Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott

redgauntlet Redgauntlet, one of Scott’s Waverley novels, is set in Scotland and the north of England in 1765, twenty years after the failed Jacobite Rising of 1745. Although the rising was unsuccessful and ended in disaster for Charles Edward Stuart and his supporters, there were still those who dreamed of restoring the exiled Stuarts to the throne. Redgauntlet centres around a fictional third Jacobite Rebellion and the lives of two innocent young men who accidentally become caught up in the plot.

The novel is made up of a mixture of letters, journal entries and first person narrative written from the perspectives of Darsie Latimer and his friend, Alan Fairford. Darsie, an orphan, has grown up in Scotland knowing very little about his family background, aware only that he has been forbidden to cross the border into England until he turns twenty-five, which is also when he will come into his inheritance. The reason for this unusual condition is unknown to Darsie but eventually becomes clear as the story unfolds and the truth about his past is revealed.

Kidnapped on a fishing expedition to the Solway Firth, Darsie discovers that he has fallen into the clutches of the mysterious Hugh Redgauntlet, a former Jacobite who seems to know more about Darsie than Darsie does himself. Help is on its way, however – when Alan Fairford, who is completing his legal studies in Edinburgh, receives a message from a beautiful young lady known only as Green Mantle, warning him that Darsie is in danger, he sets off at once in search of his friend.

Redgauntlet is the third Scott novel I’ve read (the others were Ivanhoe and The Heart of Midlothian) and my favourite so far. In fact, I was ready to name it one of my books of the year until the plot began to fizzle out towards the end, which meant it lost its place on my list. Up to that point, though, I was completely engrossed in the adventures of Darsie and Alan. No, it’s not a particularly easy book to read, and yes, there are some long, dry passages where Scott discusses the politics of the period or describes obscure points of Scottish law, but otherwise I loved it. I loved the setting, the characters, the air of mystery and foreboding, the exciting plot and the way the novel was structured to incorporate different forms of writing and different viewpoints. I particularly enjoyed reading the letters sent between Darsie and Alan in which the personality of each man – the practical, unimaginative Alan and the romantic, adventurous Darsie – come through strongly.

The problem I had with this novel was with the storyline surrounding the third Jacobite Rising. Knowing that it never happened historically took away some of the suspense and Scott didn’t manage to convince me that Redgauntlet’s schemes would ever come to anything. I enjoyed the build-up, but when the rebellion started to come to the forefront of the novel near the end of the book, this was when I lost interest. It all seemed such an anti-climax after sticking with the story through so many pages. Still, the good bits of Redgauntlet are very, very good – my favourite part was Wandering Willie’s Tale, a wonderful ghost story which appears in the middle of the book. It’s worth reading Redgauntlet for this story alone.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Scott’s novels. Having only read three so far, I certainly have plenty left to choose from. If you’ve read any of them, please let me know which you think I should read next. And I would love to hear other readers’ thoughts on Redgauntlet. Brilliant but flawed is my verdict!

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18 thoughts on “Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott

  1. calmgrove says:

    I’ve not read it yet but I do have faint memories of watching the 60s BBC serial — occasionally the theme tune even pops unbidden into my head! Despite your final caveat I am tempted by this!

  2. piningforthewest says:

    I’ve read Ivanhoe, The Talisman and The Pirate and enjoyed them although I find it takes me a wee while to get used to Scott’s wordiness. I’m planning to read Redgauntlet soon and The Bride of Lammermoor.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy this one. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it! Scott is certainly a very wordy author, but I do like his writing and hope to read the other books you’ve mentioned eventually.

    • Helen says:

      That was the aspect of the book I struggled with, but if you think you would find it interesting then I would definitely recommend reading it. Ivanhoe is probably a more accessible book as an introduction to Scott, but this would be a good place to start too.

  3. Judy Krueger says:

    I have not read Scott either. I used to get him confused with James Fenimore Cooper, though now I know that the latter was American. I read a book of Cooper’s called The Spy. I think they are both wordy but both knew how to keep a plot going.

    • Helen says:

      That’s good to hear – I would be interested to know what you think of his books if you do read them. I really enjoyed both this one and Ivanhoe and am hoping to read at least one more in 2017.

  4. Carmen says:

    Actually some say that there were technically four Jacobite rebellions. At least that’s how Diana Gabaldon put it in the Outlander series.
    By Sir Walter Scott I’ve only read Ivanhoe (when I was a teenager), and I loved it.

    • Helen says:

      I’m only aware of the 1715 Rising and the 1745 (the one covered in Dragonfly in Amber). I obviously need to read Diana Gabaldon’s books again! I’m glad you loved Ivanhoe. It was my first introduction to Scott and I loved it too. 🙂

  5. FictionFan says:

    Pity it fell away at the end, but it still sounds well worth reading. I didn’t know that was the book that Wandering Willie’s Tale came from – a classic ghost story indeed! I’m going to re-read The Fair Maid of Perth soonish – I don’t remember much about it, except that I enjoyed it a lot. The same goes for The Antiquary – thoroughly enjoyed that one too, though my memory of the plot is vague. Sometimes I think it’s his writing that stands out, rather than the plots.

    • Helen says:

      The Fair Maid of Perth isn’t one I’m familiar with, but as you enjoyed it enough to want to read it twice, I’ll have to investigate. And yes, Redgauntlet is definitely worth reading! 🙂

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