HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Rob Roy
Author: Walter Scott
Publisher: Penguin Group USA, reprinted in 1995
Language level: 3 (some cursing and profanity)
Reading level: Older teens and adults
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Scott, Walter. Rob Roy (originally published in 1817 by Archibald Constable, Edinburgh, Scotland; republished in 1995 by Signet Classics, an inprint of Dutton Signet, a division of the Penguin Group/Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). The plot of this book takes place just before the 1715 Jacobite Rising, with much of Scotland in turmoil. Red Robert MacGregor (1671-1734), commonly known as Rob Roy, was a real historical person. He is not the lead character in the Waverly novel by Walter Scott that bears his name, but his personality and actions are key to the development of the story, which is narrated by the fictional Protestant Frank Osbaldistone who quarrels with his English merchant father William and is sent to stay with his Catholic uncle, Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone, in Northumberland, who has six sons, Percival or Percy the drunk, Thorncliff or Thornie the bully, John the gamekeeper, Richard or Dickon the horse jockey, Wilfred the fool, and Rashleigh the intelligent one who is ostensibly planning to become a priest. Frank falls in love with Diana Vernon, Sir Hildebrand’s ward and the niece of his late wife, whose father had been forced to go into hiding because of his Jacobite sympathies and is presumed dead. She is promised to Thorncliffe, but Rashleigh, her tutor, is secretly in love with her in spite of his intended profession.
Rashleigh is sent to London to work in Frank’s place at his uncle’s business but steals some important documents vital to the honor and economic solvency of Frank’s father, so out of a sense of duty Frank pursues Rashleigh to Glasgow, Scotland, and then to the Scottish Highlands to collect the stolen debt. On the way his path crosses several times with the larger-than-life, mysterious, and powerful title character of Rob Roy MacGregor, an associate of Diana’s father and Sir Hildebrand. There is a lot of confusion as the action shifts to the beautiful mountains and valleys around Loch Lomond. A British army detachment is ambushed, and there is bloodshed. All of Sir Hildebrand’s sons but Rashleigh are killed in the Jacobite Rising, and following Hildebrand’s death Frank inherits the family property. Rashleigh, who had turned traitor to the Jacobite cause, also meets a bloody end as he tries to have Frank and Diana arrested to claim the estate and is killed by Rob Roy. In the end, Frank decides to marry Diana.
The plot has been criticized as disjointed, but Robert Louis Stevenson, who loved it from childhood, regarded Rob Roy as the best novel of the greatest of all novelists. It is true that the book is long and somewhat tortuous in the twists and turns common to Scott’s novels, but it is an interesting tale. Though it is a brutally realistic depiction of the social conditions in Highland and Lowland Scotland in the early eighteenth century, the violence recorded is historical and not gratuitous. There are a little cursing and profanity. In my copy, the “d” word is sometimes spelled out but more often than not it is given as “d�n.” Likewise, the interjection “good God” occurs occasionally, but other times it is “by G–.” Also, a few references to drinking alcohol and one of using snuff are mentioned. The novel was the source of the 1953 live-action Disney film, Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue, starring Richard Todd and Glynis Johns, and the 1995 film, Rob Roy directed by Michael Caton-Jones and starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange. In fact, my copy of the book is a motion picture tie-in with a photograph of Neeson and Lange on the front.