SIR Walter Scott’s epic novel Waverley has been reproduced by a former Edinburgh International Book Festival chief – 50,000 words shorter than the original.
Scottish literary historian Jenni Calder has spent months chopping the text from around 135,000 words to just 85,000 in a bid to introduce Scott to a new audience.
The curtailed version of the world’s first historical novel, which tells the story of an aristocratic English soldier who becomes entangled in the Jacobite Rising, has been released to mark its 200th anniversary.
Scott’s classic, written anonymously and published on July 7, 1814, was an instant hit, with the original print run of 1000 sold out in two days.
Ms Calder said: “In his own time Scott was enormously popular, translated into many languages and read all over the world.
“His influence on 19th-century fiction was without parallel. We still acknowledge him as a great writer – the Scott Monument is the biggest monument to a writer anywhere in the world – but people don’t read him. There is considerable academic interest, in Scotland and overseas, but there is a perception that his narratives are too entangled and his prose too dense for the modern reader.
“But Scott is a wonderful storyteller, creating unforgettable characters and vividly illuminating the past.”
Scott won international fame and his genius was recognised in the soubriquet “Wizard of the North” but while the author is still celebrated, Waverley’s lengthy historical explanations and meandering plot leave many modern readers struggling to get to the last page.
Ms Calder said the challenge of an abridged version was “hard, but very rewarding”. The words remain Scott’s, but she has sped up the storyline by chopping “over-enthusiastic” prose, superfluous historical background and lengthy Latin quotations.
She added: “In some ways it wasn’t hard to find material to cut but in other ways it was a real challenge because he’s such an entertaining writer.
“Sometimes he’ll go off on a little sidetrack which is very funny but doesn’t help the plot or tell you any more about the characters, so it is with some reluctance that you get rid of it.
“I have pruned some of Scott’s lengthier filling in of background.
“I have also trimmed Scott’s prose – his delight in language can sometimes lead to an over-enthusiasm which can impede the modern reader.
“His love of diversion into interesting and entertaining byways can slow the impetus of the plot.”
Scott, born in the Old Town, began work on Waverley in about 1805, inspired by tales from veterans of the Jacobite rising, but did not complete the work until 1814. As a renowned poet, he published Waverley anonymously to protect his reputation. But despite his efforts, many people guessed the novel was his work