On Friday nights I lock up around six or seven and buzz round to Janine’s on the scooter for an hour before moving on to Frankie’s. Janine’s a tight little piece who thinks I look like Euan Macgregor. She squirms and protests but we usually get somewhere in the end. Afterwards I light cigarettes for us and we talk for awhile about her dreams. She wants to be an actress but this is Edinburgh and I tell her it’s pretty hopeless and that dreams are for losers and that she should get a job in Sainsbury’s and keep with me. She gets all tetchy when I tread on her dreams and tells me I should go – so I do, shutting the door firm.
I hop on the scooter and whip round to Frankie’s for eight or nine, cue strapped round my back in its leather case.
Frankie’s skulks in a backstreet behind a dim pub nobody goes to – if you’re not from round here it’s not likely you’ll have heard of it. I leave the scooter perched in the empty car park and cruise in. Jock the Clock puffs his fag at the entrance below the flickering sign (FRNKIS): ‘alright Jock’, people say. He appraises whoever it might be and croaks hello.
In the bar the regulars are at large. Young Cecil stoops over the fruit machine, walking stick by his side, dribbling his heavy down his chin. Fucker Burke’s at the dart board. Morningside Fats prowls in his sharp suit and crumbly suede shoes looking for a frame of straight pool – not my game. Spaz Monty, Tony the Church and Quinn the Welshman prop up the bar, waiting for punters to get a card game going with.
Round here they call me Pecker. I came through to Edinburgh a couple of years ago to go to the art college. I can’t draw, can’t paint, or sculpt or take photos or that but as I see it you don’t have to do any of those things to get by as an artist these days. I mostly work with what they call ‘found objects’ – shit I pick up from skips and building sites. I basically do what I can get away with. I tend to throw off the odd art history reference now and then – I’ve only got a couple but I recycle them and it seems to do the trick. I tell them Van Gogh was a nobody until he died and I tell them that Picasso was a fanny but that doesn’t make him a bad artist. The boys at club think I’m some sort of Michelangelo.
I’m the best snooker player at Frankie’s too by the way, by a mile. Number 1.
Friday’s my night. When I get to the table it’s hot and swift. I snipe and knife and cut anything in, almost unconsciously – I don’t mean to brag it’s just like that. I could give you thirty points and sink you on yellows alone. And the boys know this. And if you are at all handy as a snooker player and you reside in Edinburgh you are aware of this. And some of the geezers in Glasgow are aware of it too.
Enter the hotshots - the poor things that slot the jazzy long ones in with a wink to their birds – and not much else. You could call them my fish. I reel them in, net them then bash them countinually until they stop wriggling and lie prone. I’ll give you an example: Wee Davy. Aye, Wee Davy was a puffed up little bastard who thought he was the next Steve Davis. His cue action was pretty sharp and he could pot – but he had no balls. Wee Davy shouldered into Frankie’s one Friday night in a trenchcoat and placed a fifty on the bar. He ordered a coke. The boy Liam, the bartender, looked over to Table 4 – my table – and gave me the nod. Go through the back he says to Wee Davy. I wrapped things up and walked through to the Members Only room. Fab place: single table, spotless baize, leather seats round the walls and a personal hatch through to the bar for your bevs.
Davy was already practicing as I entered. ‘I’m Davy’ he says.
‘Aye?’ He knew me alright.
Wee Davy reckoned he was worth fifty quid a frame and I wasn’t in the mood to argue. I let him win the first one, and the second – and I made a pretty show of putting up a fight. I’d hooked him: hundred a frame – cash on the table. Davy had to nip off to the bank machine.
When he got back the audience had gathered. Along the right wall it was Tony, Fucker, Young Cecil, Gettis, Jock the Clock, Big Phil and Johnny Hummingbird. Along the left sat Spaz Monty, Quinn The Welshman, Deek Chisholm and Crooked Andy the Milkman. The boy Liam had closed up early to take up scoring and refereeing duties. When Davy got back from the Cashpoint I think he nearly shat himself. But he was game, he was already conviced he would win.
‘Five frames, hundred each,’ I said. He nodded. I ordered a double Talisker and placed it down by Davy’s coke.
I won the toss in the first and let Davy break off. He made a cock of it and slapped the blue full in the face on his way back up. From there I made a forty six and it was as good as over. The second was scrappier – I made a twenty, he made thirty and so on until I beat him on the pink. I eeked out an eighty in the third and that’s when Wee Davy really started to sweat. The fourth and fifth he was all over the place and bang – seventy three and a hallmark century to finish – the lads were creasing themselves. Five hundred quid. When the shots you picture in your mind are all happening a snooker table is the best place in the world.
Wee Davy didn’t show his face in Frankie’s again. Aye, that was a special evening but on the whole most nights its all pretty elementary – twenty quid here and there; I’ve been known to play cards with the boys on a really slow night. A lot of the time I finish up around midnight and buzz round to Melanie’s who keeps her doors open late. I spend a half an hour or so saucing her up with my art banter. Afterwards, when she falls asleep, I pad out and shift round the city for a bit until I get tired and buzz home.
The days are slow at college. I sit and watch the girls most of the time. There’s this one lass Georgina who’s a proper surprising talent. Her corner’s stuffed with sketchbooks and canvases resting up against the walls. She spends full days concentrating on a shadow or a speck in her airy pastel scenes. She’s right posh and I’d love to get her in the sack. But she’s got a wee thin lover with greasy locks who flits in and out from time to time who’s most likely a poet or something. A wank essentially. Maybe I’ll invite him down to Frankie’s for a friendly. There’s a few girls I fancy a round with at the college but I suppose I can’t complain: I’ve been screwing our pottery tutor in the kiln room on a weekly basis, I think she’s having some kind of nervous breakdown or something. Hey ho.
So I’ve told you about one of my victories. Now you’ll probably want to hear about what defeat feels like.
Well, I was round at Vicky’s for a backrub one evening when I got a ring from Morningside Fats. He was all jittery so I said I’d catch him down the club poste haste. I said to Vicky that I’d pour over her novel manuscript in the coming weeks but that I had to get away swift because there was an emergency of great importance. She wasn’t happy but I thanked her anyway for the backrub and left.
I swerved round to the club on the scooter. Fats was in a tizzy. He’d got wind of a busload of English on their way up to Edinburgh looking for a war. They’d decamped from the Home Counties and rallied at Carlisle to wreak havoc in snooker and pool halls all the way up through the borders and into the Lothians. They’d made a laughing stock of the Glasgow boys he said – Gorbals Joe had snapped his lucky cue in a rage – and they wouldn’t stop, said Fats, until they’d punished every last cueman in the country. They’d just arrived in Edinburgh. Fats was sweating like a pig.
There were ten or twelve of them he said – scary buggers the lot of them. The head man was a bastard called Cutter Kim who could play with both hands. Fats was saying he was one of those chink prodigies who’d slotted his first fifty at six and his first century at nine. But you can’t trust Fats, he’s a born gambler, a liar that can’t help but exaggerate the truth. That’s not to say I wasn’t edgy about all this.
The story was they were laying siege to the New Yorker on Monday, The Ball Room on Tuesday, Diane’s on Wednesday, The Corn Exchange on Thursday and last but not least Frankie’s on the Friday. I said to Fats I’d be waiting and that they’d picked the wrong evening to mess with Pecker.
I put in some fairly serious hours at the practice table that week as you can imagine. I wasn’t about to be shown up at home, especially by the English. Straight shots, cuts, dinks, swerves, right hand side, left hand side, topspin, screw, deep screw, rest shots, massé, my safety game – I honed everything up. I made consistency a throbbing muscle – concentration, steel focus.
To relax I used to go round to Janine’s for an hour or two at the end of the day. She’d picked up a bit-part in Rebus or Taggart or something and was in a state of mild ecstasy. The sex was marvellous.
On the big day I was icy like Paul Newman and went for a late lunch with Kate. As evening drew in I wrapped myself in my good jacket and walked through the city in a dream – appreciating the theatre of the buildings and the streetlights and the rush of people and all that. I was buzzing. Kate was talking about her first violin or something, in a ring cycle at the Playhouse that night and about how I was absolutely going to love it. She gave me a fancy ticket with a backstage stamp and told me to dress nice. She paid for the food which was sublime and I kissed her on both cheeks like the French do and didn’t bother saying I wouldn’t be there.
I got to Frankie’s at seven and hit Table 4 to get my arm going. The English were arriving at nine. The club was smack full of talk and excitement which I tried to ignore. We were all nervous. Everybody knew what was coming. I stuck my face in the baize and eased into my rhythm. It was Pecker vs. Cutter Kim and nothing else. Me and Cutter.
Now here’s the rub. The kick. This is where it all goes mental. The English arrived on time right in a tight little huddle and everybody was just staring, just trying to pin Cutter Kim. Now, Cutter Kim’s a scary bastard right? Plays with his eyes closed right? Wrong. Aye, that’s where you’d be wrong. Cutter Kim, ladies and gentleman, was a bird. No jokes. I shit you not. A female cueman. She played with both hands, she had a reputed high break of 132 and she’d scared two shades of shite out of Scotland’s snooker fraternity. Nobody could believe it. And I’ll tell you what – I laughed in her face. I couldn’t help it.
She didn’t move a muscle, didn’t flinch. Everything went silent and everybody was throwing glances about like nobody’s business.
I broke the silence. ‘Right then,’ I said – ‘let’s go’.
The boy Liam shut the doors and served about fifty drinks. Everybody flocked into the members only room. Screw the Playhouse, this was the only place to be in Edinburgh that Friday. All eyes were on Cutter Kim as she knocked in a few practice shots. I tell you she was some player. She moved like a pro.
‘OK,’ she says, ‘I’m ready to play, who’s first?’ She went a few frames with Gettis whose a tight safety man. He’s an intimidating presence round the table is Gettis, stands right behind your back and that, breathes down your neck. And sure enough he put it her in all sorts of trouble but she matched him shot for shot and when he let her in she cleared up every time. She was no chump. I’ll tell you what as well she looked really good, I mean physically. Stout arse, silky skin and those eyes – you could get lost in those and never find your way out.
Once she’d finished with Gettis she went to the bar and slurped down a Malibu & Lemonade. Some of the boys went a few rounds with the other Englishmen and it was all sort of fifty-fifty come midnight. Cutter Kim was just sitting there straight faced, polishing off the bevs. It was pretty impressive. I walked over. ‘You and me darling,’ I said. She stood up and wiped her mouth.
Best of seven. No money involved between me and her; she wanted it that way. But the punters were going bonkers – I reckon there must have been over five grand changed hands that night.
I chalked up a storm and broke off in the first and left the white up against the top rail. But I’d stuck a red in the open which she could see. Silence. She didn’t take it on but she hit the safety sweet as a nut. I returned the compliment and so on and vice versa for five minutes or so until she pinned me right in behind the brown. Bit lucky I felt. I nudged off the pack on the return and left a cut in the middle which she sank and then she was off like a firework – up to the blue smack into the reds and in for a sixty or a seventy. The English were clapping away. I spotted Fats in the corner chewing his hand.
The second was mine. I took it carefully, resisting my natural game, lining everything up with my cue.
In the third she let me in after a brutal kick. But it didn’t seem to phase her. My clearance was textbook.
Two-one. In the next she spotted a mad plant and finished up plum on the black. Ten reds ten blacks and everybody was thinking she might do the business but she missed a stinker into the middle against the nap. Everybody was behind her on that shot, maybe even me.
We shared the fifth and sixth. The match was going all the way.
It was two in the morning. I felt the press of a nation on my shoulders. I felt the back-slap of men everywhere. I felt the wee boy in me. It was a twitcher from the off. The walls were closing in and I knew I was gripping my cue too tight. I broke too hard with far too much side and was lucky to bop the green and finish near the pocket. So tense. So tense. She dumped the white down the other end and sent a red up to baulk. There was a cut on to the left corner but I turned it down in favour of the safety. And this was the right shot. But I clipped it thick and left it for the middle. Tragedy. She made a difficult thirty and left me in a tight little spot behind the yellow. And what do you know, I butchered it and fluked a red. It wasn’t pretty. I waved my hand up like a good boy but inside I was dancing. The English boys were in turmoil thinking it was all over. Far from it. The table was a labyrinth, a cryptic crossword puzzle. Every shot felt like the 147 black. But I silenced everything and got to frame ball. Jabbed it. Choked.
Cutter Kim made a noble clearance.
I don’t want to talk about the boys’ faces, the English cheers, the scraps in the carpark. I just don’t.
Outside in the rain, I sat on my scooter and played that frame ball in my mind perfectly twenty or thirty times. You shouldn’t do that, you should just forget about it and get on with your life. Anyway I was just about to buzz round to Tracy’s for a midnight snack when I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Cutter Kim. ‘You’re talented Pecker’, she says, ‘but you found it hard playing against a woman.’
‘Did I fuck,’ I said.
She asked if I would buzz her back to her hotel on the scooter.
We spent the night together – it was pretty wild – and I as I drifted off to sleep I asked her if she’d stick around for awhile. But when I woke up she was gone. She’d left me to deal with her hotel bill and all. Last I heard she was in Dundee teaching some other uppety bastard a lesson.
The mission of the OneCity Trust is to promote social inclusion in the City of Edinburgh. The OneCity Trust aims to fulfil its mission by both carrying out and funding projects and initiatives that advance, facilitate and promote education, social welfare, human rights and the tackling of extreme inequalities in income and the alleviation of poverty among people in Edinburgh. The Trust places great emphasis on bringing together different groups to work together in innovative and creative ways to tackle the problems of social exclusion.
Sadly this isn’t a post about my hair. My stylist doesn’t like me talking about his methods.
Rather, I thought that I would share with you a few of the shows I’ve seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. There are thousands of things going on in the city at this time of year so you end up just having to dive in somewhere and float up gradually to the surface. It can be quite expensive and debauched too what with all the clubs licensed to keep their doors open until 5am. I’m not actually terribly fussed about what I go to see usually, as you always seem to find things to enjoy in most shows. I try to give each performer or troupe of performers a fair chance but will occasionally descend into heckle-mode after a few sherries. This year I have been fairly well behaved – although my counseling group still agree that sherry is no good for a person of my temperament and that I should avoid all major brands including my beloved Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
Re-Animator The Musical
This is a musical based on the 1985 cult hit Re-Animator, which in turn was based on an H.P Lovecraft story about a crazed medical student who has inadvertently discovered how to revivify the dead. I’m not a musicals man but this one wasn’t too painful. We sat in the second row and were given a poncho to wear during the performance. We soon discovered that this was to stop our clothes getting spattered in all manner of exciting fluids that would be flying around during the show, blood, brains, guts and even rogue droplets of the lead actor’s spit which your narrator found particularly unpleasant. Came out happy though and appreciated the general gore.
Marcel Lucont – Gallic Symbol
Marcel Lucont is a raconteur, flaneur, bon viveur and all-round French piss-artist. In his extremely funny outing at this year’s Fringe he insults and enlightens his vulgar British audiences and divulges the bizarre details of his tantalisingly outré sex life.
Late & Live
I try to make it to at least one Late & Live each year. It is on at 1am every night during the festival. Each show comprises of sets from three or four random comedians handpicked from across the festival. You are never quite sure what is going to happen and there is a sort of coliseum atmosphere to proceedings with the audience suddenly able to turn on whoever is on stage at any point. A brutal, funny, boozy place to be at one in the morning. I love it.
Jessie Cave: Bookworm
Went to see this as one of my friends was in it. I won’t gush but I had an enjoyable afternoon. Bookworm is full of shambolic literary ephemera and at times sheer shameless madness. Like this blog.
Iain Banks in Conversation
I’ve wanted to see Iain Banks talk for a while now and it was good. There is usually a really boring journalist type asking the questions at this kind of event but Banksy just came on stage himself and took questions from the audience. Quite brave. One woman started getting all ‘Freudian’ (intrusive) and asking him about whether he had any childhood traumas that might have influenced the dark bits in his work. He said no. Interesting guy, funny too, in a charmingly rambly and nerdy sort of way. Below is a video of him in his house.
P.S If you are in Edinburgh and you are reading this before the Fringe ends – in about a week and a half – feel free to send me your expert recommendations.
This story took a respectable second prize in an Edinburgh University writing competition not all that long ago. A feat that I rank with my winning time of 2.27 in an 800m race back in the heady summer of 2001. It had been a miserable school sports day. As I approached the final bend my energy levels were dipping to a dangerous, possibly life threatening all time low, I was panting, heaving, dribbling, hoping – ah! the audacity of hope! – hoping I could just hang on for a few more metres, and all I could hear were the stirring strains of Nessun Dorma … anyway, sorry, that’s another story.
SEA STORY BLUE SEA RED STORY BLUE
I handed it to her.
‘No, I don’t want to read this,’ she said.
I said… well … I don’t know what I actually said.
But she kept saying no, no, no, and then she yawned and fell asleep.
I left her sleeping on the boat. As I climbed ashore I undid the rope tied to the jetty and let the boat drift out to sea. She would wake up in a few hours or so and sail back to land. She would be alright.
Two days later the story was all over the news. Local Lady Missing Out At Sea. I read the newspapers and watched the story unfold on the television. I felt acutely self conscious all through that day and the next.
On the fourth day I decided to notify the authorities of what had happened. I told them that I knew the lady well and that she would understand why I had done it. I said that we would have a good laugh together once this was all over and asked if they needed to know anything else. I was encouraged to come down to the police station to give a formal statement – I declined.
On the fifth day there was a knock on the door of my house and it turned out to be two plain clothed police officers there to escort me down to the station. I told them that I had spoken to their superiors the day before and that everything had been sorted out. Still, they insisted that I accompany them down to the station and warned me that, if I did not do exactly as they asked, they would take me there by force as they had a warrant for my arrest – I agreed.
At the station, after filling out a number of forms, I was ushered into a small room with no windows. One of the walls of the room was a mirror. As I had seen many police dramas and films on the television, I was aware that were probably people behind this mirrored wall watching my movements and assessing my character. I tried to look calm. I sat down and waited, sitting very still. For ten or twenty minutes nobody entered the room and I was left to my own thoughts. Calmly thinking over my situation, I decided to try and make a daring escape.
I am at the table now, thinking out my escape. In my pockets I have a coin, a packet of cigarettes and a cigarette lighter. I can think of no escape plan involving these objects. Other things in the room: there is the chair I am sitting on, the table I am sitting in front of, the door (which has a silver handle, shaped like a moth without wings) and the mirrored wall. I am not handcuffed. I also believe that the door is unlocked, as I do not remember anybody locking it. I am going to get up from the chair and simply walk out of the door and then out of the station.
My plan has worked. I am now on the street outside of the police station walking back towards my house. On second thoughts, I will not go back there as shortly, I expect, the police will be looking for me and my house will surely be the first place that they will look. I am making a right turn down a side street towards the sea. I now plan to get a boat and look for her, as finding her will put an end to the trouble I am in.
The sirens have started. Great wailing sounds. I have lived here all my life and have heard them only once. And that once is this time. I do now feel a little bit worried and sick: perhaps I should not have escaped from the police station without talking to the police. Now they may think I am a danger to society and shoot me when they find me. There is a blue boat bobbing on the quay. I will take this boat and sail towards the horizon.
I am at sea. The wind is breezing through my hair and the salt spray has dried out my skin, the sun is beginning to set. I can no longer see land behind me.
A cloud covers the moon. Her boat is red, but I am well aware that I will not recognise any colours when it is pitch black.
In the night I feel safe, like a little spider crouching on a bit of dark in the carpet. I fall asleep on deck, closing out the stars behind my eyelids.
That was a week ago, I am beginning to starve. I also think I am going a little bit mad. Over the past days I have kept a record of my thoughts in a black diary I found somewhere in the boat. I forget where. I have written something down four days in a row.
Day 1 – I am happy that I am on my way to find her but worried about the police. Hungry.
Day 2 – I am happy that I am on my way to find her but still worried about the police. Very Hungry.
Day 3 – I am no longer worried about the police but I am starting to doubt whether I will find her. Extremely hungry. Slightly Mad.
Day 4 – I am starving and going insane. No police. Her not found.
I have made a friend called Jim Lad. He is a cabin boy but he is sick, and I must continue nursing him back to health. Jim Lad is the descendent of a great admiral who sailed the high seas killing pirates and crooks. Jim Lad has the fever but still has a glint in his eye. He talks of doubloons buried on an island in the region and says I must find them before the evil Captain Barnacle and his crew of crooks. I pity him, as he is slowly dying and talks little sense.
Jim Lad I say, Jim Lad how do you feel today. Jim Lad says he’s fine, surviving at least. Jim Lad I say, do you know of a red boat with a cargo of one sleeping lady? Jim Lad says yes, he does, it be on the horizon.
I run to front of the boat and indeed see a vessel on the horizon. Jim Lad I say, it might be the pirates, might it not? Aye, he says, but I am sick and you are starving, that vessel’s our only hope. Right you are Jim Lad, right you are.
I pitch a course for the vessel.
The vessel is red and a woman waves from on deck. Jim Lad, I say, Jim Lad it’s her, it’s her. Mooring up beside the vessel I climb aboard, leaving Jim Lad on the blue boat. I embrace her. She takes me into the cabin and introduces me to a friend of hers.
Her friend is a mermaid called Ariel, who is sick because she cannot swim. I am greatly saddened by the tale and tell both women of my new friend Jim Lad who is also sick and is lying on my blue boat. Leaving Ariel in the cabin I walk out on deck with her and discuss what must be done. I tell her in no uncertain terms that Ariel and Jim Lad are dying and that if we are to get home we must leave them together on the blue boat and take the red boat home. Though distressed by this prospect, she agrees.
Back on the blue boat I speak quietly to Jim Lad of a beautiful mermaid that cannot wait to meet him. By now he is very sick but he smiles as I carry him onto the doomed red vessel. Laying him down on the floor I say Jim Lad, you will be very happy here.
She and I watch the blue boat sink into the distance over the horizon. I ask her why she would not read it. Laughing softly, she says she knew it would be too sad and that she would cry if she finished it.
In the 1960’s and 70’s when Feminist historians began rewriting history to include women, they were conscious, as were their readers, that an ideology lay behind the writing of such histories that was just as important if not more so than the histories themselves. Such a rewriting of history is possible if we concede that ‘history’ is not a given ‘reality’ or agreed upon set of ‘facts’ but conversely that it is contingent upon the values and ideals of those who write it. History, in this respect, can be usefully conceptualised as a history of historiographies. On the one hand Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels operate in the terms of a teleological historiography which values commerce over feudalism, civility over barbarism and rationality over superstition. However, on the other hand the novels radically displace the notion of historiography altogether. Through the use of elaborate framing narratives, the tropes of romance fiction and playful self-referentiality Scott continually reminds the reader of the fictive nature of his versions of history, and by extension, all ‘versions’ of history. In this essay I will evaluate the ways in which more or less contradictory historical perspectives operate in two of Scott’s novels: Waverley and Old Mortality.
Although it appears at the end of Waverley, ‘A Postscript,Which Should have been a Preface’ with its ironically vacillating title suggests that what it contains is both a prerequisite for the novel as well as the afterthoughts of the author. What we get in this postscript is a sense of comfortable distance from a turbulent past (a sense which is also established before the beginning of the novel in the subtitle: ‘Tis Sixty Years Since’). The narrator reflects that:
There is no European nation which, within the course of half a century, or little more, has undergone so complete a change as this kingdom of Scotland. … the total eradication of the Jacobite party … commenced this innovation. …we are not aware of the progress we have made, until we fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have drifted (492).
The idea that society was continually progressing, that society was perfectible, was a popular view during the Enlightenment, particularly for Whig thinkers; many of whom believed this perfectibility to be an indisputable fact of European history. For these thinkers the moral, political and social order of the present day could thus be constantly ratified by a comparison with a less civilised past. The Waverley postscript passage reflects this type of concern; historical change is described as a process of ‘innovation’ and ‘progress’ that hinges on the ‘eradication’ of the Jacobite party. Yet Scott seems to undercut the Whig party line (so to speak) by encouraging the reader, in line with more reactionary Tory ideals, to reconcile what is gained with what is lost:
This race has now almost entirely vanished from the land, and with it, doubtless, much absurd political prejudice – but also many living examples of singular and disinterested attachment to the principles of loyalty which they received from their fathers, and of old Scottish faith, hospitality, worth, and honour (492)
Apart from being a good old swords and sandals (or cutlass and kilts) romp through the Scottish Highlands the narrative of Waverley functions as means of discursively balancing these two opposing views of history.
At the centre of the novel we have Edward Waverley whose early development forms the beginning of the narrative. Edward is brought up in an environment – very carefully constructed by Scott – to reflect both Whig and Tory views of history. Edward’s family are split down the middle. Uncle Everard Waverley is a nostalgic Jacobite supporter while Edward’s father Richard is a politically active Whig. The distinction between the backwardness of Jacobitism, emphasised in Everard’s fixation on the heroic past of his ancestors, and Whig politics, which play an active part in society, is quickly established. Edward Waverley’s mixed affiliations throughout the novel stem from this quietly divided upbringing. The structure of the novel relies on each successive character he encounters reflecting an aspect of the political standpoints he begins with. While Edward’s uncle inhabits the role of the nostalgic yet perennially inactive Jacobite (perhaps symbolised by his vow of celibacy), Flora Mac-Ivor – whom Edward meets later on – whose ‘ruling passion’ is ‘loyalty’ represents the noble side of Jacobitism. Her brother Fergus, in his lust for personal gain, represents its mercenary self interest. Through each successive character, Scott builds up the full picture. It is in deposing the negative elements of Jacobitism whilst retaining the values of ‘old Scottish faith, hospitality, worth, and honour’ that constitutes balance in the novel. This is reflected in the death of Fergus and compounded in the marriage between Waverley and Rose Bradwardine at the close of the novel, in which Rose’s domesticated Jacobitism is married off to Waverley’s newly realised Whig progressivism. Having projected the older forms of social life as obsolete and dangerous despite their virtues, the novel then rescues the virtuous representatives of the past and destroys those it has conceived as dangerous.
This then is not a ‘real’ view of history in any sense, but a considerably engineered one that could be described as a masterful exercise in ‘fence-sitting’. Scott ends the novel with a handpicked selection of Jacobite and Whig values that reflect his own particular worldview, rather than historical reality in any concrete sense. But the historical reality of Scott’s novel is never a given, the reader is never coerced into taking things as ‘fact.’ Although we might think that Scott tries to authenticate his narrative by his detailed descriptions and textual notes – he is always giving us involved footnotes – this is only ostensible. Scott’s reservations about the historical veracity of Waverley are often coded in the text. One particularly significant instance of this occurs towards the end of the novel as Waverley and the Baron of Bradwardine look upon a new painting in Tully-Veolan:
There was one addition to this fine old apartment… which drew tears into the Baron’s eyes. It was a large and spirited painting, representing Fergus Mac- Ivor and Waverley in their Highland dress; the scene a wild, rocky and mountainous pass, down which the clan were descending in the background. It was taken from a spirited sketch drawn while they were in Edinburgh by a young man of high genius, and had been painted on a full-length scale by an eminent London artist (489).
This instance of ekphrasis, as the two men look into the painting, directs the reader outside of the text. The painting of Waverley in his Highland dress seems to suggest itself as a microcosmic representation of the novel itself. As the Baron weeps at the painting in acceptance of the decline and fall of the Stuart claim, so the reader has to evaluate their own response to the book. Yet it becomes apparent, somewhat ironically, that the Baron is weeping at a ‘painting’ of ‘a spirited sketch’ drawn in Edinburgh of a Highland pass. Scott stresses the absolute artificiality of the image, though it is important that this still elicits an authentic emotional response from the viewer. This would seem to suggest that Scott is very aware of the particularity of his own ‘version’ of history, its fictive status, and the extent to which it is always twice removed from the events themselves. Scott’s novels turn literature into historiography by not only providing a particular vision of historical process and change, but also a reflection of how that vision is constructed.
Old Mortality is a later novel about an earlier period of history: The Killing Time. Scott’s use of multiple framing narratives in this challenging work allows him to further develop the theme of how historical visions are constructed. The narrative can only begin once Scott has established that the reader is being presented with a set of papers which have been preserved by a schoolmaster, Jedediah Cleishbotham; these papers in turn contain a novel written by his deceased colleague Peter Pattieson, which is based on oral accounts of ‘The Killing Time’ by an old survivor of the extreme Covenanting Calvinists, Old Mortality. These narrative frames ensured that there was suitable distance created between Scott’s nineteenth century readers and a period of history that he perceived as radically different from their own. And yet the framing devices also operate, perhaps paradoxically, as a means for these readers to access the narrative – once it eventually gets going – instantaneously; without this ideological bridge, the whole structure becomes merely unsorted experience. Scott is aware that the ‘sorting’ of historical experience is not only practical, a device to make his books reader-friendly, but that it necessarily constitutes historical writing. This is part of a realisation that all history is founded upon the process of narrative.
The violent opposition between Whigs and Royalists in Old Mortality is obviously comparable to that between the Jacobites and Government forces in Waverley. Also, much like Edward Waverley, Henry Morton occupies a position of centrality in the text to which the opposing forces in the novel gravitate towards. The opposing sides in the novel are both characterised, at numerous intervals, as violent fanatics; Claverhouse the head of the Royalist troops admits of himself and his enemies ‘we are both fanatics; but there is a distinction between the fanaticism of honour and that of dark and sullen superstition’ (356). Both varieties of fanatacism, however, end up causing violence and conflict in the novel. Between them Claverhouse, Burley, Olifant and Bothwell start a bar-fight, persecute peasants, steal a castle, commit murder and provoke a war. By the end of Waverley it is relatively clear which aspects of the novel’s conflicting value systems are to be appropriated and synthesised before a resolution will occur; conversely Old Mortality seems to reject wholesale the ideologies of each of the armies it follows as fanatic and destructive. Scott has written elsewhere that ‘as to Covenanters and Malignants, they were both a set of cruel and bloody bigots…neither had the least idea either of toleration or humanity…’. The inevitable consolation for Scott is in the implied nineteenth century comparison.
The figure of Old Mortality in the novel represents what little residual heritage Scott perceives, or would like to perceive, is left of seventeenth century fanaticism. We come across Old Mortality as Peter Pattieson strolls through a graveyard;
An old man was seated upon the monument of the slaughtered Presbyterians, and busily employed in deepening, with his chisel, the letters of the inscription, which, announcing, in scriptural language, the promised blessings of futurity to be the lot of the slain, anathematised the murderers with corresponding violence (290).
If Scott’s vision of history is one in which a conciliatory balance is always sought after, here he brings to life a character with values completely opposed to his own. This passage represents another significant instance of Scott’s use of ekphrasis. Just as Old Mortality is employed in preserving the memory of the Covenanters, so Pattieson, and Scott set themselves a task which equally involves preserving the past. Yet whereas as Old Mortality wishes to reawaken old conflicts in the present ‘generation of vipers’, Scott wishes to leave such conflict firmly in the past, whereupon the Enlightement project of understanding historical influence can take place. Old Mortality’s ‘peculiar opinions’ are laughed off and eventually edited out of the anecdotes that Pattieson will use to construct the main narrative. Old Mortality is for Pattieson a ‘singular’ character, both in the sense of novel from an antiquarian’s point of view, and literally singular, the last of his kind, a remnant. He is associated, quite explicitly, with death. He dies soon after he appears in the narrative, leaving his work in preserving the memory of the Covenanters to ruin and decay (34). Pattieson’s story is a ‘re-chiselling’ of a new history onto what Pattieson, and Scott see as an old history of Whig bias: with this new story, Scott seeks to overcome the distortions of the Whigs and their persecutors and to forge a position epistemologically superior to their mutually destructive fanatacisms.
The conclusion of Old Mortality seems ambivalent as to whether such a position of superiority, a position where the past has been laid to rest and conflict ceases, has been achieved. The marriage between Henry Morton and Edith Bellenden in the last line is so quickly dealt with as to seem almost ridiculous. In comparison to the constant to-and-fro of the novel it seems out of place, bathetic. It is tempting to see it as a parody of the marriage in Waverley. Scott then ends the book with a conversation between Pattieson and his gossiping friend Miss Buskbody the draper, who is only able respond to the romance elements in Pattieson’s text. The ‘Conclusion’ is on one level a throwaway piece of levity, a dig aimed at the superficiality and escapism Scott attached to readers of romance novels. On a deeper level the ‘Conclusion’ is a commentary on the failure to fictively interpret and manage the destructive forces of the past. Scott is conscious of his version of history in Old Mortality as precisely that, his own version of history determined by the limits of his literary historiography. There seems to be real uneasiness concerning the degree to which the dead past will stay suitably dead, the degree to which a novel which is intended to be explanatory and reassuring has succeeded in these aims.
You have been reading about the ways in which Waverley and Old Mortality are simultaneously dictated by an Enlightenment historiography of ‘progress’ and a drive to consider what constitutes the particular historiography behind literary productions of the past. I have emphasised Scott’s philosophy of mediation and balance, which, in some respects, seems to stand at odds with historical veracity. The structures of these two novels allow for partial viewpoints to stand in close proxy to each other without one viewpoint necessarily overwhelming the other. This is a supremely rational way to approach a subject for understanding. In these novels, Scott is able to make his own value judgements and yet avoid dogmatism: ultimately his debates remain ambivalent and open ended. In each novel the terms of the argument are again refigured. Scott may structure his narratives so that his characters end with their faces turned bravely towards a progressive future, but at the opening of each new novel the future turns out to have again acquired the features of a barbaric past which, once more, has to be expunged from the kingdom of progress.