I don’t normally write about lectures and seminars that I go to, but I recently had the opportunity to attend a rather interesting lecture at the National Library of Scotland that I thought I’d share with you all. The lecture has some fun bookish connections: organised by the Edinburgh-based author Alexander McCall Smith, the Isabel Dalhousie lecture is dedicated to one of Smith’s beloved characters, Isabel Dalhousie, philosopher and amateur sleuth, and (naturally) lover of Edinburgh and Scottish culture. This year’s lecture just happened to be on a topic I’m particularly interested in. Juliette Wells, an American scholar, gave a talk on the first American edition of Jane Austen’s Emma and its significance for Austen scholarship and the study of Austen’s reception in America. I read Wells’ book, Everybody’s Jane, for Austen in August last year (I was also supposed to re-read Emma itself for that particular event, but as I mentioned in my review of the novel, that turned out to be a massive bust…) so I was curious to hear her talk.
Famous writers throughout history have often had their well-known quirks. Many of them have created work-spaces that inspire and surprise. They can be placed into all sorts of categories, from the mildly romantic to the Spartan. And amidst all these categories, Walter Scott’s Abbotsford ranks somewhere between ‘inspired’ and ‘downright mad’.
Scott, who rose to fame in the early nineteenth century as a writer of sweeping historical romances, is one of Scotland’s most famous writers. He helped romanticise Highland culture and brought the stories of Scottish heroes like Rob Roy to the attention of the world. In the early Victorian period, everyone knew his name. From Ivanhoe to Waverley to The Lady of the Lake, Scott was a medievalist extraordinaire. What’s more, he wasn’t content to simply write about the past. He was determined to live in it. Or, rather, to live in a re-created romantic ideal of the past.
Yep. I know I’ve dropped the ball again when it comes to blogging (although, let’s face it, when it comes to my blogging habits, I have all the athletic skills of – well, of me, really). In my defence, it has been a crazy time: new city, new people, new bookstores to discover and spend way too much time in…. But now that winter has begun to sink its teeth into the city, and tourism seems distinctly less appealing in the biting wind (seriously, what is up with the wind in this city?) I thought I’d share some of my first impressions of Edinburgh. Because to be honest, I haven’t had all that much time to stop and reflect on my experiences here so far. Also, it’s essay-writing season over at the university, and I’m a tried and tested procrastinator.
So… where to begin with this famous city of literature? (And I’m not just saying that, by the way – Edinburgh really was named a City of Literature by UNESCO.)