Friday, November 13, 2009

The Entail - some bullet points

● The three best characters in The Entail, the Laird and Lady Grippy and their poor sone Watty, are the only characters who speak the thick Scotch dialect.  Lady Grippy, selected at random:

It will be an unco like thing no to partake o' the marriage feast, though ye hae come without a wedding garment, after I hae been at the cost and outlay o' a jigot o' mutton, a fine young poney cock, and a florentine pye; dainties that the like o' hae na been in my house since Geordie, wi' his quirks o' law, wheedled me to connive wi' him to deprive uncle Watty o' his seven lawful senses, forbye the property. (III. vii.)

A florentine pye seems to be a veal pie.  Lady Grippy is a terror.  That's not my point.  Older lawyers and ministers speak ordinary English with a smattering of Scottish.  The Laird and Lady's educated children hardly use Scottish at all.  One of the grandchildren, hilariously, mostly speaks in the clichés of sentimental novels: "Heaven protect me! I am ruined and undone!" (III. iii), like "Clarissy Harlot," as her grandmother says.

Galt's use of dialect has probably cost him readers.  It requires a bit of effort sometimes.  But it's central to his art, his characterization.

●  Yesterday I wondered if the inimitable Charles Dickens had been imitating John Galt in Nicholas Nickleby and Barnaby RudgeA year ago, I noticed some connections between The Entail and Wuthering Heights.  Every conceivable aspect of the work of Dickens and E. Brontë has of course been stripmined by literature scholars.  Or so I thought, until I plowed through the shelves at a university library yesterday, vainly looking for "Galt, John" in the indices of Brontë and Dickens monographs.

Maybe it is somehow known that these writers definitely did not read The Entail?  If not, someone, get to work!

●  The Entail has a curious connection to Galt's next novel, Ringan Gilhaize.  For one thing, a character with that name is mentioned twice.  Maybe a descendant of one of Ringan's siblings, memorializing the name of his heroic great-uncle. 

Claud Walkinshaw, retired, guilty about his misdeeds, becomes increasingly religious.  The Laird, it seems, from his childhood, or something else, remains a real Calvinist, a despairing one.  In an amazing outdoor confession scene (II. viii.),  Claud finally confesses to his minister and faces his sins:

At that moment a distant strain of wild and holy music, rising from a hundred voices, drew their attention toward a shaggy bank of natural birch and hazel, where, on the sloping ground in front, they saw a number of Cameronians from Glasgow, and the neighboring villages, assembled to commemorate the persecutions which their forefathers had suffered there for righteousness sake. (II. viii.)

Interested readers can meet those forefathers in Ringan Gilhaize.  Meanwhile, since we're not even halfway through the novel, Claud has more suffering ahead of him.

● Have I done my duty to this non-minor writer?  I don't know.  The next time I do this, I'm picking someone big and famous.  Goethe, maybe.  Many thanks to Bibliographing Nicole for reading along.

I'm thinking I might host one of those reading challenges next year - Scottish literature, pre-1914, or something like that.  I've come up with an idea that will blow the challenge world apart, or at least overcome one of my complaints about challenges.  I don't know.  That'd be another chance to encourage people to read this fine writer.


  1. I've been slow getting to reader in the past week (I've been sick) but I do want to jump in and say this is quite fascinating!

    I'm quite tempted to go find this book and give John Galt a chance.

  2. Neither my library nor Project Gutenberg has it, though...

  3. I know, what's wrong with those Gutenberg people. They have Galt's biography of Benjamin West, for Pete's sake, but not The Entail.

    Whenever I can I use Gutenberg for quotations, to save on typing. So all quotations from The Entail were typed in by me. Oh how I suffer for my enthusiasms.

  4. I ordered The Entail from the library but it hasn't arrived yet.

    I REALLY hope you'll do that reading challenge next year. I'll be there with bells on.

  5. Just wanted to say I was directed to this discussion from DG Myers' blog and have been fascinated. I've been meaning to read Hogg and Galt for a while but after these posts I really must start. Thanks for doing this!

  6. Horoki, welcome. I rank The Entail above Private Memoirs and Confessions etc, for what that's worth, but the Hogg novel is a heck of a book, and an interesting companion to the Calvinistic strain in Galt.

    Both are perfect for the upcoming "If It's Not Scottish, It's Crap Wuthering Expectations Single Malt Reading Stramash." Stramash, that's another word I learned from Galt. Uproar; commotion.

  7. Looking forward to this challenge business--I'm Really Into Scottish Lit right now though and next year seems so far away. Of course, realistically speaking, it's not, and waiting to see you blow the challenge world apart will be so worth it.

  8. And for those looking for a free e-version, I've found two:

  9. Wow, thanks for the links.

    There may have been some hyperbole in what I said about the Scottish Challenge. But I do have a perhaps crazy idea that I've never seen anyone try.