DCSIMG

Sir Walter Scott, king of the wild frontier?

PERHAPS he should have worn a Stetson. Best known as a great man of Scottish letters, Sir Walter Scott now has a new claim to fame - as a cowboy of the Wild West.

A conference taking place next month in the former outlaw town of Laramie in Wyoming will discuss Scott's role as one of the pivotal influences on America's western frontier, from cowboys to John Wayne.

Walter Scott: Sheriff And Outlaw, organised by the University of Wyoming, will include contributions from academics on both sides of the Atlantic and will look at Scott's contributions to popular visual culture, cowgirls and even native American culture.

Jeni Calder, vice-chair of the Literature Forum for Scotland and a former president of Scottish PEN, will present a lecture on Scott's frontier legacy at the conference, and says that Scott's influence on the wild west cannot be over-estimated.

"Themes that are deeply rooted in Scottish history and in much of Scott's fiction emerge in the history of America's moving frontier and in the Western," said Calder.

"Translate Old Mortality's Balfour of Burley to the American west and he might be John Wayne in The Searchers or Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter."

She cites the 19th century American novelist James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last Of The Mohicans, who often mimicked Scott's writing and whose second novel The Spy is based on Scott's Waverley, as an example of Scott's far reaching influence.

"He acknowledged his debt to Scott and he was the first to really write about the moving frontier and the West."

She also examines the comparisons between the wild frontier land of America and that of the Scottish Borders of the late 18th century - where Scott was Sheriff of Selkirkshire from 1799 until 1832 and which he wrote about in detail in his novel Guy Mannering.

"It's fascinating to look at these analogies because Scott is writing about bandit country, he's writing about outlaws. He was writing about wild native tribes - all things we find in the American Wild West and that appear in countless westerns. Once you start to identify them you find more and more."

Scott, whose best known novels include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Bride Of Lammermoor and The Heart of Midlothian, was popular in America in the 19th century and came to the attention of Mark Twain, who disliked his writings and satirised their impact, saying Scott "had so large a hand in making Southern character as it existed before the American civil war that he is in great measure responsible for the war".

He is also referenced in Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird, in which Scout's brother Jem reads Ivanhoe and then calls the author "Sir Walter Scout", and in works by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"Scott's novels about Scotland provided a kind of model for writers who were trying to forge a narrative about the young United States - to give it shape and to give it a legitimacy," said Calder. "Scott provided a model for them that was used again and again."

She also cites movies such as True Grit - which was recently remade to critical acclaim - as well as Shane, The Searchers and High Plains Drifter, as having taken inspiration from Scott's novels - particularly Old Mortality, about the uprising of Covenanters - with their themes of vengeful outlaws. "The clash of values between independence and governance, between maverick action and progress recurs over and over again both in Scott's novels and in Western film and fiction," said Calder.

The conference will also include a trip to a rodeo and contributions from academics on Scott's influence on French-Canadian literature and German writing.

Although this is the ninth annual Scott conference, it will be the first time that representatives from Abbotsford, Scott's Borders home, will attend the event.

Jason Dyer, chief executive of the Abbotsford Trust, said: "The Scott Conference is a major international event but this will be the first time that anyone linked to Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford home has attended.

"The conference is set to discuss the way Scott's work set codes of reading landscape and seeing native populations that gave meaning to what immigrants saw as they travelled across the American west.

"It is amazing to discover the far-reaching influence he has had around the globe."

Dyer also hopes to be able to bring the event to Abbotsford in the future.

Abbotsford is currently undergoing a 14 million regeneration to turn it into a global visitor attraction.

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page