Anna Fancett

The Zone of Contact Between Storytellers and Story-Listeners in Walter Scott’s Work

Walter Scott wrote at the intersection of times and traditions. He was a crucial figure in the development of the novel from an insignificant genre for unsophisticated readers to a respected literary form; he negotiated the space between regional and international; and he connected the oral with the written. His first major publication, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border was a collection of ballads, and his subsequent literary works engaged with questions of orality. Whereas previous scholarship has generally accepted that Scott presents oral performance as naïve in comparison to the production of written text, this paper will argue that Scott presents storytellers and ballad-singers as both complex and complicit, and that his presentation of them demonstrates anxiety about narrative creation and production in all its forms.

Starting with the poems, and moving on to the novels, this paper will argue that Walter Scott endows his singers and storytellers with autonomy that is rarely naïve. It will then trace the symbiosis of writing and orality throughout his oeuvre, explore the destabilisation of both media, and investigate how they demonstrate his anxiety surrounding narrative creation.

Anna Fancett, The Open University