Walter Scott’s ‘Waverley’: Voices from the archives

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We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Walter Scott’s first novel, Waverley, with a free treasures display: Open now!

Waverley is the only novel in the world which has a train station and a paddle steamer named after it,  and the Scott Monument in Princes Street is the tallest monument in the world erected in memory of an author.

The display has as its centrepiece and highlight the original manuscript of the novel. It was last shown in public in 1999, so use this opportunity to come and see it now!  That’s what it looks like:

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Waverley is named after its hero Edward Waverley, a young Englishman who arrives in Scotland just before the 1745 Jacobite Rising.



We hold one of the best collections of Scott material in the world: many of Scott’s own manuscripts and letters, his publishers’ archives, and all kinds of editions and translations of his books. This display draws on that collection to tell the story of how this ground-breaking novel came into being. Scott himself, his friends, publishers, critics and readers, speak to us from the archives to tell us what lay behind the novel, how it was published, what people thought of it, why Scott wanted to keep his authorship secret, and whether in fact his secret was kept.

The first editon was a rather drab looking affair for modern eyes, without any illustrations and in plain publisher’s boards. But it became an instant bestseller, with 1000 copies sold within two days. This was two centuries ago! Waverley became a phenomenal success and established Scott as an international literary giant. It was soon published in the States (often in pirate editions) and translated into numerous languages. Later editions came with illustrations.

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When Walter Scott published Waverley in 1814, he had already written some of the best-selling poetry in English of the nineteenth century. Waverley was to be the first of a series of historical novels from his pen which swept the world and revolutionized fiction.

Of course, novels set in the past had been written before. Scott’s achievement was to bring the past to life Waverley and Flora smallby depicting historical figures along with fictional characters in realistic period settings. He did a lot of research about the 1745

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Jacobite Rising and the history and customs of the Highland clans before he wrote Waverley. Scott also praised some female novelists as sources of inspiration.

Come and see the display for yourself! It’s up until 16 November 2014 and, of course, free. You can find out more about what’s on display from our Waverley web feature.

For more information on the female novelists Scott mentions as his sources of inspiration, go to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections) and look for Elizabeth Hamilton, Maria Edgeworth, Anne Grant of Laggan, Jane Porter and Sydney Owenson.