Scott restoration work reaches halfway mark

January 19, 2001

An international research team is celebrating passing the halfway point in publishing a revolutionary edition of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley novels.

The multimillion-pound project, published by Edinburgh University Press, strips away a host of errors and additions to give the novels a new power and freshness. David Hewitt, professor in Scottish literature at Aberdeen University and the project's editor in chief, said: "This revolutionises our conception of Walter Scott. He's a much greater writer than he has been recognised for at any point in the past 50 years."

Normally, editions of the Waverley novels are based on the Magnum Opus, the last edition published in Scott's lifetime. Scott faced mountainous debts after his original publisher went bankrupt. To raise funds from a new edition he revised the novels, adding wordy introductions and notes. Professor Hewitt said there were 5,000 to 10,000 changes to each novel from the first edition, but the first edition was itself corrupt. "Because of the highly pressurised production of the novels, there were innumerable misreadings, misunderstandings or straightforward errors by typesetters, about 2,000 per novel."

The researchers are going back not only to the first editions but also to Scott's original manuscripts. "These show an extraordinary command of technical language, period language and dialect, which the people processing the text simply did not recognise," Professor Hewitt said. There will be 30 volumes in the Edinburgh edition, with 17 now complete.

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