Thursday, March 02, 2017

Literary ephemera - Scott etc

Last Sunday, in a charity shop in Bath, I found copies of two of the three Scott novels that I've never read: Anne of Geierstein and Count Robert of Paris. I've been looking out for these for years, and am still crazy with excitement five days later.

Not, you understand, that my expectations are unduly high. It was during the painful composition of Anne of Geierstein (1829) ("I hate Anne", he wrote in his journal) that Scott really became aware that his powers were failing him. Count Robert of Paris (1831) was dictated to Laidlaw, as Scott could no longer read his own handwriting. At one point he had a severe stroke (his third) that nearly killed him. Nevertheless the novel was at last written. But the soul-destroying labour of making alterations demanded by Cadell and Ballantyne, alterations with which he did not agree, was finally beyond him. He gave up, and told them to publish Count Robert as it stood. Then he left for the Mediterranean in a final, unavailing, quest for health. As soon as he'd sailed, Lockhart rewrote large parts of the novel at Cadell's prompting. Scott never found out.

[I am taking as authoritative Kurt Gamerschlag's absorbing account of the composition of Count Robert of Paris (Studies in Scottish Literature Vol XV No 1 (Jan 1980) ]

When I was first interested in Scott, back in the 1970s, second-hand bookshops groaned with unwanted copies of The Waverley Novels.  Forty years later these books have largely gone to ground (probably literally in many cases). The more obscure Scott novels, especially these very late ones, are rarely seen.

Of course you can read them all on-line, but my upper limit for on-line reading is a short story. If, like me,  you insist on obscure Scott in book form, then you're quite likely to find it in one of the two inexpensive editions shown above.

The dingy but serviceable volume on the right is from the Centenary edition, published by Adam and Charles Black (Edinburgh). This copy of Count Robert of Paris (volume 24) is dated 1887. The name must refer to the centenary of Scott's birth in 1871, but rather belatedly; the volumes I've seen are all dated 1886-87. They belie appearance by including a full set of apparatus: in this case a frontispiece, Lockhart's note on Scott's sources, Jedediah's Introduction (in this case, largely written by Lockhart), Notes and Index.

The more attractive volume on the left is from the Melrose Edition, published in London by the Caxton Publishing Co. No date is given, but I've read that this series dates from around 1930.  Still dangerously carried away by my finds at the week-end, I liberated this copy of The Heart of Midlothian from the shelves of a local pub a couple of days later. This volume doesn't contain any apparatus except for a glossary -- no 1830 Introduction, and No! not even the worthy Jedediah Cleishbotham! Instead, it starts straight in -- or nearly straight in -- with Peter Pattieson speaking of the slow horse-carts of thirty years since. In a mere fifteen pages we will actually be catapulted into the story...

This unseemly haste is hard to forgive, but there are compensations in the form of a variety of illustrations, some by Cruikshank in satiric/comedic mode, and others of a more serious or sentimental cast ("The Interview Between Effie Deans and Her Sister in Prison", by Robert Herdman, R.S.A).

Of course, when once embarked on the journey of reading Scott, such trivialities become altogether irrelevant. We enter a world in which everything is perfect, that is to say, adequate. These two words become identical in meaning.


Other things that I am reading, or want to write about, or am planning to write about:

Katherine Mansfield (I picked up a copy of Bliss in the second-hand bookshop at Batemans).

More Kipling stories (I also unnecessarily indulged in yet another selection of Kipling's stories).

Richard Makin's Dwelling and Mourning. The visible parts of his monumental construction of non-narrative prose.

I want to update my essay on Lisa Samuels' Tomorrowland with all the things I've subsequently learnt from reading Zoë Skoulding's essay about it.

A Swedish book, 100 frågor och svar om att väntar barn (100 questions and answers about your pregnancy)

Philip Massinger. George Eliot's Adam Bede. Tolstoy. More Samaniego.

Swedish poets: Bo Setterlind and Olof Lagercrantz.

Oh well, back to the TEFL course....



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