By Timothy C. Baker (auth.)
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Additional info for Contemporary Scottish Gothic: Mourning, Authenticity, and Tradition
21 Even more than usual for Scott’s writing of this period, authorial and editorial identity is swathed in shadows. In both texts, the promise of an authentic narrative voice is immediately superseded by literary allusions and the fantastic. As a text which was forgotten for nearly two centuries, and yet which more than any other showcases Scott’s approach to both intertextuality and haunting, ‘Phantasmagoria’ deserves extended consideration here. This may, of course, be nothing more than a play on ideas of Scott as the ‘Great Unknown’, and has typically been read as such.
The Waverley Novels are introduced in the novel as a wedding present: a safe, sensible gift, the kind of thing any respectable couple could happily display in their drawing room, whether they read them or not. That was the point about Scott: one didn’t have to read him, only to have him in the background along with – an option eschewed by my parents – a tasteful print or two of Highland scenery; and nothing perhaps demonstrates better the antique character of the manse at Ochtermill than the fact that the only novels my parents possessed were ones that they had never opened, and that most of the rest of the world had closed for a good three decades before.
What keeps this from being a simple allegory however, wherein Carlin’s experiences might be seen to represent Scotland’s inability to confront its own history of religious extremism, is Robertson’s focus on the way the past is accessed through texts and, correspondingly, on its destructive power. Carlin is both a ghost and a reader, and these are consistently presented as correlated senses of self. Ghosts, as one character jokes, are not ‘reliable’, but neither are texts (164). The novel concludes with a lengthy epilogue of sorts, which begins by introducing a newly omniscient narrative voice: ‘This happens later.