søndag den 11. juni 2023

Rob Roy - Sir Walter Scott (1817)


Rob Roy

Before Sir 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.

At 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.

Soon enough 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.

“Rob Roy” 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.

There is 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.

Curiously, 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.

This kind 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 they spoke.

I can 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…

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