Porscha Fermanis »

Porscha Fermanis is a lecturer in Romantic and eighteenth-century literature at University College Dublin. Her research interests include Enlightenment history and philosophy, as well as Romantic-era poetry, historical fiction, and historiography. Her book, John Keats and the Ideas of the Enlightenment, will appear with Edinburgh University Press in late 2009.

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This article is copyright © 2009 Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, and is the result of the independent labour of the scholar or scholars credited with authorship.  The material contained in this document may be freely distributed, as long as the origin of information used has been properly credited in the appropriate manner (e.g. through bibliographic citation, etc.).

Referring to this Article

P. FERMANIS. Review of Walter Scott, Peveril of the Peak, edited by Alison Lumsden (EUP/Columbia University Press, 2007), Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 19 (Winter 2009).

Online: Internet (date accessed): https://www.romtext.org.uk/reviews/rt19_r02/

Walter Scott, Peveril of the Peak, edited by Alison Lumsden (Edinburgh: EUP; New York: Columbia University Press, 2007; Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, 14), xvi + 744pp. ISBN 978-0-7486-0578-1; £50 (hb).

Peveril of the Peak has never been regarded as one of Walter Scott’s greatest novels and its relative failure to achieve critical success is often attributed to the ‘over-production and money-spinning’ that many see as characteristic of his writing in the 1820s. In the ‘Historical Note’ to the current edition, Alison Lumsden puts this judgement in context: while 1821–23 marked a period of phenomenal output for Scott, she emphasises the extent to which he was in command of his historical material, despite his denial of any attempt at strict historical veracity in the ‘Prefatory Letter’ to the work. Scott’s novels may have been written quickly and under commercial pressure, but their characters, themes, and contexts usually evolved more slowly over extended periods of time. As Lumsden points out, Scott had long been interested in the seventeenth century, and had already treated the Civil War in a Scottish context in Old Mortality (1816) and The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818), as well as coming across relevant material in his editions of Dryden (1808), Somers’ Tracts (1809–14), and Anthony Hamilton’s Memoirs of Count Grammont (1811). It was, or so it seems, only a matter of time before he turned his attention to the period in an English context.

     The result was a finer and more complicated work than contemporary and later critics have acknowledged. The first volume of Peveril of the Peak deals with the Civil War, Commonwealth, and early part of the Restoration. The remaining three volumes consider the series of accusations and counter-accusations that characterised the Popish Plot against Charles II. Lumsden’s edition of the novel carefully and judiciously surveys the manuscript, author’s proofs, first edition, later and collected editions, and the relevant parts of the Interleaved Set and Magnum Opus in order to present ‘an ideal first-edition of the text’, incorporating ‘manuscript and proof readings which were lost through misreading, misunderstanding, or straightforward transcription error during the complex process of converting Scott’s holograph into the four volumes which constitute the novel as published’. There are over 2,000 emendations to the base-text of this edition, of which approximately 1,900 come from the manuscript; twenty-five from the proofs; forty from the collected Novels and Romances edition; and nineteen from the Interleaved Set and Magnum Opus. A further twenty-four have been made editorially. As the aim of the volume is to produce an ideal first edition, later editions, including the Interleaved Set and Magnum, are referred to only when they correct a clear error.

     Even by the high standards of the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, Lumsden’s ‘Essay on the Text’, ‘Emendation List’, ‘Historical Note’, ‘Explanatory Notes’, and ‘Glossary’ are commendably detailed. Her ‘Essay on the Text’ provides an overview of the genesis and composition of the novel, as well as a lengthy description of later editions and the present text, including revealing insights into the publishing environment in which the novel was produced, and the influence of contemporary intermediaries in its various stages of conception and composition. The section on the composition of the text in particular not only provides a fascinating example of the way in which Scott, Ballantyne, and Cadell worked together, but also of the creative transformations that continued to take place at every stage of the publication schedule. Lumsden has done an impressive amount of research on manuscripts, letters, and publisher’s archives; in particular, she provides a detailed account of the printing and production schedule of Peveril based on the meticulous descriptions of the whereabouts of the proofs by Scott’s publishers in order to avoid their theft and trade on the black market. The descriptions of Scott’s alterations and extensions to the manuscript and proofs—the most important of which were his decision to extend the London material and to expand the novel to four volumes rather than the usual three—are also exemplary in their detail and clarity.

     As the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels has so decisively reminded us, the transmission history of Scott’s texts is difficult and complex. Scott himself did not always seem to have checked the proofs against his manuscripts, and many errors and changes were unknowingly proliferated by him in the Magnum Opus. The Edinburgh Edition proceeds on the basis that an authoritative work is to be ‘found not in the artist’s manuscript, but in the printed book’, but its basic working assumption is that ‘what is written by the author is more valuable than what is generated by compositors and proof-readers’. The edition therefore aims to be as true as possible to Scott’s ‘initial creative process’ and, hence, to reject what David Daiches in his ‘Forward’ calls the ‘almost suffocating’ nature of the Magnum Opus. Despite criticism of this approach and a renewed scholarly interest in the creative nature of the Magnum paratexts, David Hewitt rightly points out in his ‘General Introduction’ that while ‘a new edition based on the Magnum would be an entirely legitimate project’ the ‘Edinburgh editors have chosen another valid option’.

     Hewitt’s newly revised introduction argues that his original assessment of the importance of the Edinburgh Edition ‘now looks tentative and tepid, for the textual strategy pursued by the editors has been justified by spectacular results’. His claims are borne out by the current volume. Lumsden has uncovered an extraordinary number of oversights and emendations to the base-text, many of which shed new light on passages of the novel, as well as on Scott’s authorial practices; in particular, both the newly revised reading text and accompanying editorial apparatus more clearly delineate the working relationship between Scott and his intermediaries. The Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels and this edition of Peveril of the Peak must therefore be welcomed not only for their impeccable scholarship and editorial policy, but also formaking more transparent the complex ‘socialisation’ of Scott’s novels