Tuesday, 2 October 2001

Sir Walter Scott: The Bride of Lammermoor (1819)

Edition: Caxton, 1900 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 950

Scott was once the most famous writer of his generation, and his novels were still quite widely read until relatively recently. Today, though, most of them have pretty much lapsed into obscurity. The Bride of Lammermoor, for example, is probably better known today through the opera Donizetti based on it.

The Bride of Lammermoor is basically a melodramatic variation on Romeo and Juliet. As the son of a Jacobite, Edgar, Master of Ravenswood, has lost his estates to Whig lawyer Sir William Ashton. He lives in poverty in an romantic ruined castle, Wolf's Crag, and falls in love with Lucy, William Ashton's daughter. Ashton himself is reasonably willing to permit the match, as he has no personal animus against Ravenswood and as he moreover forsees an imminent improvement in the political fortunes of the Tories. His wife has other plans for Lucy, though, and so she remains implacably opposed to the match.

While there is much in the novel which has dated, The Bride of Lammermoor still remains exciting in part. The opera simlifies the novel, leaving out many of the minor characters, and this is something which is going to improve it. The servant characters are mainly used by Scott as opportunities for atmosphere or humour, and to a modern reader they seem two dimensional and their use heavy handed. This is particularly the case with Ravenswood's servant Caleb Balderston, who spends the entire novel making extraordinary efforts to conceal the very obvious diminution in the family fortunes.

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