Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sir Walter Scott: Kenilworth (1821) - two notes.

1. Zacharias Yoglan, the Jew, is a minor character in Kenilworth (Volume II, Ch 1). Wayland Smith, the shapeshifting blacksmith/alchemist/swashbuckling retainer, purchases a very rare ingredient from him.

"And vat might your worship vant vith that drug that is not named, mein god, in forty years I have been chemist here?" .... This (black powder) he offered to Wayland, his manner conveying the deepest devotion towards him, though an avaricious and jealous expression which seemed to grudge every grain of which his customer was about to possess himself, disputed ground in his countenance, with the obsequious deference which he desired it should exhibit...

It's pretty disappointing to see Scott falling back on this anti-Semitic stereotype nonsense, only a year or two after he had made some decent effort to go beyond it in Ivanhoe. In that novel, Judaism turned out to be an important topic and in portraying Rebecca Scott began to imagine what it might be like to be a pejoratively-labelled alien in Merrie England. But in Kenilworth Scott's vision is of a dangerous but thrilling society of entrepreneurs, and he has no compunction about chucking in an avaricious Jew in passing, just to underline Wayland's skilled manoeuvring in the City.

It's a shame, maybe, to dwell on this detail from such a brilliant book, but the shame is Scott's.

2. Surprisingly to me, Kenilworth (now more or less forgotten by all but academics) was twice serialized on BBC television.

The 1957 serialization, in six 30 minute episodes, was in 1957, with a young Paul Eddington playing Edmund Tressilian. (The actor later beloved as Jerry in The Good Life and as Jim Hacker in Yes, Minister.) It is apparently lost.

The second serialization, in 1967, consisted of four 45-minute episodes. This time Edmund Tressilian was played by Jeremy Brett, later a memorable Sherlock Holmes for Granada Television. One of the episodes is said to survive. I don't suppose it's very good. But it emphasizes that the once hugely popular author was at that time still an enervated presence within popular culture.



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