Wednesday, March 15, 2006

again, half as long

Day 199
15 March 2006

Have you ever seen A River Runs Through It? I haven't. But when I took Intensive Writing as an undergrad, my writing teacher showed the class a clip from the movie. In the clip, Tom Skerrit is teaching his son about writing. The kid comes to Skerrit to show him an essay he wrote, which is something like a page long, and Skerrit hands it back to him, saying, "Again, half as long." Kid goes, edits the essay, and hands it back to Dad. Dad looks it over and says, "Again, half as long." Lather, rinse, repeat. After a couple more iterations, Dad finally decides it's short enough, then throws it away. (Not sure what that's about.)

Last night, I finished reading Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian. Walter* would have benefitted greatly from having a Dad like Tom Skerrit's character. The last 100 pages of that novel were pure agony. At some point I began to suspect that Walt's publisher was paying him by the word. Why else would he drag it out like that? If he felt it absolutely necessary to tie up all the loose ends (Effie's baby, David Deans' death, Robertson/Staunton's just deserts, etc.) he could have done so far more expeditiously.

There's a lot of material for my thesis in the novel, but the thing I found most interesting about it ("interesting" being a very relative term) was Scott's political agenda. His whole approach to Scottish politics strikes me as odd. The Jacobite uprising of 1745, which is one of the focal points of Scottish history, occurs during the course of the novel, yet Scott barely mentions it. He also seems to be a big fan of the Campbells, and especially the Duke of Argyll, who is portrayed as a master statesman, friend of the poor, and all-around swell guy, in spite of the part he played in (or rather against) the Jacobite uprising of 1715. Contrast this with Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and Catriona: the '45 is the central fact of everyone's existence, Bonnie Prince Charlie's name is on everyone's lips, and the Campbells are a hiss and a by-word. Why is Scott so ardently pro-Union? It seems an unusual position for a Scotsman to take.

*After 532 pages of Midlothian plus extensive notes, I feel like we should be on a first-name basis.

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