The Man Who Made Scotland

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To celebrate the return of Rossini's La Donna del Lago to the Royal Opera House for the first time in almost 30-years, James Naughtie argues that Sir Walter Scott is more relevant now than ever to how Scotland tells the story of itself.

The question of what it means to be Scottish is now more pressing and timely question than ever, and in these bewildering times, James Naughtie says it's time to consult Sir Walter Scott. Once ubiquitous - and now almost entirely unread - the common view is that Scott rewrote the story of this small nation and left a trail of sentimentality and naval-gazing in his wake. But, says Naughtie, Scott's branding of Scotland is the mark of a thoroughly modern thinker and it's been a lot more useful to us than we might think.

His work inspired other works, including more than two dozen operas. The first was Rossini's 'La Donna del Lago,' based on Scott's poem 'The Lady of the Lake'. Taking its cue from Ossian and Arthurian legend, it's a perfect example - says Naughtie - of "how we tell the national story". In Scott's poem, King James V wanders incognito through the countryside in the battle for supremacy with the Douglas family. Ellen is the beautiful 'Lady of the Lake', daughter of the king's sworn enemy. Naughtie thinks we can see Scotland in the character of Ellen.

While the nation has occasionally struggled to escape this 'Balmorality', Naughtie believes that Scott - through his work - reminds everyone, in countries a long way from Scotland, how important the idea of a national story can become.
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