Waverley Station to mark Scott novel’s bicentenary

Passengers arriving at Waverley station in Edinburgh will receive a free handbook on the life and works of Sir Walter Scott. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Passengers arriving at Waverley station in Edinburgh will receive a free handbook on the life and works of Sir Walter Scott. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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IT IS the novel that gave Edinburgh’s largest rail station its name and now looks set to inspire weary commuters with a few well chosen quotations.

From today travellers passing through the capital’s Waverley Station will be greeted with a series of celebrations to mark the bicentenary of the famous Scottish novel from which it took its name.

The station will pay tribute to Waverley, one of Sir Walter Scott’s most celebrated works, which tells of a young, aristocratic English soldier caught up in the Jacobite rising of 1745.

Quotes from the novel will be written across the floors, windows and walkways of the station in the hope of “bringing Scott’s words alive for a new audience”.

Tens of thousands of passengers arriving and disembarking will also be given a free pocket book telling the story of Scott’s life and offering tourists the opportunity to follow in his footsteps in and around the city.

Those behind the event said it would help rehabilitate the 1814 novel, published anonymously by Scott. Whereas some of his contemporaries regarded him as the equivalent of Shakespeare, he has fallen out of favour in recent decades, owing to a perception that his prose is archaic and overblown.

The Great Scott! event, a collaboration between Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust and Network Rail, aims to recognise the “wit and wisdom” of Scott and Waverley, considered the world’s first historical novel.

Dr Douglas McNaughton, campaign manager for Great Scott!, believes Waverley was the equivalent of an “action movie” ahead of its time and a work that influenced numerous popular writers, such as George RR Martin, the author of the best-selling Game of Thrones series.

He explained: “By inserting fictional characters into actual events, Scott invented the historical novel and influenced every writer who followed him, including Charles Dickens, Jules Verne and, by his own admission, George RR Martin.

“Waverley isn’t a boring, dusty old story – it’s essentially an action movie. The naïve young hero is brought up by relatives, goes on a perilous journey and is caught up in the politics of an impossibly strange and exotic landscape. That’s basically the plot of Star Wars.

“Scott wrote Waverley as a novel covering historical events in living memory. The 1745 Jacobite rebellion was exactly as recent for Scott’s readers as the Second World War is to us now.”

Quotes from the book to be written in and around Waverley Station include lines such as “O what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!” and “In literature as in love, courage is half the battle”.

For Juliet Donnachie, Network Rail’s station manager at Waverley, the only railway station in the world named after a novel, it is a fitting tribute.

She said: “I like to think Waverley station retains a bit of romance not always associated with modern railways. Sir Walter Scott was the most prominent Scot of his time and it’s appropriate that the main railway station in Scotland’s capital acknowledges his influence.”

The Waverley celebrations form part of a series of events to mark the anniversary of Scott’s book. The Scottish International Storytelling Festival is promoting the author’s legacy in its Once Upon a Place programme, from 24 October to 2 November, while the National Library of Scotland is hosting a display of Scott’s work, including the original manuscript of Waverley.

Not so much a title, more a branding concept

WAVERLEY station. Waverley Bridge. Waverley Steps. Waverley Bar. Waverley Road, Melrose. Waverley Avenue, Twickenham. Waverley Street, Glasgow, Nottingham or York. Waverley, Alabama; Waverley, Tennessee; Waverley, Iowa. The Waverley camisole. The Waverley ice-cream cone. Lambert and Butler’s Waverley mix cigarette. “They came as a boon and a blessing to men / The Pickwick, The Owl and the Waverley Pen”. It’s hard to believe that 200 years ago Waverley was just a town near Godalming and a newly published novel by an anonymous author. Sir Walter Scott’s debut novel didn’t just give its name to his whole series of fictions. Waverley was a brand before the idea of brands existed. Ironically, Scott chose the name, as he tells us on the first page of that novel, because it carried no connotations (though it has to be said the hero, Edward Waverley does waver and haver throughout). It is fashionable to look down on Scott, given his novels have few heroin addicts or boy wizards, but without his innovations the scope of the novel would be vastly diminished.

Waverley is about crossing borders and changing your mind. It’s about ambiguity and sincerity, hope and hopelessness, modernity and tradition.

In other words, it is the perfect post-independence referendum novel.

STUART KELLY

• Stuart Kelly is the author of Scott-land: The Man Who Invented a Nation