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Environmental and ecological readings

Philippe Laplace

Part I. Nature and the Environment: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Paradise Lost or Creation Regained? Nature and Culture in Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet

Cyril Besson

Texte intégral

  • 1 Walter Scott, Redgauntlet (1824; Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005). Subsequent reference (...)
  • 2 Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel (London, Merlin Press, 1962), p. 35.
  • 3 Simon During, ‘Literature – Nationalism’s Other?’ in Nation and Narration, ed. by Homi K. Bhabha (L (...)

1 Redgauntlet (1824)1 occupies a strange position within the series of Scott’s Waverley Novels: among works openly grounding the verisimilitude of their narratives in History (among other strategies aimed at by this reappropriation), the book tells a story that is fictional and fictitious in nature, that of a final (and entirely imaginary) Jacobite uprising, in 1765. Though the revolt exists only in the author’s fancy, the endeavour is no more successful in imagination than it ever was in actuality. The uchronic project that the novel gestures at aborts, and Scott’s fiction fails to enact the promises of its premise: the chimerical rewriting of history with, at its core, the imagined alteration of some past event, amended and reworked, and the examination of the ramifications of these changes. Of course, Scott’s fiction abounds with professions of accurateness to history, and he could hardly be imagined to have seriously considered speculative fiction of such a nature that it would have challenged historical record; his strategy in Redgauntlet is to place his focus on the margins of history, events and characters of necessity left unexamined by annals of any sort. As a consequence, history as it reached the modern-day reader remains accurate in the sense that the fiction thus exposed is not parasitic of it, but supplemental to it, as it were. Redgauntlet, then, can perhaps less easily be categorized as an instance of the genre of the historical novel than the rest of Scott’s Scottish fiction: can it really be said of this late novel that therein, ‘Scott’s greatness lies in his capacity to give living human embodiment to historical-social types?’2 One would rather think that the author almost claims responsibility for writing alongside, not from within, history, as if he were indulging in some sort of playful fantasy, an intellectual game in which the other participant, ideally, would be a worthy reader who might enjoy the ingenuity deployed, as nothing in the text comes to contradict established fact. Another pleasure this prospective reader (left implicit, contrary to what happens in the first chapter of Waverley) might derive from the novel could then be the contemplation of the book’s internal logic. In a sense, it makes up in terms of verisimilitude for what it lacks in terms of conformity with the truth. One is tempted to apply to Redgauntlet what Simon During ascribes, somewhat hastily, no doubt, to Waverley: contrary to what Lukács might say, Scott opens up a world not properly constitutive of reality but “adjacent” to it ( “providing a scene adjacent to the nation-state”, in his words), only superficially similar to historical archive. The book withdraws into itself: ‘The text’s unity is the unity of culture – a set of overlapping, unprogrammable connections and analogies within the strictly delimited frame of the work itself’, so that ‘The purpose of these texts [among which Waverley] is not to construct ethical representations which directly address their readers, but a kind of mimesis for mimesis’s sake’.3 During then sees Waverley as wanting in terms of an explicit motivation based in the “outer” world (‘With this lack of motivation comes a new principle of organization and delimitation – organic unity’, he writes). It would be tempting to draw a parallel between this lack of an explicit motivation and that of a metaphor or comparison lacking a connection between ground and figure; it is virtually impossible to say of the novel that it (the ground) is like reality (the figure) according to verisimilitude (which would establish an implicit connection between the two). In a way, what matters in Redgauntlet is not the way in which the novel is in keeping, but out of touch, with reality. The novel’s success (in the sense in which an utterance is said to be felicitous, even though it might not be true) resides precisely in its disconnection with actuality, which casts the 1765 Jacobite rebellion even further into the realm of pure fantasy.

  • 4 With its mention and examination of the character of various real historical individuals, but also (...)

2In those of the Waverley Novels dealing with Jacobitism, Scott is caught in an aporia, a narrative and logical dead end which consists in the perpetual characterization of the uprisings as systematically undesirable or unrealistic, at the same time as they are continually worthy of figuration nonetheless. The elegiac celebration of a Scotland always-ever “out-dated”, as it were, is nothing if not indicative of an ambivalence to the historical and current political situation of the Scottish nation. This very ambivalence, however, finds itself countered, if not neutralized, as far as its concrete manifestations in the novel might be concerned: if the text is isomorphic to itself only (and not reality), the referential gesture that it seemingly undertakes, through a series of historical re-presentations4 is at best a smoke screen.

  • 5 The novel closes on his departure on a boat, literally in the wake of Charles Stuart.
  • 6 The revelation of his withdrawal from temporal affairs in a monastery, at the end of his life, is r (...)

3 Redgauntlet’s focus is precisely the chasm that separates the real world and what could have been, history and fiction. A telling sign is that it keeps examining borders, literal and figurative, and constantly questions their status as natural “givens,” literally “land-marks,” by showing how paradoxical they are. Although they stand out and seem to be one-dimensional markers that one should be able to cross with one leap, while physically crossing them, one always feels them widening, “densifying” in a way, just to reveal that behind the space just crossed, there are more borders. This aspect is so prevalent that one ends up asking oneself if Scotland is anything more than a succession of frontiers of all kinds piled up onto one another, or just entwined together. The resulting represented Scottish space is not, then, a territory properly speaking, but looseness incarnate, or rather mobilis in loci. The Solway, for instance, is all quicksands and torrents, and legitimately so if one considers its condition as an estuary; it is hard, however, to reconcile this aspect with its supposed role as a line on a map, a mere frontier between the kingdoms of England and Scotland, as envisaged at the beginning of the novel. It is of course the place where a crossing is effected, as all certainties about identities become abolished: Darsie Latimer, while traversing it, re-gresses into childhood and legal minority, and the physical weakness that seizes him then cannot but be seen as the objective correlate of a tutelage, a fully legitimate and legal one, under the care of Hugh Redgauntlet, his uncle. There always looms on the latter, however, a sense of uncertainty, a suspicion that is indicative of an essential, ontological undecidedness, as if the multiple identities he assumes throughout the novel meant that none of these identities could be embedded in any given territory. A “loose cannon” in more ways than one, Hugh is characterized by uprootedness. Spatially, first, as the consequence of his chameleon-like ability to be at ease anywhere, always with a readily available moniker to go by, is that he may be a man-of-the-world, but of nowhere in particular. Temporally, he fares no better, as he embodies an outdated cause that failed a long time ago already. The novel’s ending demonstrates that, contrary to his uncle, Darsie does not just claim to serve Scotland, but rather is the nation, after a restoration that takes place in an inn (quite significantly), a restoration at the expense of Charles Stuart whose “deposition”, or at least political irrelevance, will be redundantly confirmed, accordingly. No one is a prophet in his own land, and Hugh is even less so than any other, but perhaps the landlessness he ends up with should be taken as a final realization of his true identity, a displacement in elsewhereness that forces him to reconcile his private and public selves. At the end, he is swept under the carpet, or rather, to the margins, story-wise5 as well as compositionally.6 This is true in several ways. Structurally, first, as this is the text’s final document, but also generically: the correspondents in this final document (‘the Author of Waverley’ and Dryasdust, but we never get to read the former’s message to the latter, making it a paradoxical one-way correspondence) are not the ones who initiated this exchange of letters. This blurs the generic prescriptions of the conventional epistolary novel, as it is not customary to include letters written after everyone is long dead, and Redgauntlet ends not in a very different place, but in a very different time, than its opening pages.

4By re-framing Hugh, what the novel seeks to establish is order (in this respect, the fact that he becomes a monk is highly ironical – at his expense). Yet the text fails at realizing in its course what it explicitly aims at (its telos is stability, be it national or in terms of self). In keeping with its reputation, Redgauntlet’s textual environment is so bumpy as to feel almost impassable: the salt of this earth resides in its evocation of impermanence and slipperiness. A number of narratorial shifts testify to this obsession, unashamedly disregarding Scott’s commitment to believability in the book’s opening pages, through the use of mimetic forms, namely the epistolary novel and the diary (the way in which all these documents were supposedly compiled is never made explicit, however). Yet as early as volume two, a heterodiegetic narrator steps in, claiming to be literally omniscient, and lets the reader in on what a form more in conformity with the initial generic contract might very well fail to evoke efficiently. The narrative itself becomes a landscape at this point, and the narrator, but a wayfarer:

It is thus that the adventurous travellers who explore the summit of Mont Blanc, now move on so slowly through the crumbling snow-drift, that their progress is almost imperceptible, and anon abridge their journey by springing over the intervening chasms which cross their path, with the assistance of their pilgrim-staves. Or, to make a briefer simile, the course of story-telling which we have for the present adopted, resembles the original discipline of the dragoons, who were trained to serve on foot or horseback, as the emergencies of the service required. (Redgauntlet, p. 125)

  • 7 Michal Glowiński, ‘Sur le roman à la première personne’ in Esthétique et poétique, ed. by Gérard Ge (...)

5The form initially chosen for the novel, with its commitment to verisimilitude, becomes a milieu presented as treacherous and that runs the risk of blocking the story’s pro-gress. The narrator is nothing if not a pragmatist, and adapts his train not of thought but of telling, according to what best enables him to forge ahead. Initially, he indulged in what Michal Glowiński calls ‘formal mimesis’, that is ‘l’imitation, par le moyen d’une forme donnée, d’autres modes de discours littéraire… . [O]n ne peut parler de mimésis formelle que lorsque se manifeste une certaine tension, un certain jeu entre différents modes d’expression’.7 This tension resides in the gap between the formally mimetic text’s lip service to verisimilitude and the fact that it requires the reader to be aware of the fiction of verisimilitude. In the context of Redgauntlet, this tension stretches the reader’s good will so thin that it ends up dissolving completely: what used to be unsaid for fear of spoiling the pretence that is the basis of the relation between reader and fiction (the latter claiming implicitly that it is not a fiction, and the former pretending to take the text at face value) is now made manifest, which is not without its cost. The narratorial intervention in the second volume (one of many such instances in the book) dispels all claims to believability: it is transparent at this point that this is fiction, and there is something akin to an early form of metafiction in the way in which Scott undermines the painstakingly constructed foundations of his house of “cards” -formal mimesis. The novel’s believability, it goes without saying, cannot survive this discrepancy, but what is striking, chiefly, is the changing geography that comes to existence under Scott’s pen, a geography that corresponds to the Scottish landscape as evoked in the novel. The isomorphic correspondence between the landscape as the novel figures it and the storytelling itself rests on the common ground of a certain uneven-ness of the territory, an irregularity that the narrator-demiurge takes full responsibility for.

6The problem posed by the novel, then, is that of the possibility of effectively relating a text and its subject, a people and its horizon of occupation – and perhaps even an author and his readers. Co-existence is meaningless without relatedness, and this is true structurally for the text, a relation after all, as well as intrinsically for the national space. Co-existence without relatedness is what looms in the background of Redgauntlet, so that living together is in essence problematic in the novel, but it would be misguided to assume that nature itself offers a way out of this predicament: Scott offers no way in the course of the novel to fall back on an edenic, presocial (prelapsarian?) state of nature to escape the awkwardness of the “civil” state. The representation of nature is in fact no less conflictual or paradoxical than society’s, while one might have expected it to be de facto a shared background, an irreducible common denominator, a most tenuous collective dasein. Of course, Scott’s reluctance to create the fiction of a Rousseau-style prelapsarian state of indifferentiation in the context of a historical novel can be taken as a sign of utter honesty, but one could also say that this honesty concerns not just history but the mode of narration of it, the use of language itself. Language always fails to produce the world when it refers to it, and reference, precisely, will always be a sign of the incompleteness of language, gesturing at the reality without ever reaching it, as historical account shows all too clearly. Language can only sketch out, hint at, and it is probably tautological to write that what is given existence literarily does not exist literally. Writing about historical events never amounts to re-enacting them, but this is true of everything conjured up by the referential function of language. Through language, the world is always-ever mediated, and nature no less so than any other aspect of reality. Nature is never a given, but always culturally produced, and it is rather obvious that it is even more so in the context of a novel. Scott’s evocation of his art as pragmatic travelling, and his equation of storytelling and landscape, is an endorsement of the constructedness of everything in literature; the referential illusion cannot survive such passages as the one mentioned above, but the figure of the author that appears then is far different from that of Scott the antiquarian. We could apply Frédéric Keck’s summary of Lévi-Strauss’s view of an always-already cultural nature to Redgauntlet’s depiction of ever-moving, unstable landscapes:

  • 8 Frédéric Keck, Claude Lévi-Strauss, une introduction (Paris: Éditions Pocket, 2005), pp. 125- 26.

[Chez Lévi-Strauss] l’opposition nature/culture ne renvoie pas à une grande coupure ontologique entre ce qui relève de l’inerte et ce qui relève de l’humain, mais à une opposition parmi d’autres dont se servent les sociétés humaines pour penser les problèmes que leur pose leur environnement. La nature, comprise comme l’ensemble des êtres donnés antérieurement à l’activité humaine, est en effet « bonne à penser » parce qu’elle constitue […] un réservoir de différences dans lequel les hommes peuvent puiser pour instaurer la pensée symbolique. […] [L]a culture projette ses propres problèmes et ses propres contradictions dans la nature, en représentant ces différences naturelles comme polarisées.8

7Through his evocation of a chaotic environment made up of more or less openly contested borders, but never of centres, Scott in 1824 does not describe, but creates a rather surprising, and yet somehow entirely honest, network for the Scottish territory, making it an imagined community (to borrow from Benedict Anderson), but certainly not one that can be shared easily. Indeed, troublemakers end up as necessary sacrifices, doomed to desert the land to make it habitable for those who want nothing better than to share in the “commonwealth.”

  • 9 Philippe Descola, Par-delà nature et culture (Paris: Gallimard, 2005), pp. 221-22.

8However, until this final resolution, which significantly brings the novel to a close, conflict is the very essence of Scotland and the Scottish people-s, for it is doubtful whether properly collective schemas can emerge in such an environment. The symbol of this impossibility of two horizons of occupation to coincide in the same territory is the irreducible opposition of the Quakers’ and Hugh’s world views; these two world views, we shall argue, are primarily based on a different ways of relating to nature. The curse of the Redgauntlets, first, can be read as symptomatic of their inscription in nature. Legend has it, the text informs us, that there is a reason for the fact that the mark of a horseshoe appears on their forehead when they frown. This mark of Cain of sorts was transferred on the family line after Alberick Redgauntlet accidentally killed his son (an episode that amount to a myth of origins), and in a sense, the family’s and the community’s integration of this myth explains Hugh’s system of representation of the world through his relation to nature. This trait seems to be the detail that characterizes the family in the eyes of its members but also in the eyes of all, all the more so as the narrator, when he mentions it, does not explicitly discard this mythical explanation as mere superstition. The Redgauntlets share an attribute with horses, then, and this process of identification between humans and non-humans could be considered as a form of totemism, as ‘ […] le totem est dit incarner de façon exemplaire les attributs particuliers de comportement, d’humeur et d’apparence reconnus aux humains qu’il représente’.9 The horse, a sanguine animal that is often, in the course of the novel, shown to resist the authority of its masters (Joshua’s misnamed steed, Solomon, is a good example), embodies the intrinsic qualities of the Redgauntlets (or at least of Hugh’s branch) – unless it is the other way around. The parallel between Hugh’s world-view and totemism can be extended further: the appropriation of horses in the book is constantly at stake, as they are both a symbol of social status and a means of circulation in a landscape somewhat difficult to pass through on foot. One could think that they are represented as a natural extension of man on several occasions, especially when Hugh and his supporters go salmon-fishing. In this context, man and horse make up a composite unit, a skilful hunter fully adapted not only to its environment (it is, one could say, the top of the food chain), but also to a time-honoured (in a sense, naturalized) tradition. Modern ecology might see one of the life-forms as parasitic of the other, but the text envisages this rather as a felicitous, although short-lived, association. Horses may remain essentially an instrument, and one cannot in this context properly talk of totemism, but this type of connection with the world is what comes closest to Hugh’s world-view and his perception of his inscription in his environment.

9The Quakers in the novel, as far as they are concerned, come closest to naturalism; according to Descola, the latter

  • 10 Philippe Descola, Par-delà nature et culture, p. 241.

[…] inverse la formule de l’animisme, d’une part en articulant une discontinuité des intériorités et une continuité des physicalités, d’autre part en renversant le sens de leur inclusion hiérarchique, les lois universelles de la matière et de la vie servant au naturalisme de paradigme pour conceptualiser la place et le rôle dévolus à la diversité des expressions culturelles de l’humanité.10

10The novel’s Quakers are fully aware that they stand in opposition to the world they live in, as it is governed by laws that they feel do not legitimately apply to them, but they still feel they belong to a world shared (perhaps quite poorly so) with others. In spite of the differences within it, this world is one world, although a paradoxical one, no doubt. Hugh systematically endeavours to expel them from it, even conceptually, by making it clear on several occasions that the principles that they represent are incompatible with his own, as in his view he embodies the very nature of Scotland. The dispute over the modes of fishing consists in more than an opposition between tradition (salmon fishing with a spear) and modernity (fishing with nets, in an almost pre-industrial way). What is at stake is the relationship with the landscape, or rather, the legitimate modes of exploitation of it. Spear-fishing, which in actuality is probably messy and bloody, is presented as a noble form of hunting, the respect of man for nature being presumably shown in the skilful art deployed to satisfy a basic human need, feeding. Fishing with nets, which imposes no external violence on the salmon, rather inelegantly requires no special skill. The number of catches is not the only thing enlarged in the process, as what used to be a requirement of sustenance for a close-knit community (supervised and regulated by an elite) potentially evolves into a market open to the outside world, inscribing in the very nature of the occupation of the local space the very different political views that the Quakers stand for – a form of egalitarianism that can be equated with democracy. The Quakers are all too aware that various practices exist in the world (‘discontinuité des intériorités’, as Descola writes), but the reason they oppose Hugh is that he would forbid their mode of fishing, while their egalitarianism entails that by virtue of their existence, everyone has the same right to occupy the land as they see fit (‘continuité des physicalités’).

11The contrasting views on the occupation of the land can also clearly be seen when it comes to horses. Although domesticated, they are, to the Quaker Joshua, endowed with their own will, and contrary to his fellow Friends, the reader should not mistake his naming the animal Solomon for a sacrilegious parallel between a horse and the biblical king, especially when he calls it ‘thou fool’ (Redgauntlet, p. 50). Naming here merely expresses a concern to distinguish an object and other entities of the same class in the real world, not anything symbolical as to the nature of horses, or even this specific horse. The reverse process, the animalization of young Benjie, can be found in the book, when the latter tries to mount the horse: Joshua calls him ‘vermin, monkey, bird’, but this is just calling someone all the names under the sun, not making him change categories. In the context of naturalism, at least as defined by Descola, the transfer of properties and characteristics from one species to another is impossible, and the Quakers would be totally unable to imagine such a change except purely rhetorically. They could not have come up with a myth of origins similar to that of the Redgauntlet family, or subscribe to it.

12The Friends’ belief in the ‘discontinuity of inner minds’ and the ‘continuity of outer bodies’ is not, however, without its dark side. This can be seen in a scene that clearly enough echoes one from Waverley, the initial discovery and, later in the novel, the re-exploration of Bradwardine’s domain, and especially the ‘bear’ in the garden. Darsie’s visit of Mount Sharon is superficially similar: there, too, the blazon was erased, although not for political reasons, as the Quakers did not erase the pious motto engraved. The point was for the Friends to avoid associating their appropriation of the land with a process that established a connection akin to idolatry between humans and non-humans. Contrary to what happens in Scott’s first novel, however, this aspect of the property will never be restored. One could see this as a sign that what differentiates Waverley from Redgauntlet is that Scott is no longer, in the later novel, obsessed with the manic conciliation of the old and the new. By the time the events of the 1824 book happen, history has run its course, but perhaps what is chartered chiefly here is the change in Scott’s mind in relation to the situation of Scotland then, now and forever. All that remains for the author to register is the by-now irreversible political and social evolutions that Scotland went through. This is not the sole symbolical purpose one can find to Mount Sharon, however, and Darsie’s visit of the place reveals that the Quakers need sacrifices to sustain their world view no less than Hugh. Tellingly, Darsie progresses through an artificial landscape that is less and less animated: the shift is from pigs and poultry to plants, then architectural elements that, despite their artificiality, are to Darsie, Scott’s mouthpiece in the matter, no less a link with nature at large, almost against the Quakers’ intentions:

I would not deface a scene of natural grandeur or beauty with artificial decorations; yet such may, I think, be very interesting, where the situation otherwise has no particular beauties. In spite of spite, I will always remain of the opinion that, in the neighbourhood of a mansion-house, (itself an artificial object), such decorations as terraces, alleys, fountains, and so forth, where vegetable and architectural ornaments are blended together, add dignity and interest to the whole, connect the regions of Art and Nature, and prepare for gliding from the regions where the former presides, into the wide extended domains of the latter. (Redgauntlet, p. 59)

13Reading these lines, it is impossible not to think of the Laird of Abbotsford, and to imagine that he is not giving the reader a lesson in picturesque landscaping, or to see that, enclosed and blatantly artificial though it may be, this haven has something reassuring when compared to the unstable and pervasive swamp-like quality of the Scottish landscape everywhere else in the novel. Darsie’s exploration of the place, besides, will go no further than this limit where the natural and cultural dimensions lie side by side without ever really meeting; interestingly, we are left with an impression of shaded tones succeeding each other until the frontier between culture and nature is crossed, almost magically, with no clear demarcation. Before such a point is reached, though, the visit is effected through a gradation. The environment becomes supposedly increasingly natural, and this regression beyond culture is presented as an elevation through a return to a prelapsarian world. Contrary to the animals, which need to be sacrificed while they are supposed to be protected in this mock-edenic world, the flora there does not lead Rachel to adopt an untenable position (providing temporary protection for them only to eat them later on), which Darsie cannot fail to recognize and designate as such:

I could not help asking the trying question, how she could order the execution of any of the creatures of which she seemed so careful. ‘It was painful, ’ she said, ‘but it was according to the laws of their being – they must die-but they knew not when death was approaching, and in making them comfortable when they lived, we contributed to their happiness as much as the conditions of their existence permitted to us.’ (Redgauntlet, p. 58)

14Contrary to what the Quakers want to believe, artificiality is Mount Sharon’s chief characteristic, which the young man perceives to be a rape of nature in the name of an ideology that he all but names naturalism: there is a discontinuity of essences (the compartmentalized spaces correspond to a difference of nature between the different components of the garden) within a world where there is a continuity of physicalities (like Creation, Mount Sharon is physically a world, common to all the species and genera, all the more so perhaps as it is enclosed upon itself). This world, however, claims perhaps a little too loudly its “naturalness”, while it is all too clear that this is an anthropocentric universe. There is something terribly contrived about it all, and man is so much the measure of all things in this pseudo-nature that the sacrifice of the pigs and poultry turns from down-to-earth to more painfully symbolic: their immolation comes to serve as a way of envisaging what human happiness should be. The mind boggles when Rachel proposes an analogy between her edible birds and those men who are uprooted:

These birds have their wants supplied, and their security cared for. Believe me, many a vagrant human being, left to range for the means of existence on the Common of Life, who are left by their very liberty a prey to the vices of others, and what is worse, to their own – (Redgauntlet, p. 58)

  • 11 That is in part the meaning of the inset narrative of ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale’: no servitude or de (...)
  • 12 Christopher Manes, ‘Nature and Silence’ in The Ecocriticism Reader, ed. by Cheryll Glotfelty and Ha (...)

15The text stops in mid-sentence, as if the logical conclusion were literally unspeakable, and it is true that this is the way in which culture devolves into what represents (to Western civilization, at least) its very opposite, the barbarity of cannibalism. It is not a compositional accident, then, when Hugh appears two pages later, to be identified openly enough as the very epitome of nomadism, or that he should later say, as if in answer to this passage: ‘ […] we [the Jacobite conspirators] are not men to be penned up like sheep for the slaughter.’ (Redgauntlet, p. 373) The conclusion that Scott draws from Rachel’s speech is all too clear: sacrificing one’s freedom produces the very opposite of what is sacred, and the outcome is the sacrifice, willing or not, of one’s life for the consumption of other people.11 That consumption may be less literal than it is in this earthly Paradise, but the generalized serfdom that seems to correspond to the political project pursued by the Jacobite conjurers does consist in a consumption of individual liberties. The belated Jacobites and the Quakers may not have much in common, but they seem surprisingly in unison when it comes to the fate they have in store for those they perceive as Other: enslavement, in various ways, a form of alienation that starts with the deprivation of freedom. What they may fail to see, is how this betrays their very principles, and makes them the mirror image of each other. The Quakers, historically nomadic from the teachings of George Fox, turned sedentary here (which is not historically without ground), and therefore can be perceived (they certainly are, by Hugh) as apostates in this respect. Darsie’s uncle, however, fares no better, since although he thinks of himself as indissolubly anchored to the territory of Scotland, he has in fact been alienated from the nation in its current state by his incessant comings and goings. Through his contact with, and rejection of, both groups, Darsie is the only one to overcome this very special brand of clannish simple-mindedness, through his consideration of animals precisely. He does acknowledge he is quite carnivorous, but still manages to display a sort of interspecies solidarity (although it is not exactly a bio-centric perspective in modern terms) as it allows him to consider his very own nature: ‘I am not quite of her [Rachel’s] mind, Alan. I do not believe either pigs or poultry would admit that the chief end of their being was to be killed and eaten.’ (Redgauntlet, p. 58) They will not have a say in the matter, as nature is in essence silent to Man, although we should not overlook the constructedness of this silence: ‘Nature is silent in our culture (and in literate societies in general) in the sense that the status of being a speaking subject is jealously guarded as an exclusively human prerogative.’12

16Nature, as Claude Lévi-Strauss famously wrote, is at least as good for thinking as it is good for eating, but it is far from certain that naturalism is the best way to approach it. This is all the more obvious as Darsie explains quite clearly that this illusion of a Paradise regained, Mount Sharon, rests entirely on a cultural power, the catalyst money, this miracle worker: “No small sum of money must have been expended in erecting and maintaining them [the gardens and their contents] in the exquisite degree of good order which they exhibited.” (Redgauntlet, p. 58) Nature in Redgauntlet is thus always-ever mediated by human culture, and the simulacrum produced in its place cannot be substituted for it, despite naturalism’s best intentions. As the scars left by smallpox on her face indicate, Rachel, Darsie’s and the reader’s guide through this Golgotha of Creation, is no Flora (Waverley’s temporary love interest), and cannot fulfil the role that was ascribed to the Jacobite rebel: re-enchanting the world, leaving the impression, for a time at least, that man and nature can be reassociated. She offers no privileged way of access into the natural world, or perhaps less grandly, to the essence of Scotland. The nation’s salvation will not come from this forgery of Creation, Mount Sharon, but from this most “cultural” of places, an inn, namely Joe Crackenthorpe’s. Hugh’s pun at the very end, when, condemned to exile, he claims to leave for “the house of another,” can be understood in different ways. Obviously, Hugh leaves the House of “Hanover,” but more literally, his phrasing hints at “house” in the commercial sense of the word, and this very social place, where political decisions impacting the nation are made, comes to signify the house Scotland, where all the antagonisms preventing characters with so many different interests from living together are resolved. This late in the Waverley Novels, Scott is no longer concerned, as he was so often in the past, with founding a territory anew, but rather with “redeveloping” it: the inn’s rooms are as many cells when Hugh orders virtually every character imprisoned in them, but these cells (or the elements in them) in the end turn to be not unlike body cells, reorganizing so as to recompose a viable organic unity. Crackenthorpe’s inn offers a combination of the human elements constitutive of Scotland, acting as a centrifuge of sorts whose function it is to separate and redistribute the constituents historically improperly emulsified, into something more structurally sustainable. The true nature of Scotland is restored in the process, as the collective amen at the very end illustrates. In the final moments of a book otherwise extremely wary of religion and its ability to sow dissension, concord is finally achieved by the only act of faith validated by the text. It would be misguided, however, to read into this a form of secular religion: neither nature, nor an illusorily regained Paradise is the place to find and found unity among men, diverse as they may be. In the end, the experiment and experience of Mount Sharon prove useless, both metaphysically and politically. In the Waverley Novel taking place latest in time (1765), and therefore closest to Scott in temporal proximity, the Author renounces his previous attempts to find the last word about Scotland in essences. Hugh may claim his position is the “natural” one, but it is transparently invalidated by the narrative; the Quakers’ gardens only illustrate the fact that there is no such thing here as natura naturans, and that it is pointless to attempt to trace back God through natura naturata. The connection linking all men and their environment is not to be found in vivo in nature, but to be produced in vitro, in Crackenthorpe’s inn, an eminently cultural place. Scott’s Scottish fiction tends to be somewhat too easily reduced to an essentialist vision, but Redgauntlet is the novel of artificiality triumphant, although it might be a Pyrrhic victory. A Golgotha of Scott’s own creation, what at first sight appears to be historical fantasy is also the place where he sacrifices the “natural-ness” (the verisimilitude) of his narrative as such, and his status as a realist, to prove more than ever, and self-consciously so, artifex mundi. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he alienated in the process a number of his readers who demanded nothing better than to be taken in by the illusion of fiction.


1 Walter Scott, Redgauntlet (1824; Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005). Subsequent references to the text will be given in brackets.

2 Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel (London, Merlin Press, 1962), p. 35.

3 Simon During, ‘Literature – Nationalism’s Other?’ in Nation and Narration, ed. by Homi K. Bhabha (London & New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 147.

4 With its mention and examination of the character of various real historical individuals, but also of a real place taken at different times of its development, that is.

5 The novel closes on his departure on a boat, literally in the wake of Charles Stuart.

6 The revelation of his withdrawal from temporal affairs in a monastery, at the end of his life, is relegated to the margins of the novel.

7 Michal Glowiński, ‘Sur le roman à la première personne’ in Esthétique et poétique, ed. by Gérard Genette (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1992), p. 234.

8 Frédéric Keck, Claude Lévi-Strauss, une introduction (Paris: Éditions Pocket, 2005), pp. 125- 26.

9 Philippe Descola, Par-delà nature et culture (Paris: Gallimard, 2005), pp. 221-22.

10 Philippe Descola, Par-delà nature et culture, p. 241.

11 That is in part the meaning of the inset narrative of ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale’: no servitude or debt can legitimately lead one to serve in Hell; as far as Mount Sharon is concerned, one might wonder what the point is to reign in this heaven.

12 Christopher Manes, ‘Nature and Silence’ in The Ecocriticism Reader, ed. by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1996), p. 15.


Is a lecturer in English at UFR de Langues étrangères – Université Stendhal. A specialist of 19th-century Scottish literature, he has examined the concepts of nation and nationhood, authority and the various modes of ‘naturalisation’ of the arbitrariness of social and cultural constructs. He has co-edited the issue of the electronic journal Representation on ‘History and Political Discourse’ with Pr. V. Molinari, and the book, Ville et environnement: regards croisés sur le monde postcolonial (2014) with André Dodeman.

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