Polygon, £16.99, 328pp. £15.29 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Scott-land: The Man Who Invented A Nation, By Stuart Kelly

The evaluation of a fiction rests on impact not truth," writes Stuart Kelly in a work that evaluates the impact of the many fictions, literary and otherwise, of Sir Walter Scott. Scott's impact was considerable but Kelly is aware of the problems facing this book; nobody reads Scott now, and his surviving legacy is often viewed negatively. Kelly quotes, among others, Irvine Welsh's dismissal of Scott: "Just an arse-licker to the Prince Regent".

Scott-land isn't (or isn't just) a study of the Scotland that Scott invented, nor is it a literary biography. Rather, it's a series of linked essays on Scott's life, literature and legacy. Kelly came late to the Great Unknown's works, resisting them till he realised that "until I read Scott, all my opinions about him would be lazy plagiarisms".

Other readers avoid Scott because of his reputation for conservatism, long-windedness and archaism, or give up after the forbidding first chapter of a Waverley novel. While Kelly is an evangelist for Scott, he stresses that Scott-land is "a plea, a journey, an argument and an analysis".

Kelly engagingly assesses Scott's various works and insightfully sets Scott in his context, but the book is perhaps most successful in its choice anecdotes. Scott received the first ever author's advance (for Marmion), helped to ensure the survival of Scottish banknotes (so that all Bank of Scotland notes still bear his portrait) and has, in Edinburgh, the world's largest memorial to an author.

Scott was a passionate Scotsman but a loyal Unionist; he wanted Scotland to be a distinct but equal partner with England. His literary work played no small role in preserving Scottish distinctiveness, while his stage management of George IV's preposterously tartan-drenched 1822 visit to Edinburgh popularised a new, faux-ancient culture that was much-derided from the first yet which thrives today.

Scott's use of real locations, such as the Trossachs in The Lady of the Lake, sparked a massive increase in tourism and Scott is still invoked to attract visitors, few of whom will have read a word he wrote. Kelly records how, in the 1830s, St Andrews folk complained that their town had never featured in the writings of Scott or Burns or Byron and so lacked any tourism dividend. Saved by the golf, then.

Perhaps more unexpectedly, Kelly shows how Scott also influenced England's view of itself, or its past, through the romantic tushery of novels such as Kenilworth and Ivanhoe. The portrayal of Robin Hood in the latter remains influential in film and TV. And Scott was the first, in Anne of Geierstein, to coin the phrase "The War of the Roses". There are more surprises. Scott's curious manipulation of his anonymous authorship of the Waverley novels, together with the complex and self-referential framing devices he employed, would be regarded as self-consciously post-modern, Kelly suggests, in a contemporary writer.

Scott's antiquated-looking Abbotsford House was his historical fiction in stone. Kelly recalls how his childhood visits there, as with his more recent ones for research, left him disappointed. He suggests that Abbotsford lost its soul and its only conceivable purpose when Scott died in 1832, and that its reinvention as a tourist attraction in the 20th century only draws attention to this. Perhaps it should have been left to moulder like a gaunt ruin in a Waverley novel.

Kelly points out how Scott names litter the Scottish and wider landscape. Streets, buildings and public amenities all over the UK still bear Scottian names, literary standing stones whose significance is often lost. I grew up in one of Scotland's dozens of Sir Walter Scott council estates (in Abbotsford Drive) but never read any Scott until long after I'd moved out.

Kelly attempts to reconnect Scott-land, the surviving physical relics and cultural legacy of Scott, with the the author, and by implication to suggest to Trossachs tourists on SS Sir Walter Scott, Heart of Midlothian FC supporters, travellers at Edinburgh's Waverley Station and those who live in Marmion Drive or Ivanhoe Crescent, that it's worth seeking out the works the names recall. The book is let down a little by too-lengthy quotations (by writers other than Scott), but is a fascinating read all the same. I wonder, though, whether it will find a readership beyond the small but doughty band of Scottophiles?

Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home