“On Hallow-Mass Eve the Night-Hag will ride”

In Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley  (1814), a book often heralded as one of the first historical novels, Edward Waverley pays a visit to the Baron of Bradwardine at Tully-Veolan. While there, the Baron’s daughter, Rose Bradwardine sings a haunting ballad about “a projecting peak of an impending crag” that had acquired the strange name of ‘Saint Swithin’s Chair.’ Saint…

How One Author’s Bankruptcy Changed the History of the English Novel Forever

In the teens of the 19th century, Walter Scott was enjoying a wave of financial success as a novel-writer that was perhaps unprecedented in the history of literature.  His series of historical novels, published under the pseudonym “The Author of Waverley”, were selling in huge numbers, and his fans were legion, including – among others…

Insult of the Week: inferior poets are absolutely fascinating

Ah, poetry.  One of the great literary forms, with a history stretching back as far as the earliest written word!  Beloved genre of such giants as Sappho, Homer, Chaucer, and the anonymous author of The Poetic Works of a Weird (1827).  Being writers themselves, surely our novelists must have a healthy respect for the poetical…

Insult of the week: a crop-eared English Whig

In chapter 11, we find young Englishman Edward Waverley enjoying – or trying to enjoy – a convivial evening with his host, Baron Bradwardine, and three other Scottish companions: bailiff Duncan MacWheeble, and the pugnacious young lairds of Balmawhapple and Killancureit.  Prodigious quantities of drink are consumed, and Waverley manfully does his best to keep…

Insult of the Week: this inquisitive hag – damn her gooseberry wig

In chapter 61 of Waverley, our misfortunate hero finds himself sharing a conveyance – “the northern diligence”, described as “a huge old-fashioned tub” – with a companion he would really rather avoid, if at all possible. Mrs. Nosebag is … the lady of Lieutenant Nosebag, adjutant and riding-master of the — dragoons, a jolly woman…

An injured body: novelists disapproving of novels

In chapter 5 of Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen starts off by describing the activities of Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe, but gets sidetracked rather quickly, and spends almost the entire second half in a delightful rant about the hypocrisy of novelists who deride their own genre: I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom…

London language in 19th century novels

I pricked up my ears (figuratively speaking) at this intriguing post by Roger Pocock of the Windows into History blog, in which he discusses a list of local words from late 18th and early 19th-century London. This fascinating list was first published in 1803, in Samuel Pegge’s book Anecdotes of the English Language: Chiefly Regarding…

What’s in a name? Waverley and The Sea of Books

The protagonist of Sir Walter Scott’s 1814 historical novel, Waverley, comes from a wealthy family and has the good fortune to be brought up with access to an enormous collection of books: The library at Waverley-Honour, a large Gothic room, with double arches and a gallery, contained such a miscellaneous and extensive collection of volumes…