Let's start by saying that I haven't posted in a couple of months, and that has pissed me off royally. I have wavered between lacking the motivation to write, lacking the inspiration to write and being too tired. I have those periods of ten minutes where I feel all-conquering, when my brain is (genuinely) firing and I feel connected to the creative bit of me that has written three books, nearly completed the fourth, and begun work on the sixth. And then it fades again.
So here we go, with a view perhaps to getting the fingers and the brain working again, here's a short review of Old Mortality, a book which has been on the shelf in its Oxford World Classics version for a good fifteen years, but never been opened before. I do love a good Tale of my Landlord, and this one has all the classic tropes in equal measure. There's the slightly unconvincing hero, who is principled enough to be on a side, but not so much that he appears a fanatic; the beautiful woman who lacks any real substance as a character; the much more interesting serving girl who, one feels, Scott had a much better time writing and a much more convincing feel for; and the various partisans, ranging from the unhinged priests and murderous war-leaders at one end to the occasional appearance by the real nobility.
There's the unrest-in-Scotland storyline, in this case around the continued fight between those Scots who wanted to get rid of the bishops and those who didn't (ish). Scott's interest in Scotland's history is like Dumas' in French history, with that same drive to tell the story without making the history the main point. Old Mortality is a decent story, but reading it later than others, I find it suffered more than many of Scott's novels from the invented characters not having any great personality. That is what Dumas does spectacularly well across the board, his additions to the historical record being absolutely worth their time 'on the page', and the history bent to the story. Neither of these great historical writers is especially careful with the actual history, as it goes, with both allowing themselves a bit of freedom to move things around. But where Scott inserts a 'hero' with accomplishment and some skill at management, Dumas' heroes - the best of them, but also most of the less well known - are altogether more romantic. Morton is a good man. D'Artagnan, who fails to be good on several occasions, is a great one, and it is this that elevates Dumas' best works above Scott's. Separately, D'Artagnan's story is very much his own, intertwined as it is with those of his three great friends, and with the French history of the time. Scott's story is that of the Killing Time, Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge, with Morton inserted to try to find a coherent line for a novel.
So Scott - to me, at least - seems to have produced the novels that Maquet, the man who fed Dumas a lot of the inspirations for his best stuff, would have produced. Good stories, told well, but that is all. Dumas was a different class altogether, a story-teller of utter magnificence.
So let us let Dumas have the last word:
"Moral wounds have this peculiarity - they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart."
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought