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
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot