steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Waverley to Go!

I am a slow reader at the best of times, but I just outdid myself by taking over a month to read Waverley. Normally when I get bogged down in a book it's because I don't like it, but I actually enjoyed Waverley quite a lot. Part of the problem was that it was a very different book from the one I was expecting - and a more interesting and subtle one, with far more psychology and far less derring-do - and it took me some time to recalibrate my generic expectations and appreciate it for what it was. Mostly, though, it's that I read it before going to sleep, which isn't the best time to wrap one's brain around phonetic eighteenth-century Scots.

But my shame was magnified by realising from the editor's introduction that it took me rather longer to read than it took Scott to write. At least, Volumes II and III, which were composed some years after the first volume, were, according to a letter from Scott himself, written in a few short weeks in 1814: "begun & finished between 4th June & the 1st July during all which I attended my duty in court and proceeded without loss of time or hindrance of business" (Letter dated 28 July 1814). By my estimate, those two volumes amount to 100,000 words, so polishing them off in four weeks' worth of spare time is pretty good going, especially as he was also working on his edition of Swift. Impressive - but not unheard of, I guess. What I don't understand is the fact that the book was published on the 7th July - i.e. six days after Scott finished it. Even taking into account that he sent it to his publisher in batches, this seems an infeasibly quick turnaround, considering that it would have had to be edited and punctuated (Scott wasn't big on punctuation), set in type, proofs made and corrected, and a run of 1000 copies printed and bound and distributed to booksellers. Is that physically possible, in the conditions of 1814? My editor merely reports it without comment, but I find myself somewhat costive of belief.
Tags: books
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