Saturday 15 December 2018

'We shall never see these shores again...'

All comes together in Scott, said Virginia Woolf - 'tragic, irrelevant, comic, drawn, one knows not how, to make a whole, a complete presentation of life, which ... Scott creates carelessly, without a word of comment, as if the parts grew together without his willing it, and broke into ruin again without his caring'.

Nowhere is this truer than in the closing pages of Redgauntlet, Scott's last major Scottish novel. A third, fictitious, Jacobite uprising has foundered; the Hanoverian ascendancy is merciful; two minor characters kill each other; two major figures find love; and an ageing Bonnie Prince Charlie bids an affecting farewell to his native land. The novel ends as Von Karajan said of Brahms's Fourth, in 'complete catastrophe', and yet it somehow also completes a whole, though we can't quite know how. And afterwards? Afterwards it dissolves - dissolves into history or a fantasy of history, leaving not a rack behind but lingering long in the imagination.

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