Challenge #10: Rob Roy

Challenge# 10- A classic set in a place you’d like to visit: Rob Roy, by Sir Walter Scott

I remember finding Rob Roy at a little local coffee/used book shop.  I had been searching for this book for some time, and was thrilled to finally find it.  I love history and Scotland, and this book with one of Scotland’s most legendary figures as a title and character promised good things.  I wish I could say it fulfilled that promise.

We performed our voyage for a long time in silence, interrupted only by the Gaelic chant which one of the rowers sung in low, irregular measure, rising occasionally into a wild chorus, in which the others joined.

My own thoughts were sad enough; yet I felt something soothing in the magnificent scenery with which I was surrounded, and thought, in the enthusiasm of the moment, that had my faith been that of Rome, I could have consented to live and die a lonely hermit in one of the romantic and beautiful islands amongst which our boat glided.

The story is set in Scotland, which was enchanting.  But it is also set around 1715, which hurt.  I might have expected it really, being a tumultuous time.  But throughout the book characters fling such harsh sentiments at each other for being Catholic/ Protestant/ Scottish/ English.  It was uncomfortable reading such things, but I understand that conflict makes for a richer story, and the conflicts in Rob Roy held potential.  Would Rob Roy receive justice for the wrongs done to him, or undergo justice for the wrongs done by him?  How will the narrator and his beloved settle their religious and political differences, not to mention survive the first Jacobite rising and the plans of their conniving cousin? But while the conflicts and questions were heavy, the resolutions were weak; they were brief and didn’t answer some of my deeper questions.  This unbalanced ending left me feeling robbed.

So saying, she led the way to the library, and I followed- like a criminal, I was going to say, to execution; but, as I bethink me, I have used the simile once, if not twice before.  Without any simile at all, then, I followed, with a sense of awkward conscious embarrassment which I would have given a great deal to shake off.

Despite being the character after which the book is named, Rob Roy isn’t featured for much of the story.  When he does appear, his presence energizes the scene.  He is an intriguing character as the robber who has been robbed, the noble outlaw; he both puts the narrator in danger and helps him out of it.  But Rob Roy doesn’t stay around for long.  The main character is actually young Francis Osbaldistone.  Francis is an aspiring poet, which sparks his story in an amusingly awkward scene when his father finds out his son would rather wax lyrical than be a part of the family business, and so sends him to family in Scotland. Francis’ poetic heart is shown in his descriptions of people and places, and it seems to aid him in looking past political barriers to see the heart beneath.  This makes him one of the more likable characters in the story, even if he isn’t the driving force.

As he went on in this manner, I could plainly see that, by the enumeration of his wrongs, he was lashing himself up into a rage, in order to justify in his own eyes the errors they had led him into.  In this he perfectly succeeded; his light grey eyes contracting alternately, and dilating their pupils until they seemed actually to flash with flame, while he thrust forward and drew back his foot, grasped the hilt of his dirk, extended his arm, clenched his fist, and finally rose from his seat.

Francis is quickly charmed by the spirited Diana Vernon.  I wish I could have liked Diana better.  She is a clever ally to Francis, and her involvement in the story was curiously woven and had high, personal stakes.  But her character wasn’t attractive.  She would make rude comments, sometimes to the other person’s face; and was prone to holding a somewhat artificial martyr attitude.  At the end of the book, however, it is indicated that Diana has learned the meaning of struggle, and bore it nobly.  But the character change doesn’t hold much power, as I am only told that this has happened, I never witness her maturing.  She can almost be compared and contrasted to the servant Andrew Fairservice.  While Diana doesn’t seem to realise her comments are hurtful, there can be no veils about Andrew’s.  There are many scenes with Andrew, and some of them put him in situations that could improve his character- but don’t.  Andrew starts off with some potential, but quickly becomes one of the story’s most insulting and irritating characters.

While I spoke thus, the whole matter struck me as so ridiculous that, though really angry, I had some difficulty to forbear laughing at the gravity with which Andrew supported a plea so utterly extravagant.  The rascal, aware of the impression he had made on my muscles, was encourage to perseverance.  He judged it safer, however, to take his pretensions a peg lower, in case of over straining at the same time both his plea and my patience.

 It’s a shame, but I think Rob Roy will find its way back on the used bookshop’s shelf.  I wanted to enjoy this story, and I will admit that I laughed at times, tensed at the climax, and appreciated the snippets of poetry that began each chapter.   But at the end of the day, the payoff did not measure up to the promise.

 

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6 thoughts on “Challenge #10: Rob Roy

  1. I’ve not read Rob Roy, but I did read Ivanhoe this past summer. Some of the issues I had with it are similar to the ones you mention in this post. The character Rob Roy sounds like Ivanhoe in that even though the book is named after him and he drives the story, he doesn’t come in half as much as the reader would like.

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  2. Hmm, I’m always looking for a new Scottish themed read to try… and I love classics. But Rob Roy may not be what I should get myself into. Great review though! I appreciate all the details you shared on it.

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