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Old Mortality

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Wikipedia article

'Old Mortality' is a novel by Sir Walter Scott set in the period 167989 in south west Scotland. It forms, along with 'The Black Dwarf', the 1st series of Scott's 'Tales of My Landlord'. The two novels were published together in 1816. 'Old Mortality' is considered one of Scott's best novels.

It was originally titled 'The Tale of Old Mortality', but is generally shortened in most references.

Plot summary

The novel tells the story of Henry Morton, who shelters John Balfour of Burley, one of the assassins of Archbishop James Sharp. As a consequence Morton joins Burley in an uprising of Covenanters (who wanted the re-establishment of presbyterianism in Scotland) which was eventually defeated at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, by forces led by the Duke of Monmouth and John Graham of Claverhouse. The bulk of the novel describes the progress of the rebellion from its initial success at the Battle of Drumclog, and the growth of factionalism which hastened its defeat. Henry's involvement in the rebellion causes a conflict of loyalties for him, since he is in love with Edith Bellenden who belongs to a family who oppose the uprising. Henry's beliefs are not as extreme as those of Burley and many other rebel leaders, which leads to his involvement in the factional disputes. The novel also shows their oppressors, led by Claverhouse, to be extreme in their beliefs and methods. Comic relief is provided by Cuddie Headrigg, a peasant who reluctantly joins the rebellion because of his personal loyalty to Morton, as well as his own fanatical mother.

Following the defeat at Bothwell Bridge, Morton flees the battle field. He is soon captured by some of the extreme Covenanters who see him as a traitor, and get ready to execute him. He is rescued by Claverhouse who has been led to the scene by Cuddie Headrigg. Morton later gets to witness the trial and torture of fellow rebels, before going into exile.

The novel ends with Morton returning to Scotland in 1689 to find a changed political and religious climate following the overthrow of James VII, and to be reconciled with Edith.

The novel takes its title from the nickname of Robert Paterson, a Scotsman of the 18th century who late in life decided to travel around Scotland re-engraving the tombs of 17th century Covenanter martyrs. The first chapter of the novel describes a meeting between him and the novel's fictitious narrator.

List of main characters

* Henry Morton

* John Balfour of Burley

* Col. Graham of Claverhouse

* Cuddie Headrigg

* Lord Evandale

* Lady Margaret Bellenden

* Miss Edith Bellenden

* Basil Olifant

* Inglis

* Sgt. Bothwell

* Cornet Richard Grahame

* Jenny Dennison

Adaptations and cultural references

The play 'Ttes rondes et Cavaliers' (1833) by Jacques-Franois Ancelot and Joseph Xavier Saintine is based on Scott's novel. Vincenzo Bellini's opera 'I puritani' (1835) is in turn based on that play.

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