Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sir Walter

Back in 2002 my sisters and I took my parents to Scotland as a “retirement” gift for my dad. (I put the word “retirement” in quotes because he continues to go to work each week in a part time capacity.) We drove all over the eastern part of Scotland from the Borders up to Loch Ness.

One of the places we visited was Abbotsford, the home of the great Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. It is a great house set in a beautiful glen. His library (over 9,000 volumes) and study were impressive. But I mostly imagined him tramping through the grounds, strolling along the River Tweed. And being a midwestern girl, I wondered why on earth anyone would build a house at the bottom of a valley on the edge of a river – what about all the flooding? (I remember thinking much the same thing when I visited Pennsylvania one time and saw lovely houses sitting on the edges of small rivers.) But this is why we travel – to find out that what is a concern where we live is not so much of a concern elsewhere.

I must confess that I’ve never managed to read any Walter Scott. I tried to read Rob Roy a number of years ago but I was distracted by other things. Maybe I should start with another? But of course I know Walter Scott – from movies and operas.

In any event, visiting Abbotsford, I thought of Walter Scott tramping the Scottish glen and how, in that setting, his novels must have just “come to him.” Which is absurd. He was a novelist like any novelist – he worked hard at his craft. Just like novelists today.

I thought about the house and beautiful grounds this morning when a link sent me to the site of The Edinburgh Walter Scott Club. Back in 1991 Dorothy Dunnett gave the yearly toast to Sir Walter and she spoke about the differences and similarities of writing a historical novel in the 20th Century and the way in which Sir Walter Scott wrote his novels. The speech is about an hour (audio only) and can be heard here.