Écrire la frontière: Walter Scott ou les chemins de l'errance by Céline Sabiron (review)
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Écrire la frontière: Walter Scott ou les chemins de l'errance par Céline Sabiron Aix-en-Provence: Presses Universitaires de Provence, 2016. 220pp. €20. ISBN 979-1032-000366.

Céline Sabiron's highly original study of border-crossing in the Waverley novels follows Franco Moretti's example in adopting a spatial approach to Walter Scott's fiction. Focusing on the "Scotch Novels," especially those set after the Act of Union (1707), this monograph is divided into two parts, devoted to geopolitical and symbolic border-crossing respectively.

The first part shows how Scott establishes apparently immutable national and regional boundaries, only to reveal how they can be breached, merged, superimposed, or dissolved, with the aim of creating an "état d'entre-deux parfait" (21). The opening chapters of the study chart how, after the first Waverley novels (Waverley itself, Guy [End Page 686] Mannering, The Black Dwarf), the Anglo-Scottish border gradually loses its political significance. Slowly transformed from a "frontièrelimite" to a "frontière-seuil" (73), its status as a genuine frontier is transferred to the Highland Line, depicted as the frontline of internal colonial expansion. Scott is careful, however, not to present Scots or Highlanders as unambiguous victims of colonialism. Sabiron shows how in Guy Mannering, he layers images of the Anglo-Scottish conquest of India over images of the English annexation of Scotland and the Lowland "pacification" of the Highlands. In a particularly persuasive reading of The Pirate, she analyses how Scott achieves a dizzying Chinese-box effect in his portrayal of colonized spaces, suggesting that England's relationship with Scotland is mirrored consecutively in those between Scotland and the Northern Isles, Orkney and Shetland, and the southern and northern halves of Mainland Shetland. Scott transcends binary oppositions between centre and periphery, metropolis and colony, in order to posit a viable middle ground.

The second part of the study shows how border-crossing in Scott also becomes a transgressive journey of initiation. Sabiron charts how national, geopolitical borders gradually lose the sacral power they possess in Scott's early novels (showing, for example, how the title character of The Black Dwarf is humanized and degraded from feared liminal spirit to eccentric object of curiosity). Once again, such power is transferred to the Highland Line, where the boundaries between male and female, human and animal, and animal and vegetable are perpetually blurred. The potentially deadly crossing of the Line means a destabilization of the self and a confrontation with the Other. Accompanied by a guide, or equipped with a passepartout, Scott's characters embark upon a transgressive wandering (or "wavering" in Scots), which not only breaks moral and sexual taboos, but, in terms of the Scottish Enlightenment's stadial theory of human progress, runs counter to the flow of time. This destabilized or multiple self is manifested in Scott's many scenes of transvestitism, disguise, and masquerade, but is only a temporary stage in a formational journey. After the revelatory encounter with the Other, the boundaries of the self are re-established and its limits reaffirmed (hence Scott's heroes' sudden loss of interest in alterity at the end of each novel).

The restabilized self nonetheless remains problematic. Sabiron sees Scott as prefiguring Victorian literature in blurring and dissolving certain boundaries in the name of progress and knowledge, while preserving others in the name of social order, even when these, as he increasingly hints, may be arbitrary or unjust. The resulting juste milieu is a shifting and precarious place, where the effort to maintain a fragile equilibrium leaves his characters prey to political, social, and sexual schizophrenia. Thus female characters such as Jeanie Deans (The Heart of Mid-Lothian) [End Page 687] and Diana Vernon (Rob Roy) are granted agency in his novels, emerging from the domestic sphere to breach sexual taboos, but they must submit to the Law of the Father at the end of their journey. Similarly, the depiction of an emerging middle class hinges on a vital but elusive distinction between modest and merited social climbing (Jeanie Deans) and reprehensible arrivisme (Effie Deans).

In her concluding chapter, Sabiron argues that Scott's strategy of obfuscating borders ultimately fails...


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