Waverley Women: Scott, Women and the Romance of the Archive

Author: Melinda Graefe

Graefe, Melinda, 2017 Waverley Women: Scott, Women and the Romance of the Archive, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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This thesis hinges on one main problem: Walter Scott was faced with a fundamental difficulty in writing historical fiction that plausibly portrayed women’s experience of historical change, as the representation of women, especially women of the Middle Ages, is largely missing from written historical records. In choosing as part of the subtitle of the thesis ‘the romance of the archive’ I wish to point to Scott’s main strategy in devising female characters that are shown to be affected by the sweeping historical changes that are central to all of his novels. Not only did Scott attempt to create female characters based on exemplary historical figures, but he also created female characters that reveal something about the time in which they are placed, and about what it was like to live as a woman in past times. This necessarily involved presenting history as something other than a narrative about political events that for the most part women were affected by but not involved in directly. Scott’s innovation in the genre of historical fiction is to move ‘his narrative out of known into relatively unknown and uninterpreted historical spaces’ and to explore what might be found in the ‘interstices left by official history’ by ‘uncovering the “singular” stories inevitably lost in the generalizing sweep of standard narrative history.’ It is this practice that I am calling Scott’s romance of the archive. This thesis is interested in Scott’s own ‘romantic research,’ as he called it, as technique, in following the traces of the archive in order to simulate fictional communities and peripheral figures – women and outlaws, for example – that are not represented in the archive.

This shift from ‘stately’ to ‘idiomatic’ historical discourse is crucial to the ways in which Scott is able to represent women in historical fiction. I hope to show that Scott attempted to represent a version of history that was inclusive of women’s experiences of historical change, despite a general lack of interest from his contemporaries in women’s roles and the circumstances unique to their gender that arise out of the traumatic events of history.

In examining the ways in which Scott wrote women out of historical obscurity and into the historical literary tradition, I will also be addressing his method. Scott attempted to represent his female characters as historically plausible, and when he was unable to do so for paucity of information, he constructed from various sources what might be termed an analogue or simulation of a historically authentic female character. As such, I have limited the study to the female characters which are the focus of a sharpening of anxiety on Scott’s part in writing women into history. Also, I explore two pivotal novels – Waverley and Ivanhoe – in greater detail than the other novels, and present these sections as case studies that show the ways in which Scott was faced with the task of creating female historical characters out of inadequate archival material. It is the aim of this thesis, then, to show how Scott wrote women into a historical-literary tradition that would come to see them as agents and subjects of change alongside men.

Keywords: Walter Scott, historical fiction, romance, women, Waverley novels, archive

Subject: Humanities thesis, English thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Emeritus Professor Graham Tulloch