This week I’m on holiday. A whole week away from the shop: a whole week without books. Yes, I laughed too! In reality it is a whole week where my reading habit is uninterrupted by having to go to work and, since I’m away in Scotland, I’m not even having to stop reading to do stuff like cooking, washing-up or housework. Okay, I’m also doing quite a lot of (slow) walking, (even slower) running and (not very good) sketching but I’m not neglecting the literary. Yesterday I walked along the Borders Abbey Way between Dryburgh and Melrose (with a bit of a bus ride when the rain got too heavy) and then on to Tweedbank. And from Tweedbank it is just another shortish, but rather muddy, walk to Abbotsford – the home of Scotland’s most famous author*, Sir Walter Scott.
I felt a bit guilty going there, to be honest. It was top of my list of places to visit while staying in the Borders but I’m not a fan of Scott’s work. I have read Ivanhoe, which was okay, but have no urge to read more. I wasn’t sure if they’d even let me in! (I’m almost relieved that Dickens’ World has now closed down – I’d definitely not be let in there…) But I needn’t have worried – the visitor centre was a welcome end to my stroll, the tea was piping hot and all the staff very friendly and helpful. The house is fascinating, both architecturally and as the home of an author, with a very good audio guide included in the price; the gardens were large and would have been full of spring flowers if the weather hadn’t spent all of March postponing that season. The weather even co-operated long enough for a wander around some of the woodlands planted by the great man himself.
The exhibition helped me the understand why Scott is a pretty important figure in literature in English. Although he didn’t write the earliest novels (that place is taken by Cervantes, Daniel Defoe, Aphra Behn and the like) but he wrote the earliest commercial novels. His books were based (more or less…) on the history of Scotland but were, at heart, adventure stories. Gulliver’s Travels has adventure but also quite a lot of ‘pondering’ on deeper subjects – that could be the start of the literary novel. Jane Austen’s books don’t really have great adventures, just little, domestic ones – they are the prototype for contemporary women’s fiction perhaps. But Scott’s stories don’t have morals any deeper than that it is better to be good and honourable and are full of battles, intrigue and romance – they seem to me to be the precursor of authors like Clive Cussler, Edward Rutherford, Ken Follett or even Dan Brown. And that, QED, is why I’m not a huge fan – this is a genre I have read a bit of but don’t particularly enjoy. The history side I love but the kind of story where the plot is more important than the historical facts…not so much! The story where adventure rather than character takes centre stage is not for me, on the whole. Not that they are bad – just not my kind of good.
So, if you are a reader of modern adventure stories looking to try some classics I can recommend Sir Walter Scott. And if you like a wander round a quirky house followed by a really good cream tea then definitely try Abbotsford.
*To be fair J.K. Rowling is probably more famous now but, at time of writing, nobody has built a mahoosive statue of her in Edinburgh. It could just be a matter of time…