Home  »  Guy Mannering, or the Astrologer  »  Criticisms and Interpretations. VI. Ruskin on Scott’s Women

Sir Walter Scott. (1771–1832). Guy Mannering.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Criticisms and Interpretations. VI. Ruskin on Scott’s Women

I PUT aside his merely romantic prose writings as of no value; and though the early romantic poetry is very beautiful, its testimony is of no weight other than that of a boy’s ideal. But his true works, studied from Scottish life, bear a true witness; and in the whole range of these there are but three men who reach the heroic type—Dandie Dinmont, Rob Roy, and Claverhouse; of these, one is a border farmer; another a freebooter; the third a soldier in a bad cause. And these touch the ideal of heroism only in their courage and faith, together with a strong but uncultivated or mistakenly applied intellectual power; while his younger men are the gentlemanly playthings of fantastic fortune, and only by aid (or accident) of that fortune survive, not vanquish, the trial they involuntarily sustain. Of any disciplined or consistent character, earnest in a purpose wisely conceived, or dealing with forms of hostile evil, definitely challenged and resolutely subdued, there is no trace in his conception of young men. Whereas, in his imaginations of women—in the characters of Ellen Douglas, of Flora MacIvor, Rose Brawardine, Catherine Seyton, Diana Vernon. Lilias Redgauntlet, Alice Bridgenorth, Alice Lee, and Jeanie Deans, with endless varieties of grace, tenderness, and intellectual power—we find in all a quite infallible sense of dignity and justice; a fearless, instant, and untiring self-sacrifice to even the appearance of duty, much more to its real claim, and finally a patient wisdom of deeply restrained affection, which does infinitely more than protect its objects from a momentary error; it gradually forms, animates, and exalts the characters of the unworthy lovers, until at the close of the tale we are just able, and no more, to take patience in hearing of their unmerited success.

So that in all cases, with Scott as with Shakespeare, it is the woman, who watches over, teaches, and guides the youth; it is never, by any chance, the youth who watches over or educates his mistress.—From “Sesame and Lilies.”