“Fame”

I am reading – I had not actually read it from beginning to end before – what is generally considered the first modern historical fiction novel: 1814’s Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott:

[Waverley, by Walter Scott. Photo by me, January 2023.]

Waverley is the story of a fictional English gentleman, Edward Waverley, who gets caught up in the very real historical Jacobite rising of 1745-46. By the time of its publication, Scott was already a well-established poet. Although the novel was initially published anonymously, it was quickly identified by critics as clearly Scott’s writing (although he did not publicly admit until 1827 that he had written it).

A contemporary novelist wrote in a letter in September 1814 of that newly published Waverley novel:

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.

I do not like him, and do not mean to like “Waverley” if I can help it but fear I must.

What is that we see so often now on social media about writers needing always to be “supportive” of each other and about how other writers are NOT “competition?” A certain Jane Austen above seemed not to feel a need to be applauding Scott and evidently saw him as competition. LOL!

[Jane Austen: A Brief Life, by Fiona Stafford, 2008 & 2017. Photo by me, January 2023.]

I have to admit in reading that letter I enjoyed the mental image of Jane Austen perhaps stomping a foot and declaring in frustation, “It is not fair”… rather like her fictional “Emma Woodhouse.”

Ironically, Scott in 1816 publicly, although anonymously, praised Austen’s Emma (without himself knowing the author’s identity either, as Emma was published anonymously) about a year after its publication.

If Austen above was perhaps not thrilled by Scott’s success, naturally she had no way of knowing then that posthumously she would come to be read and admired by the likes of even a Chief Justice of the United States…

[Both pics above from John Marshall, Writings. Library Of America.]

…among ever-increasing hundreds of thousands… and then millions.

Relatedly, I have read, and long owned, Scott’s 1819 medieval tale Ivanhoe.

[Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott. Photo by me, 2020.]

That is probably Scott’s most famous work nowadays. It was adapted into a (pretty good) 1952 Hollywood film.

By the middle of the 1900s, Austen would become a sensation in places around the world that she, at her death in 1817, had probably never heard of. One can only but speculate on how she would react if she could see how famous she and her novels are around the globe. When she wrote that letter in 1814, while she might have dreamed of great literary success she had likely never thought seriously that she would eventually far surpass Sir Walter Scott in terms of, as she writes, “Fame.”

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂

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