Some authors lost from the canon (or, in some cases, never in the canon) find themselves back in demand when the theoretical winds change. Walter Scott's reputation, which had sagged down to "required high school reading" level by the mid-20th c. before vanishing altogether, came back with a bang with the advent of various historicisms, new and otherwise. Moreover, the rapidly-accumulating scholarship on his work has been of exceptionally high quality, and is now bolstered by the recently-completed Edinburgh Edition of his works. Ann Rigney's The Afterlives of Walter Scott: Memory on the Move deviates slightly from the normal Scott paths. Rigney is not interested so much in the novels as she is in acts of remembering Scott (and the novels), acts that she associates with different forms of community-building and national identification.
Rigney's study walks a sometimes fine line between studies of adaptation/appropriation and cultural memory, a distinction that Rigney is at some pains to draw. To begin with, the study is as much concerned with Scott and his various relics (e.g., Abbotsford) as it is with Scott's novels--indeed, rather more so. Thus, when she says in her introduction that "Scott provided a blueprint for imagining a relationship to the past that was eminently suitable to conditions of life in the nineteenth century, characterized as it was by increasing mobility, the growing power of the media, urbanization, and mass migration" (4), she doesn't mean simply that Scott's historical novels alone generated this new relationship, but that the entire matrix of cultural narratives that emerged around "Scott" contributed to it. Scott, Rigney argues, was a "manufacturer of collective memory par excellence" (7), and in turn, interest in Scott and his works generated new forms of collective memory, until Scott was eventually remembered out, as it were. This process involved "appropriation" (12) as it is generally understood (self-reflexive and often critical reworkings of narratives across different media), but also book illustration, tourism (one of the precursors to Lord of the Rings tourism, perhaps?), advertisements, street names, and celebrations of various sorts. (The study of cultural memory, Rigney explains, emphasizes "mediation and performance"; collective memory, by contrast, emphasizes "actors and organizations" .)
Rigney argues that her project breaks new ground by breaking away from the "discrete text" (19) as the primary locus of analysis, instead opting for "the social life of texts" (19) as they move through multiple physical and discursive locations. She offers as her initial example Scott's transformation of the story about Helen Walker into The Heart of Midlothian's Jeanie Deans, which had the unexpected side-effect of making later readers interpret Helen Walker through Jeanie Deans--the character overtook the historical inspiration. The Porteous Riot underwent a similar recasting, becoming memorable because Scott wrote about it. As the years have passed, readers have brought new critical and theoretical priorities to the work, "revealing both the complexity of the original text and the priorities of those appropriating it in new terms" (37). Moreover, dramatic adaptations, ship names, and other cultural forms turned Jeanie Deans in particular into a "cultural icon" (45), so that, in effect, she became memorable outside the original novel...until, of course, Scott himself was no longer memorable (although traces of Jeanie remain). Jeanie, she argues, becomes a "memory site"--a space, figurative or literal, that becomes a "dense repositor[y] of historical meaning" and, ultimately, a means of producing "collective self-definitions" and "the contestation of identities" through its repeated invocations (132). This is an interesting argument, but although the theoretical apparatus of memory studies may be new, it's not wholly clear to me that the project is. Or, to put it differently, despite Rigney's claims that English professors are hung up on singular texts, her own monograph overlaps not only with adaptation/appropropriation studies, but also the study of literary celebrity, literary tourism, new media, fan communities, and so forth. (There's an entire subset of Shakespeare scholarship devoted to just this kind of inquiry.) There is a difference, I think, but it's hard to pin down. For example, her interest in what she calls Scott's "procreativity"--"the ability of his works to generate new versions of itself in other people's acts of productive remembrance" (50)--seems similar to Linda Hutcheon's et al. work on adaptation, but extended to cover not just adaptation per se, but also tourism, marketing, and anniversary celebrations (the "remembrance" bit).
The first three chapters are, in fact, fairly traditional assessments of adaptation: after Jeanie Deans, there are the self-perpetuating adaptations of Rob Roy (in which material introduced in the adaptation winds up as familiar and expected as the original material--this will ring a bell to anyone who has watched Jane Eyre adaptations in chronological order) and the relationship between Ivanhoe adaptations and contemporary politics, especially nationalist politics. In particular, Rigney notes the problematic fate of Ivanhoe's Jewish characters in the adaptations, and the multiple (often unsatisfactory) attempts to "fix" Rebecca's plot trajectory. Conversion? Exile? Marriage? Optimism? Pessimism?
By contrast, chapters four through six chart more unusual territory. Chapter Four, "Re-enacting Ivanhoe," analyzes such transatlantic phenomena as mock-medieval tournaments, what we would call cosplay, and naming practices. Rigney argues that in the American South in particular, "'Ivanhoe' as a book and a media event had itself become a figure of memory, meaning that it recalled its reception in the southern states in the nineteenth century, and all the hype around it, as much as it did the green pastures of medieval England" (119). Again, one immediately thinks of Shakespeare and all the associations his works have accrued, above and beyond their aesthetic significance. ("Why do we require you to take a course on Shakespeare?" I asked some students last semester. "Why only Shakespeare, and not Milton or Chaucer? How did that happen?") Chapter Five leaves the novels and moves to Abbotsford itself, which, not surprisingly, became a key memory site. Indeed, Rigney argues, Abbotsford emblematizes a new form of memory site, bound up in "custom-made memory locations" and linked to both "the mobility of media" (e.g., books, illustrations, postcards) and "human mobility" (e.g., thanks to railway and steam ship travel) (138). Abbotsford is, to put it differently, made to be looked at, not least because the architecture eclectically absorbs materials from earlier and sometimes historically-significant buildings. At the same time, it is vested with the aura of the author's modern celebrity. Like Ivanhoe and its accrued cultural significance in the USA and elsewhere, Abbotsford took on new meanings as it was memorialized in place names overseas--"a whole package of history in a single gesture" (151). (In my part of upstate NY, we see something similar going on with both the English place names--Albion, Clarendon, Rochester--but also the names from classical antiquity--Greece, Rome, Troy, Syracuse, Utica, and the like.) Chapter Six then examines the relationship between Scott anniversary celebrations and the imperial context, inflecting Benedict Anderson's famous "imagined communities" to demonstrate that Scott was commemorated according to the needs of different local, national, and international communities, whether in the Empire or the United States. Reading Scott could conjure up an "imaginary homeland" for readers away from their national base (193), but it could also develop a sense of Anglo-American solidarity (196). (You could probably write a whole book about these kind of anniversary celebrations, as they were an international phenomenon, not confined to Anglophone countries.)
Chapter Seven then turns to a very different kind of problem, familiar to all of us who toil in the regions of neglected (sometimes rightly) literature: why did Scott fall out of favor? Rigney argues that already by 1871, Scott was perceived as the intellectual property of a previous "generation" (206); for later readers like Walter Bagehot, she suggests, Scott was already "becoming juvenile" (207), a process that has been traced by other historians of Scott's critical reception. One said nice things about Scott, but one did not continue to read Scott as critical adults (209). Indeed, Rigney suggests that the 1932 commemorations of Scott were so top-down as to indicate that Scott was no longer of any interest to the general reading audience (210); eventually, Scott fell victim to the same sort of rejectionism that the modernists inflicted on other nineteenth-century authors, as they sought to distinguish themselves from their literary inheritance. In her epilogue, Rigney points to "[p]hilological counter-amnesia" (227) to explain how contemporary academics have been re-propagating Scott, especially through such media as the recently-completed Edinburgh Edition of his works. It remains to be seen, however, if the Penguin-izing and World's Classics-izing of Scott's work for classroom use will extend his popularity beyond the domain of college classrooms. Given my own graduate students' surprising enthusiasm for Ivanhoe last semester, perhaps it will!