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Dialectics of ImprovementScottish Romanticism, 1786-1831$
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Gerard Lee McKeever

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474441674

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474441674.001.0001

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Short Fictions of Improvement by James Hogg and Walter Scott

Short Fictions of Improvement by James Hogg and Walter Scott

(p.72) Chapter 2 Short Fictions of Improvement by James Hogg and Walter Scott
Dialectics of Improvement

Gerard Lee McKeever

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter reads James Hogg and Walter Scott within a new, revisionist history of short fiction that is particularly interested in the genre of the ‘tale’. Focusing on the half-decade between 1827 and 1831, the chapter highlights a selection of Hogg’s mature contributions to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine alongside Scott’s Chronicles of the Canongate (first series). These years were marked by literary experimentation, when a confident improving persuasion in Scottish culture was threatening to unravel. The formal logic of these short fictions, defined by a curiously focused spontaneity, exacerbates a pluralistic handling of the collision between improvement and tradition. Different models of time (progress, renewal, disruption) and belief (suspension, scepticism, credulity) serve to interrogate improvement in a wide range of contexts around commercial modernisation. The chapter unpacks two specific literary innovations in this context. The first looks to acts of transmission in the literary marketplace which by turns sustain, contain and defer the dialectics of improvement. The second sees the emergence of a fully fledged aesthetic vocabulary of culture in Scott’s writing.

Keywords:   James Hogg, Walter Scott, short fiction, improvement, time

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