Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Bride of Lammermoor

Let me begin by saying that I do not care for Donizetti's opera. I am just not a big Donizetti fan. However, I am a Sir Walter Scott fan and I love his tale of The Bride of Lammermoor, taken from an actual incident. According to one article:
The Bride of Lammermoor is based on a real-life family tragedy that Scott had heard as a boy from his maternal great-aunt Margaret Swinton and which became one of his mother's favourite fireside tales. Scott's heroine Lucy Ashton, derives from Janet Dalrymple, daughter of the great jurist James Dalrymple, first Viscount Stair. The Stairs were a landowning family sympathetic to the Covenanters, but Janet become secretly engaged to the Royalist third Lord Rutherford. She was compelled to confess the engagement when presented with a suitor approved by her parents and forced by a despotic mother to retract her vow. On the night of her marriage to her parent's approved choice, she seriously wounded her bridegroom in a fit of insanity and died a fortnight later without recovering her senses. Besides oral sources, Scott would have been familiar with written accounts of the episode in Robert Law's Memorialls and Sir William Hamilton of Whitelaw's 'Satyre on the Familie of Stairs', both of which add a supernatural element to the story.
Scott transfers an event which took place in 1669 to the years immediately preceding the Union of Scotland and England in 1707. The tragedy of Lucy Ashton unfolds against the persistent threat of a French-backed Jacobite uprising and the absence of effective government in Scotland. The geographical setting is transferred from the West of Scotland to the Eastern Borders. Various Berwickshire locations have been proposed as settings for the novel but none convincingly.
Here is a synopsis of Scott's version:
The novel's hero, Edgar, the Master of Ravenswood, inherits his father's hatred of Sir William Ashton, whom both blame for their family's ruin. The Ravenswoods have been stripped of their title following the Glorious Revolution and have subsequently lost their estate to Sir William, as a result of legal machinations, retaining only the dismal tower of Wolf's Crag. Inadvertently, however, Edgar saves the life of Sir William's daughter Lucy, and both fall deeply in love. A changing political climate leads Sir William to make his peace with Edgar. He looks favorably upon his attachment to Lucy, and the couple become secretly engaged. But when Lucy's despotic mother, Lady Ashton, arrives on the scene, she forbids all correspondence between the youngsters, and favors the suit of the Laird of Bucklaw, a political and personal enemy of Ravenswood. Put under severe pressure, Lucy agrees to marry Bucklaw but insists on writing to Edgar asking him to release her from her pledge. Lady Ashton intercepts the letter, and Lucy, assuming that Ravenswood is now indifferent to her, despairingly fixes the wedding day. Barely has the ceremony been performed, however, that Ravenswood appears and challenges Lucy's brother and new husband to combat. In that same night Lucy stabs and seriously wounds Bucklaw. She is found in convulsions and dies shortly afterwards without recovering her sanity. Further tragedy occurs when Ravenswood perishes in quicksand (in fulfillment of a prophecy) while riding to meet his antagonists.
Once again, two young lovers are parted, against their will, by circumstances beyond their control. In this case, the insanity and murder which result reveal the psychological turmoil inflicted upon Lucy by the pressure of her family, who care more about political gain than about her happiness or mental equilibrium. Scott skillfully builds up to the moment when Lucy snaps. We may think that such parental conniving and manipulation belonged only to the "old days" but even now there are many parents who care more about their children being materially successful than about their virtue or spiritual well-being.