Building Scotland in Literature. Sir Walter Scott and Diana Gabaldon. Scottish Nation and Nationalism

Bachelor Thesis, 2016
37 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents



3.1.1 Antagonisms and Binary Oppositions
3.1.2 Threat of the Wilderness
3.1.3 War and Destruction
3.1.4 Restoration of Scotland with English help
3.3.1 The Highland Costume
3.3.2 Scottish Food
3.3.3 Gaelic and Scottish English




1. Introduction

“ You can cover a great deal of country in books ”

Andrew Lang

In the early 1990s, David McCrone coined the term of Scotland as “a nation which is not a state” (1992: 33). While he sees the idea of the Scottish Nation as a given construction, the discussion about sovereignty has a long history. Ever since the day in April 1707, when the Treaty of the Union with England was signed, a large part of the Scottish people protested against English dominance (cf. Oliver 2010: 295), and they do so until today, as the latest referendum on the question of achieving independence from England in 2014 has shown. However, it is quite interesting that, while the question of a Scottish national state is still unanswered and its boundaries to the English administration remain blurry, the Scottish people nevertheless seem to have a deep sense of their nationality, their past, their struggles and a very clear vision of what it means to be Scottish.

While numerous works have been published in the field of the development of the British devolution and the history of the Scottish nationalist movement grounded in a social or economic perspective,1 works about ‘nation formation’ based on a common cultural consciousness drawn from 19th-century literature are rarely found. Yet it is essential to examine the roots of the modern vision of Scotland that people in the country and foreigners alike have in mind when they think of the country north of Hadrian’s Wall. This vision is reflected in advertisements featuring tartan, kilts and depictions of beautiful landscapes in the tourism industry and tv-adaptations of novels for example, raising the question from where this image originates.

1.1 Hypothesis

The focal points of this paper relate to the given image of the Scottish Nation as it currently stands and how it originally was created. I will argue that the images of Scotland used today are the result of a literary depiction which was created 200 years ago, the basic assumption being that the modern image has its roots in historical novels such as Waverley; Or, ´ Tis Sixty Years Since, which was published in 1814 . Its author, Sir Walter Scott, has laid the groundwork for the concept of the Scottish identity with this and the following so-called Waverley Novels 2. Typically, Scott is referred to as “[T]he man who invented a Nation”, as Kelly (2011) proclaims in his book Scott-Land.

1.2 Outline

Although Scott was immensely popular in Scotland and widely read in continental Europe as well, it will be interesting to examine whether his influence is as far reaching as Kelly suggests. There are many contemporary authors who also write fiction on Scotland´s past and attract their readers to the topic. One of them is Diana Gabaldon, an extremely successful North American writer. Therefore, this paper aims at analysing Gabaldon´s Outlander (2005) , the first volume of the correspondent contemporary series of historical novels. In order to identify the remnants of Scott’s influence, Waverley will first be analysed thoroughly in order to outline the features Scott used to establish his vision of Scotland. Afterwards, this set of criteria will be applied to Outlander in order to draw a comparison that provides an answer to my hypothesis on Scott’s influence.

The thesis will consider the concept of national identity focusing primarily on the period between 1746 and Scott´s lifetime (he died in 1832); in addition to examining how the manifestations of Scottish identity during this period continue to resonate in mass media today. This period is especially important with regard to the Jacobite Rebellion and its implications after its defeat at Culloden. This lost battle not only ended the Stuart aspirations for the Scottish-English throne, it also marked the start of a brutal campaign against the Highland culture and Gaelic language with the aim of erasing it (cf. Oliver 2011: 320f.). In retrospect, Scottish nationalism became de facto extinct in the decades that were to follow. In Scott’s early lifetime, people were therefore badly informed about their country’s history, the clan structure diminished and the Lowlands close to the English border were more attached to England than to their own fragmented country. Many Scots immigrated to the colonies across the Atlantic, and those who stayed were busy trying to survive, with little interest in the past or politics (cf. Oliver 2010: 355f.).

The following chapters will outline the development from this fragmented state of affairs towards the deep consciousness of nationality that permeates in Scotland today in addition to how Scott personally contributed to this transformation and how he continues to echo in today’s literature and popular culture, notably within mass media such as the tourism industry.

2. Nation and nationalism in this paper

Relevant research has approached the abstract conception of the nation in various works. Eric Hobsbawm for example sees the term ‘nation’ in accordance with most other scholars as something that was first of all created and shaped by nationalist movements and therefore “nicht als eine ursprüngliche oder unveränderliche soziale Einrichtung” (2005: 20)3. This implies that a nation is something artificially created by a larger group of humans that wish to belong together and to also differentiate themselves from other groups.

When thinking about how a nation can be created in the first place, it is worth turning to Andersons Imagined Communities (2006). In the chapter on The Origin of a National Consciousness, he argues that the groundwork on which a nation can establish a feeling of togetherness also lies in the publishing industry. Anderson subsequently identifies the surge of capitalism as one of the key factors in the rise of the nation as a popular type of community in the modern era. Book- publishing is one early form of that economic system of private ownership capital (cf. Anderson 2006: 37-40). He is quick to go as far as to call it “print-capitalism” (2006: 40). With the various print-languages that differed from Latin, a national consciousness was possible to establish among the reading public. Books, on the one hand, provided a platform for exchange and also communication. Moreover, they also showed that the demand for a certain (printed) language implies a certain amount of readership in a region or a country. It is this awareness of “fellowreaders” (2006: 44), which leads to the vision of a collective, or, as Anderson coins the term, “the nationally imagined community” (2006: 44).

As the meaning of ‘nation’ in its cultural understanding for this paper has been defined, it is essential to briefly explain how ‘nationalism’ is understood and distinguished from the former. Following Anderson’s theory, it is a key factor towards a feeling of nationality and in consequence one that leads to the creation of nations. Clearly, nationalism implies the notion of a political movement when one takes into consideration its definition of it being the “advocacy of or support for national independence or self-determination” (OED online, s.v. nationalism, n.) which is usually expressed through political activism. Hobsbawm endorses this definition by stating that ‘nationalism’ can be seen as the political duty of each individual, which surpasses all other duties a person can have, and that it is an indicator of modern forms of nationalisms (cf. 2005: 20). When he elaborates on national movements in 19th century Europe, he follows Hroch’s classification into three stages. First, there is a purely cultural or literary background to the movement without any political ambitions but simply as a collective of folkloristic elements (A). Then, this movement transforms into political aspirations; the spearhead of nationalism, striving for an independent state that corresponds with the already existent abstract vision of a common cultural nation (B). The third stage (C), finally assembles the masses, when campaigners reach the working class and political programs are drafted (cf. Hobsbawm 2005: 23).

2.1 Nation and nationalism in Scotland

When comparing Hroch’s classification of the nationalist movement to the Scottish nationalist development, Scott’s lifetime and literary works should be attributed to the first stage (A). At his time, roughly sixty years have passed since the abatement of the Jacobite Rebellion. Being a radical nationalist movement in its final stage, Scottish nationalism had declined along with the Highland Clearances in the years that followed the defeat in 1746. Already from 1707 onwards, the Union with England, promising as it was regarding the riches and possibilities the Empire offered, had turned many Scots into ‘North Britons’ (cf. Oliver 2010: 368). In the years between 1750 and 1815, capitalism began to establish itself in Scotland, or at least in the Lowlands south of Edinburgh and the regions close to the English border. Moving further northwards towards the Highlands, remnants of the clan system were still visible in the form of a conservative, semi-feudal system of community organization and mode of production. This development resulted in a cultural division of the northern and the southern part of the country, preventing a revival of a nationalist movement. Although this north-south split had been similar before 1746, the fact that afterwards Scotland was a British state with different personnel on the level of stately institutions etc., has an undeniable impact on this development (cf. Hyslop 1981: 42).

In retrospect however, I think that the nationalist movement of the 18th century towards independence from England was first and foremost against the English and about being British, and only to a lesser extent for Scotland as a nation. Fuelled by the exiled Stuart prince and loyal clansmen in the Highlands it was not necessarily a movement everyone living in the Lowlands would sign up for, though it is tempting to see it as a unified upheaval (cf. Hyslop 1981: 41). When it was over, it was capitalism and the hope of a prosperous future that tied the Union closer together, and it was nationalism which was fading out.

Some scholars even go as far as stating that the Scottish Lowland region was feeling more English than Scottish (“Anglo-Scots”, Connell 2004: 261), a fact that prevented a homogenous Scottish cultural identity in the 18th and 19th centuries. While this clear antagonism ironically enabled the Scottish nationalism to rise again in the 1920s (cf. Connell 2004: 252-263), symbols of the Highland culture were turned into “cultural markers that could distinguish Scotland from England along cultural lines” (2004: 261). This movement was nothing new, as writers like Sir Walter Scott also used key elements of Highland culture to dress their image of Scotland in their novels.

Scott’s lifetime was overshadowed by the wars that followed the French Revolution. Le Terreur - the regime that terrified France and the rest of Europe in the years after 1789 - showed how revolutions can go wrong and frightened many enlightened Scots. A French invasion seemed probable at the close of the century, so that militia groups in Scotland were raised and the Scottish volunteers made up more than 30 percent of the British volunteer defence force. Of course, the ban on Scottish people going to arms had to be abolished first (cf. Oliver 2010: 377-380)4. This number shows how willing many Scottish people were to defend the Union and how positive the people north of the Scottish-English border were towards the connection between the two countries.

Scott acknowledged that sentiment of his fellow citizens. Having grown up in the Lowlands himself5, he in fact also saw Scotland’s future tied to the Union in terms of economy and of course also politically. However, he was afraid that people might forget about their cultural heritage, their folklore and their history of struggle, a sentiment which is clearly communicated in an entry in his diary in 1826:

[…] I have said what I wanted to say and put the people of Scotland on their guard […]. They are gradually destroying what remains of nationality and making the country tabula rasa for doctrines of bold innovation. Their lowering and grinding all those peculiarities which distinguished us as Scotsmen will throw the country into a state in which it will be universally turnd to […] a very dangerous North British neighbourhood. (Anderson 1998: 131)

Out of this concern (and partly because of the realisation that he could not surpass Lord Byron’s poetry), he set out and turned from poetry to prose. Writing some of the first historical novels6, he casually became a social engineer: after years without a national identity, he evoked an interest in everything Scottish in readers at home and abroad, creating a romanticised and simplified picture of his home country and reminding people that there was something in their nation to be proud of in spite of everything else (cf. Oliver 2010: 380-382).

2.2 Scott-Land: Staging Scottish Culture?

Before an overview of Scott’s various activities in relation to history and national identity will be presented, it is essential to understand his motifs and the person behind them. Scott had the title The Great Unknown - bestowed by one of his biographers Edgar Johnson - as a result of his anonymous publications, and I think also due to his multifarious personality and various interests. Other researchers agree with Kirsty Archer-Thompson, the collections manager at Scott’s estate Abbotsford near Melrose, when she argues that there were two souls in one body.7 It seems contradictory, when a lifelong lawyer, a conservative Tory and an ardent supporter of the Union writes historical novels that present Scottish history as something worthy of remembrance. “It was the heart versus the head”,8 as she states. “Scott was a practical man [and a lawyer] who wanted peace. But this did not prevent him to use his greater talent as a catalyst to try something new”.9 It was not common to give up one’s profession in those times to solely become a writer. So he worked as a lawyer until his death, but his wishful longing enabled backward glances which he successfully turned into romanticised stories and novels of heroes who were also torn between two sides. It was his way to make history popular and accessible, to spark an interest that was until then non-existent. Of course this second income also enabled him to create Abbotsford, his fairy-tale version of a Scottish baronial country house. The estate reflects his interest in history, literature and everything Scottish10 and provided a retreat from Edinburgh and a place to write.

The seed was planted in him when he heard his grandparents and his aunt recite the border ballads, after which it never died off. When the ballads were secured and published, and even his own collection of border songs, were out on the market, there was room for new challenges. After the publication of Waverley in 1814, several other historical novels followed. In 1818 he finally set out on an adventure himself and did something he dreamed of for years: to recover the Scottish regalia, which were, until then, sealed away in a chest in Edinburgh Castle (cf. Kelly 2011: 159-161). Though staged as if it were a quest that involved a long search, it was common knowledge where the regalia had been kept there since 1707. The treaty included the right to keep them at a secret place in Scotland where they had remained, contrary to many rumours suggesting they had been transferred to London like the Stone of Destiny11. Scott went as far as to do a dress rehearsal three days before the canons in Edinburgh announced that the regalia had been ‘rediscovered’, as he wrote in the Edinburgh Evening Courant on the account of the event. Even an oil painting was commissioned to record the discovery and to proof it to the Prince Regent, who in return offered Scott the baronetcy (cf. Kelly 2011: 159-161 and Oliver 2010: 385).

This account did not nearly catch up with what followed in 1822. Sir Walter Scott and King George IV had first met in 1815 and had stayed friends since that time. The writer convinced the monarch to end the period of English ignorance towards their northern neighbour and offered to manage the King’s visit to Edinburgh. George IV gladly accepted, partly because he finally had the opportunity to visit the Highland must-sees he had read about in Scott’s novels. It was a successful event that not only celebrated the English monarch in the streets of Edinburgh, but one that also managed, in a way, to reconcile the two countries. The King agreed to wear “full Highland regalia” (Oliver 2010: 386), which meant that he dressed in a large Highland plaid and kilt. The Scots wanted to show their allegiance to their country and followed suit. The kilt makers were supplied with a good source of business and the inhabitants of the Lowland capital pretended to have supported the Highlanders’ (i.e. the Jacobite) cause all the way. Neil Oliver highlights how hypocritical that must have looked to some of his contemporaries:

The rehabilitation of the Highlander was complete and all his attributes, real or imagined, were the height of fashion, even down to the clothes he [the King] was supposed to wear. That Highland culture had its brightest flowering in the capital of the Lowlands, while the last vestiges of real Highland life were being scoured from the land, was an irony even Scott overlooked. (Oliver 2010: 387)

However, since that festivity, the notion of distinctive tartans for every clan manifested itself even stronger into the common perception, and many people wanted to wear ‘their’ tartan12. The connection between Scott’s novels and his activities for the sake of Scotland is clearly evident. As stated above, Scott was a defender of the political status quo and the associated state of peace and prosperity it provided. Only from this viewpoint can his stage-managing of Scotland´s identity work. The heroic and also life-threatening events of the country lay safely in the past; nevertheless they could be admired and, retold in a romantic manner, serve as a vehicle to build a Scottish national consciousness. Whether everything was retraceable and completely historically correct was of secondary importance to Sir Walter. His works do not always clearly separate fact from fiction as well as they encourage an equalization of Highland culture with Scottish culture, a tendency that mirrors his life at his estate as ‘laird’ of Abbotsford.

3. Representing Scotland in Waverley

3.1 Scott’s Palimpsest of Space mirroring Narrative

Scott´s way of unfolding the narrative in Waverley set the tone for his own and other historical novels that were to follow. His singular use of the Scottish landscape providing both the framework and the mirror to the events of the novels’ (hi)story elevate Scotland to the level of a separate character in the plot. Not only does he draw the reader’s attention to historical events in the past, but also speaks to the connection with Great Britain, a union he ardently supported Tom Bragg steps in line with other literary experts like Nietzsche for example13 and widens their interpretation of Scott’s writing by calling it a “palimpsest[…] of narrative and space“(2016:12)14, which is a mirroring of concepts within the novel and also external (political) ones with distinctive depictions of landscape. He does so by taking features from other genres such as had never been such a tradition in any part of Scotland, the document is believed to be a fake. Nevertheless such registers can still be found today and are followed by many clansmen when ordering a new kilt (cf. Oliver 2009: 386-87).


1 For example Feeling British (Gottlieb 1975), see ‘further reading’ in the bibliography section.

2 Scott published subsequent works anonymously as the ‘author of Waverley’.

3 “[the nation is] not a natural or invariable social establishment” (translation from German, cf. Hobsbawm 2005: 20f.).

4 The Militia Act of 1757 allowed armed civilian forces in England and Wales, but it was only in 1797 that Scotland was relieved of a ban, which was introduced after the Jacobite Rebellion, forbidding weapons and armoury in civilian use in Scotland (Oliver 2010: 380).

5 Although Scott was born in Edinburgh, he spent much of his childhood with his grandparents on Sandyknowe Farm south of the capital. He contracted Polio in his early days and was left with a lame leg his whole life; his parents thought being outside the city would cure him. It was during this period that Scott learned about the border ballads and other folklore connected with the Lowlands and Border regions (Buchan 2015: 14).

6 Though seen as the “nominal founder of the historical novel” (Bragg 2016: 19), critics challenge him as being the originator of the genre. Nevertheless, the Waverley Novels are regarded as setting the tone for the genre as well as providing the prototype mode of space mirroring the narrative situation. This palimpsest of space reflecting narrative will be elaborated on throughout the next chapter (cf. Bragg 2016: 19).

7 This information was collected during a discussion in Abbotsford in August 2016.

8 This information was collected during a discussion in Abbotsford in August 2016.

9 This information was collected during a discussion in Abbotsford in August 2016.

10 Among his ‘gabions’(collected artefacts) are pieces that were owned by Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charles, Rob Roy, Flora Mac Donald and Napoleon for example.

11 Also ‘Stone of Scone’: the stone upon which all Scottish rulers were crowned; transferred to Westminster Abbey and returned to Scotland officially in 1996 (cf. Oliver 2010: 431).

12 The Vestiarum Scoticum describes which tartan belongs to which clan. The document was presented by two Polish brothers, claiming to be the grandsons of Bonnie Prince Charles. Since there

13 The theory of the palimpsest was first only limited to Scott’s concept of layering the historical past with fiction. Scott’s writing was - in a poststructuralist way of criticism - seen as a product of other, previously written texts such as historical accounts and fictitious novel writing (cf. Bragg 2016:12).

14 A palimpsest is defined as „something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface“ and also as “writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased”; the latter being especially fitting for fictitious historical writing around historic events (Merriam-Webster online).

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Building Scotland in Literature. Sir Walter Scott and Diana Gabaldon. Scottish Nation and Nationalism
LMU Munich  (Englische Philologie)
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Besonders positiv hervorzuheben ist, dass Frau Weber für die Bachelorarbeit eine Forschungsreise zu Scotts Herrenhaus Abbotsford unternommen hat, und die Ergebnisse dieser Reise auch sinnvoll in ihre Arbeit einbindet. Die These ist, dass Scott mit Waverley (1814) und den folgenden Schottland-Romanen entscheidend das Bild von Schottland prägte, und dass sein Einfluss auch in modernen Romanen über Schottland sichtbar wird. Die Analyse der Romane ist gut gelungen und Frau Webers Argumentation ist überzeugend und stringent. (PD Dr., paraphrasiert + gekürzt aufgrund der Zeichenbeschränkung)
Scotland, Nation, Nationalism, Culture, Sir Walter Scott, Scott, Waverley, Diana Gabaldon, Gabaldon, Outlander, TV-Series, Literature, 19th century, 20th century, Great Britain, Jacobite Rising, Culloden, 1746, Tartanry, Scott-Land, Space, Space in Narrative, Tourism, Visit Scotland, Mass Media, Abbotsford
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B.A. Marlene Weber (Author), 2016, Building Scotland in Literature. Sir Walter Scott and Diana Gabaldon. Scottish Nation and Nationalism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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