“Children know, / Instinctive taught, the friend and foe” – Walter Scott (The Lady of the Lake)
Walter Scott’s ties with France were personal as well as intellectual and artistic. His wife was of French birth and his interest in France was manifested both in his non-fiction (with his Life of Napoleon and the final Series of Tales of a Grand-father) and in his novels, since he chose 15th-century France as the location of his first novel set on the European continent. While Quentin Durward took some time in achieving success in Britain, its French translation, Quentin Durward, ou l’Écossais à la cour de Louis XI was immediately popular and inspired French writers and artists. Victor Hugo, for instance, wrote a laudatory review of the novel in La Muse française, the chief organ of the French Romantic movement, and partly conceived his own Notre-Dame de Paris as a response to it. Eugène Delacroix, one of the foremost French Romantic artists, drew several sketches based on scenes from Scott’s novel and painted L’Assassinat de l’évêque de Liège (The Murder of the Bishop of Liège, 1829, musée du Louvre).
Given that the eleventh international Scott conference will take place in Paris, the Auld Alliance seemed an obvious choice for the general theme of the conference. As the French poet and political writer Alain Chartier declared in 1428, sixty years before the events described in Quentin Durward, ‘this alliance was not written on a sheepskin parchment but engraved in man’s live flesh, written not with ink but with blood’. While these words underline the depth of the relation uniting France and Scotland they also ominously hint at the violent wartime context in which the treaty was concluded for the first time.
The typical pattern of Scott’s plots is one in which the main protagonist is caught in a conflict between two opposite forces embodying different stages in the evolution of society. As a result, antagonism is one aspect of his work that has been the focus of much critical study, especially from a Marxist angle, following Georg Luckács’s seminal work on the historical novel. It might however still be possible to engage in this field by resorting, for instance, to contemporary debates on the values of agonistic rhetorics – which some critics see as a means to justify domination while others, on the contrary, stress “the affirmative dimension of contestation” (Bonnie Honig, Political Theory and the Displacements of Politics, 1993: 15). The polyphonic – sometimes even verging on the carnivalesque – quality of Scott’s works has, in the past few decades, been emphasized to qualify earlier critical suggestions that the Waverley Novels were a teleological tale of Union.
Acknowledging the agonistic structure of Scott’s texts and being aware that early analyses of Scott’s works as straightforward, unequivocal unionist propaganda are now perceived as an over-simplification, should not, however, lead us to reject the notion of alliance as a potentially meaningful trope to analyse his texts, especially if we choose to define this notion of alliance not simply in terms of its political dimension, but, more broadly, as a bond or connection, an affinity. Speakers are therefore invited to consider such issues as national or international cultural dialogue, within Scott’s own body of works as well as between his work and that of other artists. Indeed, on the back of A.-J.-B. Defauconpret’s immensely influential French translations, the international success of the Waverley novels was such that they influenced many of his contemporaries – as well as subsequent generations of authors – at home and abroad. Works such as Louis Maigron’s Le Roman historique à l’époque romantique : Essai sur l’influence de Walter Scott (1898) or, more recently, Ian Duncan’s Scott’s Shadow : The Novel in Romantic Edinburgh (2007), The Reception of Sir Walter Scott in Europe, ed. Murray Pittock (2007), Richard Maxwell’s The Historical Novel in Europe 1650-1950 (2009) or Ann Rigney’s The Afterlives of Walter Scott: Memory on the Move (2012) have demonstrated that studying Scott’s works from a comparative literature or inter-textual perspective – or even within a broader cultural and social framework – can be most illuminating. In the wake of the ‘Reworking Walter Scott’ Conference (Dundee, April 2017), we will not only welcome papers analysing the influence of Scott on other writers – or the latters’ resistance to his ascendancy – but also papers that study the dialogue between Scott’s works and all forms of adaptation or secondary authorship.
Scott’s historical works and his involvement in contemporary politics will clearly offer opportunities to discuss his conception of the importance and value of alliances between countries – including Scotland’s complex position, torn between Anglophile and Francophile parties. It might also be interesting to compare the views he expresses in his fiction with the ones he expresses in his non-fictional works to determine whether they coincide or follow different logics. Finally, studying his work as a ballad collector and his social or epistolary connexions with most of the other great writers and the great publishing houses of the period will make it possible to see whether he saw writing as a collaborative or competitive activity.
These are of course only a few lines along which the theme of alliance can be interpreted and potential speakers should feel free to offer other interpretations of or variations on this theme.
Please note that the deadline for this conference is unusually early. Unfortunately, the French academic calendar implies that we should be able to finalise the programme by mid-October 2017 in order to book rooms for the conference and apply for funding.
Speakers are therefore invited to send a 300 word proposal to the following address by September 30th 2017: firstname.lastname@example.org