Fact versus Fiction

EH | ET Student

I’m standing in the entryway of the house, gazing up at a suit of armor that hangs on the wall. It hangs amongst swords, antlers, stone crosses, and crested banner, and this entryway is but a hint at what the rest of the house contains. The rest of our tour includes countless artifacts, including a letter from Napoleon’s battle at Waterloo and a first edition Grimm’s Fairy Tales.


Sir Walter Scott’s entryway | Photo by Elizabeth Homme

The house is called Abbotsford, and it belonged to Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian, and more, and the man credited as the father of the historical fiction genre. If there’s one thing Scott’s house says about him, it’s his love for history. He was a collector of all sorts of things that may or may not have been authentic artifacts. Did Napoleon really receive that letter during the Battle of Waterloo? Maybe, but perhaps more importantly, does it matter? It seems that to Scott, it didn’t matter, because his interests and his writing were all about the marriage of fact and fiction and the stories birthed as a result.

This marriage of fact and fiction is what makes Scott’s novel The Heart of Midlothian so powerful. The opening chapters of this novel portray a hanging of criminals at the Grassmarket Square in downtown Edinburgh, Scotland. The specific story and characters are fictional, but the situation is real history; hangings in this square were a common occurrence. I had the privilege of reading Midlothian whilst staying in Edinburgh, about a mile from Grassmarket. Seeing the real place brought the story to life for me and demonstrated Scott’s genius in creating this type of novel. He published The Heart of Midlothian in 1818, but the story is set in 1736. This concept is totally common for writers today, and the historical fiction genre is a popular one. In Scott’s day, though, he was inventive, and his work was well-received because of its captivating nature. His legacy lives on in awards like the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and in the historical fiction genre itself.

%d bloggers like this: