Writing the nation: Walter Scott's narrative poetry

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Abstract / Description of output

The opening decade of nineteenth-century Britain was one marked by intense debate over what constituted British nationhood. This debate was prompted by the Act of Union of 1801, which united Ireland to Great Britain, and by the Napoleonic Wars, which continued to rage across Europe and beyond. Critics have long read Scott’s poetry as buying wholesale into the event of Unionism: but how fair is this assessment? In this essay, I will show that Scott complicates the dynamic between British Unionism and Scotland’s distinctiveness throughout his narrative poetry. Through a discussion of Marmion (1808), The Vision of Don Roderick (1811) and The Lord of the Isles (1815) this essay will argue that Scott’s narrative poetry formulates a recuperative national narrative for Scotland within the context of the Napoleonic wars. It will demonstrate that what may initially read as pro-Union narratives in each of these texts can be read afresh as a destabilising and derailing of the terms and conditions upon which that Union is based. It will further show that Scott’s poetry does not unambiguously celebrate war: careful reading of his poems reveals a more ambivalent, compassionate response to the events of his day that has hitherto been recognised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalThe Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Walter Scott
  • Napoleonic Wars
  • romanticism
  • poetry
  • British romanticism nationhood
  • Scottish romanticism


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