I was a little surprised in reading this novel at the perspectives reflected in the narrator’s story. Scott, writing in the early 18th century, takes the voice of an English businessman writing a reminiscing letter to a friend about his adventures as a youth early in the 17th century. Occasionally, the narrator reflects on his romanticism as a youth and his current settled life, so we are reminded that the perspective is that of a mature, successful and cultivated English gentleman.
As the narrator, he portrays the Scots as foolish and bumbling thieves, canny but crass business men, or wild violent savages. The only exception is the title character, Rob Roy, or Red Rob, or Robert Campbell MacGregor, a wise but just outlaw, a Scottish Robin Hood, beloved by the country people, scourge of the wealthy city dwellers and especially of the English, fearless fighter and brilliant campaigner. For a Scots nationalist, this seems a peculiar way to portray the people he wants to inspire. While MacGregor is a heroic and mythic figure, the rest of the Scots come off as crude, backward and vicious, although good fighters as described by his English narrator. (And for balance, the English in relation to the Scots seem to come across as arbitrary oppressors and often not a lot brighter than the Scottish Highlanders.) Is Scott suggesting that Scots need to move ahead from their heroic but backward past and join the modern, if grubby, world of business?
Perhaps so, but the life of business is not very appealing either. The businessmen here may be wealthy, but they seem to have a very limited perspective, whether Scottish or English. The narrator initially rebels against his father’s insistence on joining his business. But Scott, a successful businessman himself (until his publishing business went bankrupt later in his life), makes it clear that the narrator’s romantic youth is a diversion and that his later success came from the family business. So is Scott here telling us that Scots (and we readers) need to put aside romantic notions and do the hard work of creating wealth, after which we can perhaps enjoy a quiet, cultured life? Or, since the narrator does in the end get the woman he loved in his romantic youth, perhaps we can take some of that romance with us in to our more business-like life.
Also interesting is the detached position of the narrator. Although the narrator tells the story in the first person, he is only an observer. But for the first 200 pages, Rob Roy has only a brief appearance using a pseudonym, and thereafter appears only in short passages (although always to save the day). The narrator’s only active role, to recover his father’s papers, ends when they are presented to him without a struggle. Someone else always intervenes before he has to act himself. In between are scenes that could pass for social satire and comic relief, often given in broad dialect. Is this Scott’s message – that the English are lucky to be saved always by someone else while they acquire wealth and power?
So the points of view and the narrative style are peculiar to a modern reader, although in the end they make an interesting and picturesque read. The mix of social observation and tame adventure explain why Scott was such a popular writer in his time.
Along with "Ivanhoe," this is probably Scott's most famous book. I'll agree with the other commentator; it is slow, long and hard to get into. I read a version with out any notes, so I only had the vaguest idea who the Jacobites were. Scott is often credited with founding historical fiction and this books mix of adventure, romance, politics and history is certainly influential, but also not very interesting. I like the Scottish setting, if nothing else. Also, Rob Roy doesn't even show up until about half-way through. The basis for the Liam Neeson (who is Irish) film and a fine cocktail.
I found this book too long: it lagged on a lot. Scott took too much time with the conversations and descriptions. What was put in 500 pages (for the edition I read) could have easily been put into about 300, and of course make the book much more enjoyable. The first half was kind of boring and the second half was much better, getting rather exciting when the main character went to Scotland to get Rob Roy's help and all the trouble started to climb uphill (which was a small hill). Also, I had difficulty understanding the passages when the Scot's were talking. Overall, it's an average read. I found "Ivanhoe" or "The Talisman" much better....
I only managed the first 5 chapters. I tried to keep reading, but after trying for 6 weeks I couldn't go on. The story sounded really interesting and action packed, but the language was just too difficult to get into. I would really enjoy giving a verison with more modern language a go - as I said, the plot sounded like my kind of story, it was just the language that stopped me from reading it.
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