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Chronicles of the Canongate, 1st set by…

Chronicles of the Canongate, 1st set (1827)

by Walter Scott

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The three "tales" — long short stories, or novellas, in modern terms — in this collection have often been published separately, but appear here in their original form, linked together by the persona of Scott's narrator, Chrystal Croftangry, a middle-aged bachelor who has settled in Edinburgh's Canongate district to pursue his antiquarian interests. Croftangry is something of an old bore, so his introduction and linking narratives are a mixed blessing, particularly when we also have Scott's own introduction and that of the editor of the edition we are reading, all providing conflicting explanations of the origins of the tales, but there are some nice bits of description in there as well.

The three tales, "The highland widow", "The two drovers" and "The surgeon's daughter" , especially the first two, are very simple in structure, with only two or three main characters, the sort of thing you could summarise in a sentence or two. Scott builds up a careful, almost forensic, analysis of historical context and motivation to show us how rather ordinary people get pushed by circumstances into tragic (even operatic...) situations.

At a psychological level, all three stories are about the destructive effect of notions of pride and honour, but it's perhaps more interesting for modern readers to reflect on the way the stories deal with the relation between Scotland and the outside world in the eighteenth century. A highland warrior astute enough to realise that there's no future in the traditional occupations of tribal warfare and cattle rustling is still unable to adapt to the mechanical discipline of the British army; A drover (cattle being Scotland's other great export, apart from people) can't make sense of the English way of resolving disputes of honour by unarmed combat; A young man seduced by inflated ideas of his own social status destroys himself and his friends by seeking wealth and glory in India instead of following a humdrum but respectable profession in Scotland. Scott isn't blaming one side or the other, in fact he goes to surprising lengths to make us understand both sides of the conflicts involved. The judge in "The two drovers" is almost as sympathetic a character as the drover. Both act in ways that are correct and honourable in the context of the societies in which they live. For all his toryism, Scott seems to be putting forward the classic Enlightenment view of history: societies evolve, and different stages of society have different value systems. ( )
  thorold | Jan 12, 2009 |
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The first set/series of Scott's "The Chronicles Of The Canongate" contains "The Highland Widow", "The Two Drovers", and "The Surgeon's Daughter". The second set/series is actually the same work as "The Fair Maid of Perth". Thus, the complete Chronicles of the Cannongate contains "The Highland Widow", "The Two Drovers", "The Surgeon's Daughter", and "The Fair Maid of Perth".
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140439897, Paperback)

Set within a framing narrative, these three stories take place in the years following the Jacobite defeat and feature characters who are leaving Scotland to seek their fortunes elsewhere. In two of Walter Scott's best-known tales, The Highland Widow and The Two Drovers, two young men are torn between traditional Scottish loyalties and the opportunities offered by England. The Surgeon's Daughter follows three young Scots to India during the first years of the British Empire. All three highlight Scott's unique gift for re-creating the spirit of historical eras and painting stirring portraits of Scottish people.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:39 -0400)

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