14 May 2021: Professor Ian Duncan will present this SWINC lecture to inaugurate our celebration of Scott’s anniversary year. The event will be held online from 18:00 to 19:30 and you can register for your place via Eventbrite here.
Episodes of ghost-seeing press to extremes a key device of Walter Scott’s historical fiction, in which cultural difference submits to a developmental logic of historical difference. In Waverley, the apparition of the clan spectre portends the death of the individual ghost-seer as well as a larger, historical extinction, that of the life-world in which supernatural phenomena count as real. Later novels complicate this historicist logic. In The Bride of Lammermoor, ghostliness is endemic to a liminal time, unmoored from historical purpose, in which the present is suspended between a past that fails to pass and a future that fails to arrive. Scott’s ghost in The Monastery interferes in the novel’s plot amid the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation – a discontinuity more violent, in its impact upon knowledge, belief, and the imagination, than revolutions of dynasties or political regimes.
Professor Ian Duncan is Florence Green Bixby Chair in English at the University of California, Berkeley