The Antiquary


A novel by Sir Walter Scott 1816

A Review and Synopsis

List of Main Characters:
Jonathan Oldbuck (of Monkbarns)
Grizelda Oldbuck his sister
Mary Macintyre his niece
Captain Hector Macintyre his nephew
Jenny Rintherout his maid
Jacob Caxon hairdresser and wig maker
Jenny Caxon his daughter
Edie Ochiltree an old wise local homeless beggar
William Lovel a mysterious visitor
Lieutenant Richard Taffril
Sir Arthur Wardour of Knockwinnock Castle
Isabella Wardour his daughter
Captain Reginald Wardour his son
Herman Dousterswivel a foreign charlatan
Mr Blattergrowl a local pastor
Mrs Mailsetter postmistress of Fairport
Saunders Mucklebackit a fisherman
Maggie Mucklebackit his wife
Elspeth Mucklebackit his mother
Stephen (Steenie) Mucklebackit his son
William Earl of Glenallan
Joceline Countess of Glenallan his mother
Eveline Neville his late wife
William Neville later identified as the Earl's son and heir

picIf you like a challenge and getting your teeth into a literary fat tasty pork chop, this marvellous piece of storytelling may just fit the bill, and might indeed be something to relish. Scott's use of rich flowery language and wide variety of dialect and accent is masterful and adds so much colour to the landscape and brings the story and individual characters to life in a most dramatic as well as entertaining way. That said, the minute detail in the occasional flight of fancy to reflect the obsessions of the antiquary himself and the frequent use of the Latin, can make this book rather difficult for the reader, requiring initially much patience and perseverance until you get the hang of it. My copy of the book contains a useful glossary to help with the translation, but overall most readers will find this book enjoyable, the language used enhances the experience rather than making it somewhat tedious and longwinded. The novel has humour and a dramatic storyline with lots of interest to hold your attention and keep you guessing. There is something for everyone including mystery, adventure, pathos, drama, romance, villainy and stupidity, and is populated mainly by big hearted characters supporting each other, sharing experiences and enjoying wonderful friendships, at the heart of which is the solution of the mystery surrounding a recent new arrival in town.

The novel is set in the town of Fairport on the east coast of Scotland in the late 18th century and centres around three families: the antiquarian himself Jonathan Oldbuck of Monkbarns, his sister Grizelda Oldbuck and niece Mary McIntyre; Sir Arthur Wardour of Knockwinnock Castle and his daughter Isabella; and William Earl of Glenallan and his mother Joceline Countess of Glenallan. The Mucklebackits, a local fisherman and his family, also feature quite prominently in the story as do other members of the local community including the the man who sees and knows everything that goes on in Fairport, the local oracle, font of all wisdom and common sense, second only to the antiquary himself, Edie Ochiltree the beggar.
       Jonathan Oldbuck meets and befriends fellow traveller, William Lovel on the Edinburgh coach as he travels home to Fairport from a business trip. The antiquarian feels they have much in common, although his travelling companion appears to be something of an enigma which somewhat unsurprisingly arouses his curiosity. However since Lovel will be staying in Fairport for an extended period, Oldbuck hopes to get to know him better and is optimistic his invitation to visit him and his 'womankind' at Monkbarns will bear fruit. Monkbarns introduces Lovel to his friends the Wardour family, the head of which, with whom he shares a common interest in things antiquarian, although this is also the cause of much argument and violent disagreement. At first meeting there is a distinct feeling that Lovel and Isabella Wardour have met years earlier in England but she greets him politely whilst remaining cool and aloof towards him. Here too the author seems to hint that although well below her in rank Lovel is romantically attracted to this highly eligible young lady.
       There follows an exciting episode in the story when Scott displays his most masterful skill with lyrical prose as he describes the dramatic rescue of Sir Arthur and Isabella Wardour who, returning home from a visit to Monkbarns via the beach path to Knockwinnock, become stranded, cut off by the fast flowing incoming tide. Luckily or by design, we are left to guess which, William Lovel and Edie Ochiltree appear on the scene at the critical point when the pair realise they can neither carry on or turn back, and help the victims to a precarious temporary place of refuge on the rocks before raising the alarm and organising a party of fishermen with an improvised ships mast, originally designed for use in their smuggling activities, to lift the victims to safety at the top of the cliff using a bosun's (boatswain's) chair. Despite playing a major part in their rescue, Isabella continues to treat Lovel with indifference, sometimes bordering on disdain or contempt and the atmosphere becomes even more strained when captain Hector Macintyre, Oldbuck's nephew comes home to Monkbarns on leave from the army, appearing to be in competition for and monopolising Isabella's attention. Hector has also learned that although the man he sees as his rival is a fellow military man, he begins to suspect that Lovel is not his true identity. Curious to find out more about him Hector begins to probe for information with questions that Lovel, for reasons unknown, prefers not to answer. Hector accuses Lovel of dishonourable conduct in refusing to reveal his true identity and challenges him to a duel, of course Lovel is too proud to turn down the challenge, mortally wounds Macintyre and fearing he might die is forced to flee the country aboard lieutenant Taffril's warship lying of the coast.
       Hector is taken to Monkbarns and placed in the care of his aunt and sister whilst Jonathan Oldbuck himself is becoming concerned for the financial welfare of the Wardours having decided that Herman Dousterswivel, a foreign so called historian and archeologist, is a charlatan and confidence trickster and is gradually fleecing Sir Arthur of large amounts of money with promises of riches when they find buried treasure within the ruins of St Ruth's Abbey. The antiquary is finding it difficult to convince his friend of the truth and fears the Wardours will be bankrupt, fears that are confirmed by Edie Ochiltree who on separate occasions has witnessed Dousterswivels trickery and also the interment of the catholic Countess of Glenallan whilst secreted at night in the abbey sheltering from the weather. The beggar enlists the help of Steenie Mucklebackit to turn the tables on Dousterswivel after luring him to St Ruth's at the dead of night with Sir Arthur to expose him, in the process the villain is assaulted which will ultimately get Edie into trouble with the law.
       Meanwhile after an accident at sea, whilst fishing with his dad, Steenie drowns in a storm and a subsequent visit to the Mucklebackit's home by the antiquary accompanied by Ochiltree during the period of mourning and the burial, Elspeth the old grandmother makes an astonishing revelation in a brief period of lucidity after Edie Ochiltree relates the story of witnessing the burial of the Countess of Glenallan. In a state of much agitation she insists a message be sent to summon the Earl, it transpires earlier in life she had been in the service of the Glenallans and is now the sole keeper of a dark secret concerning the late Countess and her son the long suffering and now somewhat reclusive Earl, the victim of cruel and treacherous villainy perpetrated by his mother. After the Countess's death, Elspeth is now released from her vow to remain silent and is at last free to speak out about the injustices inflicted upon the Earl and is desperate to atone for his suffering in any way she can before it is too late, she has vital information to pass on, but only to him personally.
       This of course is when the mysterious goings on in Fairport begin to look much clearer, she obviously knows a dark secret concerning the Earl of Glenallan and a family conspiracy surrounding his proposed marriage to Eveline Neville but Elspeth's ravings often descend into incoherence because of her increasing dementia. Edie Ochiltree is dispatched to bring the Earl who is rather incredulous but agrees to visit the old lady. Needless to say Elspeth anxiously spills the beans about his mothers treachery in coming between the Earl and his new wife and causing her early death, by falsely persuading the Earl of the illegality of his marriage, they being allegedly too closely related. Further, she informs the Earl that he fathered a child, a son born to Eveline in mysterious circumstances and whisked away to who knows where, by a nanny in the pay of the Countess.
       At this point it is probably best to avoid spoilers and allow the reader to find out for him or herself how this book ends, suffice it to say that the antiquary is not slow to put two and two together, and although old injuries will never be healed the conclusion of the story is quite positive and satisfactory. Lovel is identified as of sufficient standing to be worthy of the attentions of Isabella, Sir Arthur is saved from bankruptcy by Reginald his son a fellow officer friend of William Neville, Dousterswivel is exposed and banished whilst Edie Ochiltree is sprung from custody and spared a prison sentence.

Palfreyman December 2021

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