Walter Scott’s Imagined Community: The Jewish and Romani Presence in the Waverley Novels
The works of Walter Scott display a frequent interest in presenting underrepresented minorities in a sympathetic and dynamic way. These characters, while marginalised in traditional historical accounts, are indispensable to the narratives they inhabit and help to drive the central action. Kathryn Sutherland describes these characters, comprising ‘social outcasts, gypsies… [and] madwomen’, as an essential part of the ‘unreadable core’ of the Waverley Novels, asserting a postcolonial understanding through the texts of what Chad May terms ‘untold histories’ of marginalised groups in society.
Scott’s Jewish characters, including Rebecca and Isaac of York from Ivanhoe and Zilia de Moncada in The Surgeon’s Daughter, are some of the earliest depictions of Jews in English literature. Two of Scott’s novels have Romani, or Gypsy, characters, which includes the Bohemian ‘positive Gypsy figure’ (as designated by Roger Savage) Hayraddin Maugrabin in Quentin Durward and Meg Merrilies in Guy Mannering, who Peter Garside contends is ‘the great agent’ in the narrative. This project asserts that Scott’s utilisation of Jewish and Romani characters demonstrates an early transnational sensibility that places an importance upon minority or foreign groups in the composition of both nation and narrative. It is through these and the central characters that we find a polyphonic representation of the nation and its internal dynamics, thus demonstrating the complex morality of the narratives and the historical memory that informs them.
Paul Arant, University of Aberdeen, Scotland