there were impressive reports of the activities of the "guerrillas" (a term which entered the English language at this time). The disparity between the seasoned, heavily armed French military, and the patriot bands that harassed them in mountains, defiles, and on rivers, gave the guerrillas a particular glamour. The conflict was sometimes related to ancient precedents in which Rome featured not as a positive model of British civilizing influence but as a negative model of French imperial aggression. (6) The Times compared the defence of Lisbon by Portuguese guerrillas on the Sierra de Estrella to the heroic defence of Lusitania by the shepherd leader Viriatus against Romans invaders (14 January 1811). Wordsworth made a similar comparison in his poems of National Independence in which the guerrillas are celebrated, along with the Alpine herdsmen of the Tyrol, as patriot heroes. (7) Scott, whose personal fascination with the Peninsular campaign was motivated in part by a romantic identification with the Iberian patriots, echoed the comparison in his poem The Vision of Don Roderick (1811), which drew unmistakable parallels between the Spaniards in their struggles against the French and the Scots in their historical struggles against southern invaders. (8) The Spaniards' mode of operation was often closer to the outlaw's than to the regular soldier's. Indeed, the memoirs of the French commander de Rocca explained that the fierce patriots of the Sierra de Ronda--viewed once again as admirably pre-modern--were smugglers who had always been famous for their "address" and for the dexterity with which they eluded excise officers. The reports of Iberian resistance figured a female heroism that contrasted sharply with the polite image of female virtue. De Rocca represented the women of the outlaw-patriots as of "gigantic" size, with robust limbs and bold looks (262-63). (9) The story of Augustina, the militant heroine during the seige of Zaragoza, was celebrated in Britain (Vaughan 15-16).

No doubt the celebration of such resistance to a rival power allowed a polite British public to defuse some of the anxieties generated by British military operations. And in some respects the discourse of primitive liberty which helped to shape such reactions can be seen as complementing the discourse of civilization which legitimised the expansion of empire. It promoted the same vision of history as a progress from rudeness to refinement, while revaluing it. And, paradoxically, it also represented the interests of the polite classes, even while questioning some aspects of polite culture. Thus while Wordsworth associates commerce, manufactures, and large cities with the loss of liberty and virtue, and with the reveries and flippancies of a language no longer anchored in the realities of daily life, he characteristically side-steps the realities of modern urban agitation, validating instead a primitive form of resistance distanced from the such problems. As we shall see, Scott's novel shows a comparable pattern, focusing on a glamorous highland outlaw rather than on, say, an unemployed Glaswegian "mechanical." Nevertheless, in challenging the moral basis of modern commercial culture, and in celebrating alternatives to polite norms of identity, the discourse of primitive liberty implicitly called into question the values of the system of power which governed the production of such identity. This questioning can be felt throughout much of Scott's novel, not only in the ambivalent representation of highland resistance, but in the indirect exposure of the limitations of the narrator's self-representation in other areas of the narrative.

By the time we reach the end of Rob Roy we have been led to recognize, either directly or obliquely, some questionable characteristics of the mercantile system within which seemingly benign merchants such as Osbaldistone senior and Bailie Nicol Jarvie flourish. Ownership of a plantation in Jamaica implicates the Bailie indirectly in the slave trade, a fact perhaps hinted at in the reference to the "decent man" Captain Coffinkey. Osbaldistone has bought up highland forests without any concern for, or knowledge of, those who live in the highlands. He trades with distant merchants without any clear knowledge of how they might use or abuse the power this connection gives them. The culture of credit has given unsympathetic or unscrupulous creditors the legal right to throw Owen in prison, and to evict Rob Roy's family from their homes. It has also placed alarming power in the hands of the Jacobite Rashleigh. Through such details, the novel confirms a number of Adam Smith's criticisms of mercantilism. And yet while the narrative provides a basis for retrospective criticism of the system that allows such developments, the narrator himself makes no such judgment. He continually judges the personal failings of his past self, his youthful rashness and filial disobedience, but his more general views--those that relate to the wider meaning of his story--remain unrevised. (10) In the early chapters, for example, the rhetoric celebrating merchants and commerce in terms reminiscent of Defoe and Addison is distributed with apparent indifference between the younger and older Frank. To espouse such positive views of trade, while aiming, as young Frank does, to keep at a respectful distance from the world of business, would be in keeping with the civic morality that Scottish writers thought appropriate to a commercial society. But in this retrospective narrative such views have been tested against experiences that challenge them. Where we might expect a clearly defined difference between youth and age, we find continuity. It is the older Frank who asserts the innocence of commerce: "trade has all the fascination of gambling without its moral guilt" (67).

The seeming inadequacy of Frank's judgment here reproduces the split between the benevolent ideology of commerce and the actual consequences of commercial activities. His judgment belongs to the discourse of civilization, which legitimizes such activities in moral as well as in material terms. In this novel, the legitimizing function of the narrative is foregrounded by Scott's avoidance of the omniscient narrator he had previously favored, and his use instead of a first-person narrator. At the beginning of the novel the act of self-narration is associated with narcissism (through the ironical reference to the "great Sully" [67]) and seen to offer seductive opportunities that can be abused. The narrator here is not a public voice addressing an unknown reader, but a voice speaking in private to a trusted friend on whose personal interest, sympathy, and perhaps indulgence, he can rely. Above all, Frank is the immediate beneficiary of some of the events he describes. The relationship between self-interest and judgment is exposed with startling clarity in his hasty tying-up of the narrative. For while the haste may reflect Scott's own impatience with the story, it seems revealingly appropriate to the narrator--since the older Frank passes lightly over events in which the legitimacy of his own claim to the Osbaldistone estate is at issue.

By an inversion characteristic of Scott's fiction, young Frank secures the estate from the claims of Rashleigh at the one moment in the novel when he has voluntarily crossed the line of the law and given shelter to rebels, while Rashleigh dies, accused of treason, at a moment when he is seen on the side of legality, having fought bravely against outlaws. When we might expect a dying confession to secure moral closure, Rashleigh's last words instead attribute his downfall to Frank. As narrator, Frank hurries on, avoiding a direct response:
   I will dwell no longer on so painful a picture, nor say any more of the
   death of Rashleigh, than that it gave me access to my rights of inheritance
   without farther challenge, and that Jobson found himself compelled to
   allow, that the ridiculous charge of misprision of high-treason was got up
   on an affidavit which he made with the sole purpose of favouring
   Rashleigh's views, and removing me from Osbaldistone-hall. (451)

In fact, the charge of misprision of treason seems far from ridiculous, and it is hard to see why Jobson-unless bullied-should be "compelled" to admit so much. The haste and slurring here, the straining for approval, the violence on narrative probability, are fatally expressive. They constitute a microcosmic enactment of the larger slurrings and violence entailed in the production of legitimizing histories, written by the victorious, who inscribe possession as justice, material advantage as moral fitness. What might be dismissed as mere artistic carelessness on Scott's part is, as we shall see, perplexingly consistent with other features of the narrative.

The confessional nature of Frank's narrative-its apparently frank expressions of guilt-is essential to its aim of self-justification. The legitimizing purpose of the narrative requires Frank's rival Rashleigh to be identified as a villainous foil to Frank's essential worth and good nature. But Rashleigh consistently places a self-justifying interpretation on his own actions and motives, so that the "villainy" attributed to him is substantiated primarily through evidence supplied by hostile witnesses. At the same time Frank displays several of the dubious characteristics he attributes to Rashleigh. As civilized narrator Frank embodies the polite virtues of tact, openness, moderation, and good sense. And yet his politeness is from the beginning associated with deceit. The mild comedy of his first words of dialogue-"I am happy, sir," and "I am sorry, sir" (68)-signals his habit of polite duplicity, his strategic manipulation of the "civil phrase" (69). This trait, first set endearingly against his father's plain-dealing economy of speech, soon assumes a more sinister, manipulative appearance as Frank intentionally alarms the traveller Morris with polite, and apparently innocent, questions.

One effect of the slow-moving chapters describing Osbaldistone Hall is to emphasize the relationship between politeness and duplicity. Frank's distrust of Rashleigh is explained partly in terms of Rashleigh's manners, which are associated with a model of politeness that had been largely discredited in Britain by the beginning of the eighteenth century--the courtier (Carre 3). They are linked with Rashleigh's education at St. Omer's in France, and described by Frank as "the manners of an accomplished jesuit" (157). But Frank's manners are associated with his own "French education," which is said to keep his "English feelings" in check (179). If Frank sees Rashleigh's demeanor in terms of theatrical display (176), Die sees a theatrical element in Frank's own behavior (181). While Frank suspects Rashleigh's insincerity, he criticizes Die's dangerous sincerity, her overfrankness, her lack of feminine reserve. He attempts, that is, to judge and regulate her by the polite ideals of feminine identity that she resists. Indeed, Die's presence works to expose the tacit assumption that governs Frank's understanding of politeness--that to speak frankly is to speak rashly.

In other respects, too, the distinction Frank seeks to make between himself and Rashleigh comes under threat. Frank notes with apparent distaste Rashleigh's "studied softness and humility of step and deportment"--characteristics conventionally associated with "the softer graces of the sex" (157, 113). But if Frank attributes feminine characteristics to the cultivated Rashleigh, Die sees Frank's own behavior as remarkably "unmanly" (212). Frank is outraged at the thought that Rashleigh sought to take advantage of Die sexually, but he also makes his own clumsy advances, which are indignantly rejected by Die. By the end of the story, as we have seen, other distinctions between them will have been blurred, as Frank consorts with rebels and apparently fails to report the murder of a government official. In spite of his best efforts, Frank fails to establish the clear contrast between hero and villain that his claim to moral and legal authority requires.

A criticism that expects fiction to offer clear moral resolutions may either ignore such blurring of distinctions, and accept Frank's judgments as unquestionably authoritative--as much sympathetic criticism of the novel has tended to do--or else simply read Frank's failure as Scott's. But the historical perspective of the novel works to relativize judgment even as it privileges the narrator's interpretation. The figure of the highland outlaw is used to establish an alternative perspective on the historical condition from which the narrator speaks. Rob Roy's first appearance is heralded by a range of English preconceptions about the Scots: the legends of Mabel Rickets, the complaints of Frank's father, the political assumptions of other English travellers. He is seen not as a Highlander, but as a generic "North Briton" or "Scotch" man of "no very dignified professional pursuit" (93, 96). Indeed, we are given a polite Englishman's view of the Scot as mimic man, one who strives to suppress "peculiarities of idiom or dialect" and appear as a "gentleman." But the mimicry here is not that described by Homi Bhabha, which conceals no presence behind its mask (Bhabha 88). For while "Campbell" seems disadvantaged in precisely those terms by which the English gentleman assesses social status (occupation, education, speech, dress), he also appears superior to those terms in his airs and manners. The identity available to him within the burgeoning economy of the Union (in which cattle-trading was for a while to flourish) is registered as inappropriate and demeaning. We later learn that his involvement in the culture of credit led to his financial ruin.

As Campbell reappears in later scenes, so he begins to assume or reassume his distinctive Highland identity, until in chapter 35, having escaped from Montrose, he is finally seen at home in his native setting, as one of the Children of the Mist. One of his most important functions in the novel is to enact this peeling away of the British identity that obscures and constrains his Highland self. This self, identified with a rude, pre-commercial existence, provides a glimpse of a state of being that is fettered "by system and affectation" in the progress towards civil order (410). In his demeaning lowland garb Rob Roy makes visible the fetters imposed by commercial society and exposes the affectation that governs the polite gentleman. His first words (about the thievery of English gaugers and supervisors, and about the markets in the south [93]) strip commerce of the innocence with which Frank's own rhetoric would endow it. At the ale-house table, in a discussion of the respective rights of Stuarts and Hanoverians, Campbell reduces political legitimacy to a matter of possession and self-interest, of whether the present king can "haud the grip he has gotten" (97). While the novel may officially distinguish between the theory of property espoused by Frank's father (79), and the romantic vision of "the good old rule" presented in the title-page epigraph, the highlander allows no such distinction. The moral difference between Osbaldistone senior, whose commercial speculations are successful, and Rob Roy, who was ruined by his own gambles with credit, lies not in the drive for gain, which they share, but in Rob's readiness to acknowledge its amoral nature.

If the presence of Rob Roy exposes polite self-deceptions, his partial alignment with a pre-commercial identity allows the novel's concern with specific issues--such as credit, gaugers, and government policy in the highlands--to shade into a broader concern with civilization as a state of confinement. This strategy helps to limit the scope of the novel's vision when Frank embarks upon the delicate task of representing the commercial city of Glasgow. Here Frank's narration is at its most strangely ambivalent. The city he sees is the pre-industrial city that the guide books of Scott's time recommended to tourists, the city of historic buildings, including the Cathedral, college, old bridge and Tolbooth (see MacNayr, and Anon. Picture of Glasgow). (11) Frank's aesthetic evaluations of this city belong to the discourse of civilization, but a primary effect of his narration is to represent the city as the symbolic opposite of the Highlands--as the negation, that is, of primitive liberty. In the Highlands, according to the Bailie, men "may gang whewing and whistling without minding Sunday or Saturday" (276). In Glasgow such carefree behavior seems out of the question, since life appears dominated by formal institutions which sternly regulate desire. Frank's response thus sometimes moves oddly between touristic appreciation and fascinated revulsion, the former licensing the latter. His description of the presbyterian service in the cathedral, for example, is prefaced by a positive evaluation (the aesthetic effect of the service is superior to that of the French Mass), but actually offers a series of negative impressions that culminate in a mysterious warning of danger and the epiphany of the "sinister" Mr. MacVittie (247). Frank's description of the sabbath "pleasure-walk" by the Clyde follows a similar pattern. (12) The threatening mood of restraint and repression established in these episodes anticipates the scene in the Tolbooth prison (the cathedral doors are locked during the service). As Ian Duncan puts it, the murk of the cathedral evokes a "nightmarish intensification of the rule of law" (Rob Roy xxii). The evocation of presbyterian Glasgow as a city of darkness is relieved by the sympathetic portrait of the Bailie, who emerges as the novel's prime Scottish advocate of trade and improvement. And yet the positive aspects of this portrait are precisely those which distinguish him from both the gentlemanly style of Frank and the severity of the Glaswegian temper already established, and which make palpable his kinship with the highland outlaw--an unrestrained Scots vulgarity worthy of a "Scotch pedlar," a "total want of delicacy" (262,266). It is his sinister counterparts, the shadowy MacVittie and company, who are characterized as "civil" (263).

In the Glasgow chapters resistance to oppressive civil order is represented primarily by Rob Roy himself, whose symbolic opposition appears to stand in place of historical resistance of a very different kind. For as the Bailie's passing reference to "rabblings," "risings," "mobs" reveals once the city has been left behind (312), Glasgow had a history of violent agitation. Some of Scott's contemporary readers may have known that the first Scottish riots against the Union had broken out in Glasgow, in scenes featuring the Tolbooth, the Cathedral and the town Bailies (see Defoe, History 179-207). A primary function of Andrew Fairservice (who has been seen as unnecessary to the plot) is to represent lowland resentment of the Union in a form that seems ridiculous, hypocritical, and safely removed from urban causes of discontent. (13) Those readers who had little or no knowledge of Scotland's distant past would be familiar with the Glasgow Tolbooth from newspaper reports of its place in the recent rioting of distressed weavers. (14) Scott's own anxiety about the state of the "abominable manufacturing districts" of Scotland, which seemed to have caught a contagion from England, cannot have been far from his mind as he wrote these chapters (Scott, Letters 4:369-70, 456-57). But such discontents, which seem immediately relevant to the novel's commercial theme, are not examined directly. Instead, the Highlander's criticism of commercial society is expressed as contempt for "weavers and spinners, and sic-like mechanical persons" (272), rather than as sympathy for them. This is a characteristic strategy: serious protest against the oppression legitimized by commercial society is displaced from the still-dangerous lowland city into other areas of the novel, and especially the highlands--from which (in the wake of the highland clearances) no credible agitation could now come.

Apart from Rob Roy himself, the most significant voices of protest are female. When Frank first sees Osbaldistone Hall peeping through a "Druidical grove of huge oaks" (100), he looks as with the eye of an imperial Roman upon a strange primitive northern culture. Seen in relation to the unimproved manners of Sir Hildebrand and his less-educated sons, Frank's cultural superiority seems secure. But in relation to Die it always seems precarious. When Frank attempts gallantry, Die ironically compares his "pretty sayings" with the toys navigators carry to newly discovered lands to propitiate the "savage inhabitants" (112). Die's figurative alignment of herself with the savage registers her subordinate status, not as Catholic and Jacobite, but as woman, and it implicitly identifies Frank's politeness as part of a colonizing project. Her impatience with polite constraints on female behavior, her mild contempt for the image of femininity promoted by The Spectator (113), and her outright rejection of the conventional trappings of the modern polite female identify the cultural standards represented by Frank with domination, repression, and loss of identity. When she shows Frank the library which she regards as her own space, she explains:
   you neither see a shepherd or shepherdess wrought in worsted, and
   handsomely framed in black ebony,--or a stuffed parrot,--or a
   breeding-cage, full of canary-birds,--or a housewife-case, broidered with
   tarnished silver,--or a toilette-table, with a nest of japanned boxes, with
   as many angles as Christmas mincedpies,--or a broken-backed spinet,--or a
   lute with three strings [...] None of these treasures do I possess. (155)

In this context the "treasures" represent a standard of wealth and culture that presupposes no tradition. Specifically they represent approved accomplishments and attributes that daughters of an emergent middle class can rapidly acquire. Some of these--the ebony, parrot, canary, japanned boxes--are signs of that international trade that has already been discussed in heroic terms in the narrative--here registered through a range of consumer goods of dubious utility. The passage reflects upon a commercial ideology that gives woman-as-consumer a central place, at the cost of conformity and standardization. It registers distaste at the creation of an urban, cosmopolitan culture that draws promiscuously on other cultures, at the risk of entirely blurring historical distinctions of family, class, and nation.

There seems at first to be no alternative maternal tradition with which Die could identify herself in order to distinguish herself from the domestic female: Die's Scottish mother is absent. The irony of Die's situation is that, in dissociating herself from this modern femininity, she aligns herself with a masculine, chivalric, aristocratic tradition, sustained by its own symbolic "goods and chattels" (155), that would also deny her individuality and force her to marry one of Sir Hildebrand's sons. Unable to speak freely of her own desires, she becomes associated with allegorical discourses--with Spenser and Dante--which hint at veiled meanings and buried truths. But in the highlands that which cannot be spoken of directly elsewhere in the novel at last finds open expression of a sort in a sequence that introduces Helen MacGregor. The novel creates oblique links between Die and Helen. They are both characterized as Amazons (102, 349). They are linked through imagery: Die is associated with the tamed and spitted falcon (155); Helen is compared to a hawk about to pounce upon its prey (366). And they are also linked indirectly through genealogy. We learn early on that Die is the daughter of a Scotchwoman; but only near the end do we discover that her mother was apparently "a relation of the house of Breadalbane" (162, 430). The first Earl of Breadalbane joined the rebellion in 1715; his name was Sir John Campbell. Campbell is, of course, the name Rob Roy adopts when MacGregor is proscribed. In the pattern created by these links, Helen MacGregor--or Helen Campbell--stands in place of Die's own mother--and it is appropriate that she should forward Die's ring to Frank, and feature in his dream as counterpart to Sir Frederick Vernon. The Scottish side of Die's ancestry is suppressed through her commitment to her English father's line of descent. Helen MacGregor's violent irruption into the text suggests the return of the repressed.

The appearance of Helen is heralded and followed by scenes of a kind that were re-enacted many times in reports of contemporary military campaigns and uprisings--featuring local resentment at the presence of foreign troops, an ambush, an atrocity, a violent hunt for a human fugitive. The physical violence is matched by an intensification of the conflict between the discourse of primitive liberty and the discourse of civilization. Just as Die's masculine habits disrupt the polite categories by which Frank tries to judge her, so Helen confounds distinctions between masculine and feminine, heroism and barbarism, liberty and excess. Her appearance on a rock aligns her with the patriotic resistance of Gray's Bard to English tyranny. Her eloquent denunciation of the British forces--in an English of near impeccable politeness--recalls the example of the Caledonian chief Calgacus who, in Tacitus's Agricola, spoke eloquently of the oppression the Romans have brought upon his people in the name of civil policy (in his autobiography Scott recalls spouting this speech at a public examination [Lockhart 10]). Just as the Iberian guerrillas were compared to ancient patriots resisting the power of Rome, so the epigraphs of chapters 30 and 31 implicitly compare Helen's defiance of British power with the patriotic resistance of Boadicea and Brinno to imperial Rome. (15) But the epigraph from Fletcher's play Bondunca also belongs to the discourse of civilization, as the narrative reaches beyond the sanitized image of Boadicea promoted by Cowper and others, to an older image of the queen in which female resistance, female power, female violence, are represented as aspects of barbarism. Lying behind Fletcher's play, as Scott would have known, was Holinshed's chronicle in which Boadicea's forces are said to have "hanged up naked" noblewomen, cut off their breasts and "sewed them to their mouths, that they might seem as if they sucked and fed on them" (Holinshed 1:500). (16) Scott apparently has this barbaric precedent in mind, although Helen's violence endangers men: she threatens to cut out their tongues and put them in each other's throat, tear out their hearts and put them in each other's breast. Here, and in the merciless execution of Morris, a feminized officer of the British state, her violence threatens masculine integrity; while her "lopping" of the Bailie's "genealogical tree" suggests castration. In this respect Frank's representation of Helen MacGregor registers his horror of female excess, of savage female passion unconstrained by masculine authority.

By the characteristic logic of Scott's narrative, Morris, the agent of oppressive law, becomes the powerless victim, while Helen, the victim of oppression, becomes the powerful aggressor--and it is the horrific aspect of Helen's actions that renders the text safe. Helen MacGregor assumes her defiant role in the absence of the nominal hero of the narrative, her husband Rob Roy. The novel would have been a very different work had Rob Roy himself performed this act of violence. At this climactic and most resonant point, the female is substituted for the male, making heroic resistance indivisible from culpable female excess, an excess which can be neutralized by the restoration of masculine hierarchy with the return of Rob Roy. When Rob returns, Helen is conspicuously, and with some irony, put back into the domestic sphere, where she resumes her "more feminine" identity as wife, mother, hostess. Judith Wilt observes that all acts of power by women in the Waverley novels have a curious status somewhere between "imposture" and the "compelling reality of a part acted out with complete self-abandon" (119). In this novel the powerful woman's resumption of a domestic identity is also felt as an imposture, while Rob himself becomes representative of that very principle of order he violates as outlaw. In this way the act of violent resistance is at once tacitly endorsed, condemned, and discounted.

The domesticating of Helen foreshadows a similar destiny for Die, who could only become a respectable Mrs. Osbaldistone by assuming the polite feminine identity she despises. Her death at least spares the novel from dwelling on this ultimate act of narrative violence. Such maneuvers seem necessary to Scott, as the conditions that enable him not only to circumvent but also to confront issues that have an immediate relevance to his own age. As Scott's first readers had good reason to know, the turbulent violence represented in the Highland scenes did not belong only to a past age that could be viewed nostalgically (as his later critics have often implied), but was being re-enacted in their own age with increasing cost on the expanding frontiers of empire. The narrative which shows the English hero as a gentlemanly beneficiary of such violence can be said to privilege the discourse of civilization, but it also exposes the deception and self-interest entailed in the process. It exposes, that is, what is at issue in the self-representation of the polite English gentleman, and in his ideal of feminity. The narrator may represent desirable norms of civil speech and manners, but those norms are also seen in the context of a colonizing project in which they threaten to constrain and demean those--specifically the female and the Scot--who are placed in a subordinate category of identity. His polite language may be offered as the appropriate medium of disinterested history, but its problematic nature is exposed both thematically and in the discursive conflicts that unsettle his judgments. The ambivalence that plays through the narrative arises from contradictions which the narrator repeatedly fails to recognise; it represents a deep uncertainty about the ideology of modern commerce and about the basis of British prosperity in an age of empire. The novel's power over its first readers probably had little to do with what Lukacs terms "historical authenticity," its faithfulness to a period already past (50). It may have had much more to do with its representation of the conflicts and confusions of contemporary history in a form that both distances and personalizes them, making them resonate with a powerful mythic intensity.



(1) As Paul Langford notes, every war during the Hanoverian era was "in essence a commercial war, and to a marked extent a colonial war, whether the enemy was a rival power or one's own insubordinate colonists. Every peace was the continuation of war by economic means" (3).

(2) Addison argues in The Freeholder that through trade and navigation Britain could "reap the Advantages of Conquest, without Violence or Injustice" and lay other Nations "under a kind of Contribution" without any act of hostility. At the same time, the civilizing power of trade would work to banish from Britain "all the remains of its antient Barbarity" (229, 225).

(3) See also Dickey 63-96 and Penovich 228-42.

(4) Kathleen Wilson argues that the American crisis "created an opportunity and an audience for the arguments of the anti-imperialists (always an articulate minority) that empire itself was the primary source of national luxury and corruption" (253). See Miller 214 ff.

(5) For example, Beatson includes a frontispiece engraving of Tippoo Sultan, descriptions of marches, ambushes, a siege, a description of Seringatapam and of Tippo's library, a history of the Mysore Kingdom and "A general View of the Advantages Resulting to the British Interests from the Conquest of Mysore." Moor includes descriptions of scenery, native customs, sketches of the character of Tippoo Sultan and of the Mahratta's domestic government and character, plates showing Tippoo's coins, and a glossary of Indian and military terms.

(6) The comparison was made by J. Agg in one of the earliest pamphlets on the event in which the rising is compared to the ancient Spanish rebellion against the Roman Sempronius and the insurrection of Viriatus (Agg 60-64).

(7) Wordsworth published some of his poems on national independence in Coleridge's The Friend on October 26 and December 21, 1809.

(8) Scott followed Wordsworth in comparing the modern Iberians with the ancient Numantians who had resisted Rome in the second century BC (stanza XI).

(9) De Rocca cited the Spaniards' distance from the disputes and controversies that had wracked much of Europe in the sixteenth century, and from the "philosophical" spirit of the eighteenth century which had helped to spark the revolution in France (De Rocca 7).

(10) David Hewitt discusses several aspects of Scott's innovative use of the first person narrator. In a brilliant reading, Jane Millgate argues that "autobiography is here transformed into a ritual for keeping full understanding at bay" (146).

(11) Both guides make special mention of the sublime gloom of the Barony Laigh church beneath the Cathedral.

(12) The inhabitants seem "impressed with a reverential feeling," and give an "intimation of a devotional character"--but soon Frank is overcome with an oppressive sense of being exposed to observation (250-51).

(13) Fairservice complains about the loss of the Scottish parliament (131), and about the role of excisemen and gaugers (231). He exemplifies prejudice about the superiority of Scottish institutions over English ones. Donald Davie sees him as "one huge excrescence on the story" (128).

(14) The Times carried several reports of Glasgow riots in August 1816, and February and March 1817.

(15) It is an open question as to whether these epigraphs are part of Frank's narrative, or an editorial commentary upon it.

(16) Holinshed's account of this specifically female savagery has been related to the outcry against women's sovereignty in the sixteenth century (Mikalachki 130-31).


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Addison, Joseph, and Richard Steele. The Spectator. Ed. Donald F. Bond. 5 vols. New York: Oxford UP, 1965.

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Beatson, Alexander. View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun. London, 1800.

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--. The History of the Union between England and Scotland. Dublin, 1799.

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Dickey, Laurence. "Power, Commerce, and Natural Law in Daniel Defoe's Political Writings 1698-1707." A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the British Union of 1707. Ed. John Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. 63-96.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980.

Hewitt, David. "Rob Roy and First Person Narratives." Scott and His Influence. Ed. J. H. Alexander and David Hewitt. Aberdeen: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1983. 372-81.

Holinshed, Raphael. Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland In Six Volumes. London, 1807.

Keen, Paul. The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s: Print Culture and the Public Sphere. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

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Miller, Peter N. Defining the Common Good: Empire, religion and philosophy in eighteenth-century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

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Penovich, Katherine P. "From `Revolution Principles' to Union: Daniel Defoe's Intervention on the Scottish Debate." A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the British Union of 1707. Ed. John Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. 228-42.

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Scott, Sir Walter. The Letters of Sir Walter Scott: 1815-1817. Ed. H. J. C. Grierson. 12 vols. London: Constable, 1933.

--. Rob Roy. Ed. Ian Duncan. New York: Oxford UP, 1998. At the time of writing, this is the best properly edited text in print (it is based on the 1829 text, which includes minor revisions to the first edition of 1817).

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Wilson, Kathleen. "The good, the bad, and the impotent: Imperialism and the politics of identity in Georgian England." The Consumption of Culture 1600-1800: Image, Object, Text. Ed. Ann Bermingham and John Brewer. New York: Routledge, 1995. 237-62.

Wilt, Judith. Secret Leaves: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

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Title Annotation:Sir Walter Scott
Author:Lincoln, Andrew
Publication:Studies in the Novel
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUS
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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