Walter Scott wrote “Ivanhoe”, he had a hit with “Rob Roy”. While I am quite
familiar with the former, this is the first time I encountered the latter.
In “Rob Roy”
we follow Francis Osbaldistone, a young man who protests against training as a
merchant in his father’s thriving business. Francis has romantic dreams and
counting pennies has no place in those. Mr. Osbaldistone is not to be trifled
with, so he disinherits his son and sends him up to his brother, Sir Hildebrand
Osbaldistone, on the Scottish border, who in return is invited to return one of
his sons to take over the inheritance.
Osbaldistone Hall, Francis falls in love with Diane Vernon and learns that the whole
bunch there are Catholic Jacobites. He also learns that the sons of the house
are all imbeciles except for Rashleigh, the one sent south, who is a cunning,
self-serving intrigant. Oh, and he meets a mysterious Scotsman, Mr. Campbell.
Francis learns that Rashleigh has driven Mr. Osbaldistone’s business to the
brink of ruin and has escaped with the only papers that may save the company. Diane
instructs Francis to find the solution is Scotland and so he ventures there
with a Sancho-like Scottish gardener, Andrew Fairservice in tow. Thus begins
Francis’ Scottish adventure that takes him across the Highland line where the
lord and master is Rob Roy aka. the mysterious Mr. Campbell.
is an adventure story in the form of an odyssey. It is a journey that takes
Francis Osbaldistone to distant regions where people and customs are as strange
and wild as the landscape. There is a romantic element, especially concerning
Diane Vernon, one of the very few women in the story, but also in regard to Rob
Roy himself. He is presented as a Robin Hood-like character, a gentleman thief in
a rough outfit, a noble savage, who is fighting a noble but hopeless cause to
protect the outlawed McGregor clan.
also an underlying narrative involving a Jacobite rebellion, not the famous one
in 1763, but a just as ill fought uprising in 1717. According to Scott’s story,
the Osbaldistones and Rob Roy had a hand in that.
our hero, Francis Osbaldistone, is not very much involved in what is going on.
He just happens to be there when it happens, observing but taking very little
action. It is always someone else who is doing, fighting, taking action, so as
a hero, he is rather impotent. Even in his most personal affair, involving
Diane Vernon, he is unable to interfere with her destiny that will take her
away from him.
Rob Roy, on
the other hand, is a man of action, sense and courage, the image of everything
Francis admires but fails to be. Next to Francis though, he is just a side character.
of adventure has a natural appeal to the boy in me and I really wanted to like
it. It is not bad, but it is not an outright winner for me. I found it
difficult to follow the narrative. Of course, it involves mysteries that should
remain mysteries until the reveal, but even then, I do not understand all that
was supposed to happen, or rather, why these things led to what happened. For
people around Francis, I sort of understand the story, except that I cannot entirely
connect the McGregors and the Jacobite cause, but why Francis needed to be
involved everywhere baffles me. It also does not help that Scott makes the
Scottish dialects become visible and almost audible by using phonetic spelling.
Sure, there is a glossary at the end of the book, but I soon tired of going there
all the time and just accepted that I missed a lot of the meaning every time
understand why it is “Ivanhoe” and not “Rob Roy” that has survived in the
public consciousness. Where the themes of “Ivanhoe” are timeless, “Rob Roy” is
far more rooted in its time. The Jacobites are long forgotten, if even known
outside Britain, and the transition of Scotland from its wild past to being an
industrial and mercantile powerhouse was very much in process when Scott wrote
the book, but is now a thing of the past (unless lawlessness is still thriving
on some outlying islands…). Today, “Rob Roy” works as an adventure, an exciting
tale of travelling into the unknown to meet people and dangers unimaginable. I
just wish it worked better at that.
Not to be
confused with the movie of the same name from 1995…