Scott’s French Novels and the Sketches of James Skene
In 1829, with the encouragement of his friend Sir Walter Scott, James Skene published a first volume of Sketches of Existing Localities Alluded to in the Waverley Novels. These largely portrayed buildings and landscapes that Scott and Skene had visited together. Skene, a talented amateur artist, would ride with Scott to locations that the novelist planned to feature in his fiction. There he would make sketches that Scott used as prompts to his creative imagination. Edinburgh University Library’s Corson Collection not only contains the original drawings for the first volume of Existing Localities, but also holds over 50 drawings prepared for an unpublished second volume. These unknown sketches feature further places where Scott and Skene journeyed together but also non-Scottish locations that Skene visited alone. In particular, they illustrate French and Swiss scenes that Scott depicted in Quentin Durward (1823) and Anne of Geierstein (1829), two novels that drew extensively on Skene’s diaries and sketches of European travel. This paper will examine this unpublished material, focusing especially on the French and Swiss sketches and tracing their importance to Scott’s creative processes. It will also examine their relationship to similar sketches in an album of over 400 Skene drawings that Edinburgh University Library has recently acquired.
Paul Barnaby, Modern Literary Collections Curator, Edinburgh University Library, Scotland