With the exception of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, the novels of Sir Walter Scott have been sadly neglected for decades. His 1819 novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, has gained a certain amount of attention because of Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Although the opera is an extremely abridged and, to some extent, rather melodramatic adaptation of the story, the main theme of a woman being forced into a convenient marriage and then going insane and attacking her husband remain the same.
It is with good reason that Scott opens several chapters in his novel with quotes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Politics and royal favor cause a feud between the Scottish houses of Ashton and Ravenswood. Edgar, the last surviving member of the latter, swears vengeance against the Ashtons. A chance meeting, however, sparks a love so passionate and consuming that it could not possibly have lasted if it has been given enough time to be tested between Ravenswood and the delicate Lucy Ashton.
However, Scott quickly makes it clear that this story is not meant to be compared to Romeo and Juliet, but, rather, to Macbeth. About halfway through the novel, the reader meets the absolutely horrid character of Lady Ashton, Lucy’s mother. Although Scott specifically compares her to Lady Macbeth, one can easily see that the politically motivated Lady Ashton is more conniving, treacherous, and downright evil than Shakespeare’s suicidal sleepwalker ever could be. Lady Ashton manipulates her husband and torments her daughter to the extent that the girl’s loss of sanity can only be blamed on her.
Lady Ashton is so bent on having her way that she even goes so far as to call in a witch. The character Alisie Gourlay, who is brought to the family’s castle to help convince Lucy to marry Lord Bucklaw, is based on two 17th century witches, both named Gourlay, who were burned for their crimes in 1649 and 1659.
Although The Bride of Lammermoor is classified as a historical novel, it could very easily be considered a horror story. Within the text, Scott states: “…this could not be called a Scottish story, unless it manifested a tinge of Scottish superstition”. Do not read The Bride of Lammermoor if you scare easily! The dead come back to life, pictures move around on their own, and three witches (Macbeth again) correctly predict parts of the story. What makes it even creepier is that most of the story, including the supernatural parts, is based on historical fact. Towards the end of the novel, Scott states: “By many readers, this may be deemed overstrained, romantic, and composed by the wild imagination of an author, desirous of gratifying the popular appetite for the horrible; but those who are read in the private family history of Scotland during the period in which the scene is laid, will readily discover, through the disguise of borrowed names and added incidents, the leading particulars of AN OWER TRUE TALE.”
Most modern editions of The Bride of Lammermoor include Scott’s original introduction. In it, he tells the story of Janet Dalrymple. Because of a family feud, Janet had been unable to marry Archibald Rutherford, the man she truly loved. Instead, she was forced into a politically convenient marriage with Sir David Dunbar. After their wedding, Janet went insane and attacked Dunbar in the bridal chamber. Dunbar survived the attack but never spoke of it again for the rest of his life. The bride, however, died of a fever on September 12, 1669. Supposedly, the bloodstained ghost of Janet Dalrymple can be seen running about the ruins of Baldoon Castle on the anniversary of her death.
Source: Oxford World’s Classics’ 1991 Edition of “The Bride of Lammermoor”