SECRET LEAVES: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott by Judith Wilt

SECRET LEAVES: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A vivacious contribution to Scott criticism. . .and an odd book. The overall effect is as though Virginia Woolf sat down to write The Common Reader after doing angel dust. Wilt's strong point is her penetrating analyses of individual characters and novels: she is excellent on Rob Roy and Quentin Durwood and, in her strongest chapter, she effectively debunks what has been seen as Scott's ""feminism"" by some resuscitators of The Heart of Midlothian. (Wilt suggests that despite Scott's placement of four strong women as his protagonists in that novel, their stories nonetheless demonstrate his message in all the Waverley novels: the assumption of power requires a suppression of female-ness.) Wilt is so good when she close reads that it is almost maddening to see her do so only in the still waters of mid-chapter--filling in space between the demented word-salad of her introductions and conclusions. Preferring usages like ""topoi"" (to ""themes"") and ""time/space continuum"" (to ""historical context""), her style is mannerism apotheosized. Her defense of Scott's stilted dialogue boils down to mere word-mush, as do a number of similarly grandiloquent passages. The publisher is claiming that wilt's method is deconstructive--but no such thing. Deconstruction limits its generalizations, being closely inductive in method. Wilt, on the other hand, is deductive--a renegade redactor rather than a clinician. Her true mentors are Northrop Frye and Harold Bloom, but unlike them she engages constantly in glib historical generalization. Scott is really a ""Victorian."" (What does she mean by that? She never says.) On the other hand, Scott had a ""typically eighteenth-century rationalist consciousness guarding romantic and Gothic tendencies."" Wilt's net is cast so wide that it turns up some very queer fish indeed. Inaccuracies abound. Wilt, for instance, says that ""Prudence"" is the ""grail"" of every Fielding and Austen character; when--leaving Fielding aside--prudence is what Anne Elliot lives to regret, and is what Elizabeth Bennet never cares a rap about. In all, despite moments that truly engage with their liveliness, and despite the perceptive interludes of her close readings, Wilt's efforts to trendify Sir Walter will have you, most of the time, feeling sorry for the poor guy.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press