Sir Walter Scott
Edinburgh University Press,
168 pages, $64.00
Sir Walter Scott’s fall from literary heights to his current obscurity is one of the great nosedives of all time. Major shifts in popular taste and literary criticism tell part of the story, but another compelling explanation comes from a curious footnote of publishing history: the 1826 financial collapse of Edinburgh’s Archibald Constable and Co. Dragged into debt along with his publisher, Scott was talked into creating a collection of his Waverly novels, known as the Magnum Opus, which promised to be a cash cow.
The Magnum Opus enabled Scott to pay off his debts and was a publishing milestone—the first collected work of a novelist. But Scott’s reputation has suffered for the fact that it has become the standard edition of his work. Although the collection left the texts of the...